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A Literature Review on Emotional Intelligence

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A Literature Review on Emotional Intelligence essay

Emotions are the most important part of one’s life, in one way or the other it defines a person. It shapes a man’s destiny and defines the way he perceives life. According to the famous Sanskrit saying goes – “Mano Matram Jagat; Mano Kalpitam Jagat” it means that the world is as the mind sees and feels it; the world is as the mind thinks of it (as quoted by T.N. Sethumadhavan, 2010).

A dictionary defines emotion as a state of feeling involving thoughts, physiological changes, and an outward expression or behavior but, topologists, psychologists, philosophers, scientists and researchers have developed and are still bringing in various theories which attempt to fathom its bottomless expanse of intrigue and fascination. While topologists study emotions or rather control of emotions as means of realizing the Supreme Being, the psychologists and sociologists have discussed emotions against their significance to the individual and society. On the other hand, the natural scientists like physiologists are interested in the origin, evolution and functions of emotions.

Human beings are a complex species of emotion and reason. While reasoning enables them to judge things with mathematical precision, emotions help them to understand and empathize which make them „human‟. Traditionally it was believed and accepted that people with high reasoning skills and a sound logical bend of mind were more intelligent. The IQ tests that were designed to ascertain a person’s intelligence and competency tested only the reasoning and the logical aptitude of the person. As Woodworth (1940) suggested, IQ tests were considered effective when they tested a person being „not‟ afraid or angry or inquisitive over things that aroused emotions. Emotions were regarded as being disruptive in nature that hindered a person’s thought process. Erasmus of Rotterdam, a sixteenth century humanist proclaimed: “Jupiter has bestowed far more passion than reason – you could calculate the ratio as 24 to one. He set up two raging tyrants in opposition to Reason’s solitary power: anger and lust. How far can reason prevail against the combined forces of these two, the common life of man makes quite clear.”

Young (1943) defined emotions as “acute disturbances of the individual …” and believed that emotions made people „lose control‟. But, not all felt or accepted emotions as „disorganized interruptions‟.

Mowrer (1960) opined that “… emotions are of quite extraordinary importance in the total economy of living organisms and do not deserve being put into opposition with „intelligence‟. The emotions are, it seems, themselves a higher order of intelligence.”

There was a shift of focus from emotions being considered as disruptive to where it was considered as assisting cognition. The positive relationship between emotions and cognition was established by the cognitive theorists who supposed that emotions depended on personal interpretation or appraisal of a particular event. Any event or an occurrence has a personal meaning for every person and the person reacts depending on this personal meaning and his evaluation of the event based on his personal well-being. Others like Stanley, Schachter and Jerome Singer proposed that emotion involved both physiological arousal and the cognitive appraisal of this arousal. Even when people experienced a state of nonspecific physiological arousal like anger, happiness or others, they tried to evaluate and reason it to figure out what those arousals meant for them. As the author further surmises, some theorists explained the process of emotion as first identifying the objects or events, second appraisal, third physiological changes, fourth action or expression and finally regulation. First comes the appraisal and then the emotion and thus there is no question of emotion disrupting cognition. Researchers had moved from the phase where they believed that emotions are disruptive, to a phase where they saw that emotion and reason are interconnected and that most of the times, cognition or reasoning precedes emotions. Intelligence and emotion which were considered as separate fields now integrated in the new field Cognition and affect. The perspectives about emotions keep varying. The subjective nature of emotions makes it difficult to bring in a single accepted definition or theory. To scientifically conceptualize something that can only be felt and experienced becomes an almost impossible task.

