Emotional quotient, or EQ―supposedly a measure of a person's ability to identify and use emotions effectively―is hot. Some companies now require prospective employees to take EQ tests, and many school districts are considering programs they hope will raise children's emotional quotients. The problem is, we don't yet have a clear idea of what EQ is, psychologist Peter Salovey says.
Salovey ought to know. He invented the concept of emotional intelligence (EI), together with psychologist John Mayer, in 1990. But he believes its original concepts have been lost in all of the media hype about measuring emotional intelligence. “I'm disappointed that the response to El is that the world needs more tests,” he says. “Why repeat the problems we've had with IQ as a measure of intelligence?”
His and Mayer's original definition of emotional intelligence encompassed the abilities to identify, understand, use, and regulate emotions in life. But since these skills may be independent of one another, it makes little sense for a test to lump them together into a single measurement. “Someone who is good at reading another person's facial expression might be bad at regulating their own feelings,” Salovey explains. What's more, EI has been erroneously equated with optimism, good character, and tenacity, he says.
Salovey worries about where misconceptions of emotional intelligence are leading educators. While American school districts are clamoring to implement special emotional intelligence programs. “The whole idea of El was to integrate emotion with other forms of intelligence. I'd rather see math teachers teach about frustration when kids are learning long division, or see reading teachers teach about emotions when a character in a story has emotions, or hear that science teachers teach about Thomas Edison and his passion for invention.”