Emotional Intelligence

Is emotional intelligence more important than IQ?
Answered by Bambi Turner, Jacob Silverman and 1 other
  • Bambi Turner

    Bambi Turner

  • Jacob Silverman

    Jacob Silverman

  • HowStuffWorks


  1. The stereotype of "the mad scientist" and the teasing way people talk about nerds from the time we are schoolchildren are examples of how society often is uncomfortable with high IQs. It may be true that some geniuses lack a little in social or emotional skills; but how much of that is real and how much is stereotype? In 1995, psychologist Daniel Goleman drew widespread attention to the field of emotional intelligence with his best-selling book "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ." Goleman's thesis that emotional intelligence -- or the ability to interpret others' emotions and regulate one's own -- was a better indicator of success than traditional cognitive intelligence set off a flurry of new research. Businesses and universities were eager to use Goleman's theory as a basis for finding and developing the best employees to fill leadership roles. Many well-known people support the ideas put forth in Goleman's book, and there is a great deal of evidence that an individual with high emotional intelligence is likely to possess valuable teamwork and leadership skills [source: Cherniss].

    By the early 21st century, however, other esteemed researchers had introduced works refuting Goleman's theory, or even contradicting it entirely. For example, a 2006 study by Cote and Miners found that emotional intelligence has little effect on work performance or workplace behavior for people with moderate to high IQs. Emotional intelligence only became a factor in workplace performance for employees with below-average IQs. Among those with low IQs, Cotes and Miner found that emotional intelligence could be an effective indicator of one's success at work [source: Cote and Miners].

    Others are quick to emphasize that both emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence represent just two pieces of the puzzle that is the human mind. Consider the work of Harvard professor Dr. Howard Gardner, who in 1983 released a groundbreaking book that described nine different types of human intelligence [source: PBS]. Many believe that people who are lacking in one of these areas will simply build their strengths in other areas as a matter of survival and adaptation. Just as the man who loses a leg may build extra strength in his remaining limbs, a person lacking in emotional intelligence or IQ will likely increase his or her skills in other areas. As long as people retain this ability to adapt to their circumstances and those who work with or teach them recognize that we all have different strengths when it comes to intelligence, it's hard to argue that any form of intelligence is more important or valuable than another, except under very specific circumstances or conditions.

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  2. Emotional intelligence is a fraught subject. Although EI was a sensation when the concept was popularized by Daniel Goleman in 1995, the bloom has left the rose, replaced by varying definitions of intelligence (and debates over their value). In short, emotional intelligence is the ability to read others' emotions, understand one's own emotions and behavior and adjust one's behavior in order to connect better with others. In the public imagination, emotional intelligence has generally been equated with success. For example, we often observe that the smartest person in a high school class may not be the most successful; instead, that distinction may fall to the person with the highest emotional intelligence, he or she who is able to intuit others' feelings, control his or her emotions, remain motivated and generally thrive in the more nebulous, socially-driven worlds of networking and interpersonal relations.

    Whether emotional intelligence is in fact more important than IQ remains open for debate. After all, IQ itself is a notoriously fraught measurement, one that has been long disputed as an accurate measure of brainpower [source: Gladwell]. Still, IQ and EI are often pitted against one another when debating what makes a person successful. Yet even if one maintains that, say, EI is more important than IQ for determining career success, a person might find that he or she values one of these metrics differently depending on the context. Someone might seek a romantic partner who displays a high degree of emotional intelligence and not be as concerned with whether that person has a genius-level IQ (or vice versa). Then again, that same person could decide that privileging one of these concepts over the other leads to a kind of coldly scientific assessment that prevents a more natural, holistic appreciation of a person.

    In the end, the debate over emotional intelligence and IQ comes down to context and to questions of values. What are we using these measurements for? Should we value them more when looking for an employee or for a political leader? And what does it say about our culture that we often divide people into these binary arrangements: EI vs. IQ, "book smarts" vs. "street smarts"? These are the sorts of questions that an individual will have to wrestle with when considering these concepts, and how they might be applied to everyday life.

    More answers from Jacob Silverman »

  3. In 1995, psychologist Daniel Goleman released a book called "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ." Goleman tried to unravel how someone who graduates at the top of the class can spend years hoping for a promotion, whereas someone who barely cracked a book might be that class's top earner. He hypothesized that when it came to predicting success, standard intelligence mattered less than emotional intelligence. It's not what you know, but who you know -- and how well you get along with them, to borrow an old adage. According to Goleman's research, a high IQ didn't help when it came to networking or collaborating, while those who could understand and regulate emotion could sail straight to the top of the corporate ladder.

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