Different theories on emotions have attempted to understand the nature of emotions and how they are experienced by people. While the James-Lange theory believes that a particular event or an occurrence causes a physiological change and then this change is interpreted into a corresponding emotion, the Cannon-Bard theory believes that we perceive the physiological change and the emotion at the same time. The Schachter-Singer Theory brings in the angle of reasoning which intervenes the physiological change and the labelling of the emotion. Lazarus theory speaks of thought coming first before perceiving the emotion and the Facial Feedback theory speaks about emotions as an experience of facial expressions (when someone smiles, he experiences happiness – the expression preceding the cognition). Sapir – Whorf hypothesised that language influenced thinking and Chomsky believed language and cognition to be separate abilities of the mind (Perlovsky, 2009). The theories and concepts are innumerable. Emotion maybe “… a complex, diffuse concept that can be expressed differently at different levels of abstraction” (Mathews et. al., 2004), nevertheless, the beauty and appeal lays in the fact that each of these concepts hold a place of significance for themselves and have also revolutionized the way people perceived emotions. No longer seen as only troublesome, it was being realized that emotions played a pivotal role in cognition and motivation. As Caruso (2008) observes, “emotions direct our attention and motivate us to engage in certain behaviours.” Emotions according to him “do not interfere with good decision making, they are, in fact, necessary and critical for all effective decisions.” How effective they are will be discussed in detail, later, but for now it would suffice to note that emotions are not necessarily opposed to reason as it was believed earlier rather, they also help in effectual reasoning and decision making. But before proceeding, it would be worthwhile to distinguish between what the words emotion and feeling stand for, and why it is preferred to use emotion rather than feeling. The two words are quite commonly used and interchanged freely, but it is worthwhile to be precise in the selection and usage of words especially when the entire research is based on emotions and the intelligent management of emotions.


Intelligence per se was always connected with only intellect and cognition. It was believed that there was only one intelligence called g for general intelligence. A person was born with a certain intelligence which could be assessed by using short answer tests (IQ tests). Psychologists also believed that this intelligence was difficult to change. But, can intelligence be only reasoning and cognitive abilities? Gardner (1998) makes a compelling point when he questions – were the IQ tests in this world to disappear, will it be impossible to identify a person as intelligent or otherwise? Such questions have led us to a new world of understanding which has agreed that apart from the intellectual prowess, there are other inherent abilities in an individual which should also be taken into consideration before assessing his/her intelligence.

While tracing the evolution of the emotional intelligence theory, one finds that attention to „non-intellective‟ elements being equally important was brought in as early as 1920 by Thorndike. A strong critic of IQ tests, his conviction was that “Human beings are better thought of as possessing a number of relatively independent faculties, rather than as having a certain amount of intellectual horsepower (or IQ) that can be simply channeled in one or another direction.” As Gardner further discusses in the same paper, a person’s intellect or non-intellect cannot be sealed by a single intelligence test as every human being in his/ her own way has multiple latent abilities. These abilities were not acknowledged by the conventional methods of testing. Based on this belief, he defined intelligence as “a psychobiological potential to process information so as to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in at least one cultural context”. By 1983, armed with a thorough research in psychology, anthropology, cultural studies and the biological sciences, he proposed in his book “Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences”, seven intelligences – linguistic, logical, musical, spatial, kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal – which every human being possessed, maybe in varying degrees. In 1995, an eighth intelligence – „naturalist‟ – was added. The Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory makes two major claims

  • all human beings have all these intelligences
  • no two individuals have exactly the same combination of these intelligences.

Presumably, not many were comfortable with these claims and some even dubbed it as a „radical theory‟. But, as Gardner (2005) himself claims, he is not worried whether these intelligences can be tested and validated, but to make a case that humans have multiple intelligences which have to be considered before dubbing a person intelligent or not.

Emotional Intelligence

David Wechsler during 1940s wrote that, “The main question is whether non-intellective, that is affective and conative abilities, are admissible as factors of general intelligence. My contention has been that such factors are not only admissible but necessary. I have tried to show that in addition to intellective there are also definite non-intellective factors that determine intelligent behavior. If the foregoing observations are correct, it follows that we cannot expect to measure total intelligence until our tests also include some measures of the non-intellective factors”. He was the not only researcher who argued that emotional intelligence could be linked with important work-related outcomes such as individual performance and organizational productivity. Robert Thorndike, also wrote about “social intelligence” in the late thirties. In fact, thoughts about emotional intelligence had begun as early as the time of Plato when he wrote, “All learning has an emotional base.”

Since then, scientists, educators, and philosophers have worked to prove or disprove the importance of feelings. Unfortunately, for a large part of those two millennia, common thought was, “Emotions are in the way. They keep us from making good decisions, and they keep us from focusing.” In the last three decades, a growing body of research is proving just the opposite. In the 1950’s, Abraham Maslow wrote about how people could enhance their emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental strengths. His work sparked the “Human Potential” movement which could be the greatest celebration of humanism since the Renaissance. In the 1970s and 80s this led to the development of many new sciences of human capacity.

The management thinkers in the pre-1990 era were largely engrossed with visiting and revisiting the forebrain areas of the human capitals for understanding as well as developing them fully but they were rather underemphasizing the pivotal role that human capitals’ emotional brain plays in the effective functioning of the organizations. The literature in the knowledge domain of evolution of brain says that it is the emotional brain which came into existence first and only after years of evolution that the cognitive brain evolved out of the emotional brain. That may mean that the emotional cortex of the humanity in the organizational setup has got a dominant role as far as controlling, coordinating, as well as regulating any activity taking place in the cognitive cortex is concerned. This being a reality now, the emotional intellect of the employees in the organization deserves proper attention.

Emotional Intelligence now a day’s also known as Emotional Quotient (EQ) has proven to be the buzz word in the workplace or any industry of that matter. It is said that the term emotional intelligence was created by two researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer during 1990, they described it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”. There are various other researchers, scholars who have specified other interpretations of emotional intelligence, some of them are as follows:

  • Emotional intelligence (EI) has been defined as the “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”. – Goleman (1998).
  • “Emotional Intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection and influence”. – Cooper and Sawaf (1997).
  • The concept of Emotional-Social intelligence is “a cross section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, understand other and relate with them, and cope with daily demands”. – Bar-On (2005).

In the study conducted by Carolynn Kohn titled “Emotional Intelligence, Personality, Emotion Regulation, and Coping”, the author argues that EI is not a single construct, but rather it consists of several other constructs that tries to measure different individual traits or abilities. As the study on EI has been extensively carried out by various researchers, the progress identifies two distinct models of EI: ability EI and trait EI. They both are quite distinct from each other and it is important to understand the difference. Trait EI correlates highly with personality traits whereas ability EI has been found to correlate with coping skills and emotional regulation.

Common critiques of the theoretical construct of EI (especially trait EI) and the measures used to assess it state that EI is not much more than another measure of personality. In particular, EI overlaps substantially with the main tenets and constructs of the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness), and thus EI adds little to our knowledge base after controlling for FFM. Similar critiques have been made regarding ability EI and its high correlation with coping and emotion regulation. Moreover, proponents of EI – particularly of trait EI – cite the inherent cultural bias of current EI measures as a problem because it is difficult to understand the results of an EI measure outside of its Western cultural context.

This is particularly important to multicultural college and university campuses where inappropriate uses of EI measures could lead to erroneous conclusions about the EI capabilities of a significant number of students. Without additional empirical evidence, when attempting to measure constructs related to emotion and to associated outcome variables (e.g., health behaviors, school performance), it seems prudent to use already well-researched, psychometrically sound and inexpensive or free measures of personality and coping. There appears to be little benefit at the present time in using expensive measures of EI. A significant contribution to research on emotional/personality functioning of college students could be made at Pacific by correlating EI measures (some of which are inexpensive) with better established measures of personality. The bulk of the current EI research tends to examine cross-sectional correlational relationships between EI and other variables. Little is known about whether EI can be improved or taught to college students, and whether the teaching of EI will make a meaningful difference in other important aspects of life (e.g., health behaviors, school performance, moral/ethical behavior).

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