Emotional Intelligence: Toward Clarification of a Concept


  • The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Graham L. Staines who provided feedback on an earlier version of this paper.

Cary Cherniss. E-mail: Cherniss@rutgers.edu
Address: GSAPP, Rutgers University, 152 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854


There has been much confusion and controversy concerning the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). Three issues have been particularly bothersome. The first concerns the many conflicting definitions and models of EI. To address this issue, I propose that we distinguish between definitions and models and then adopt a single definition on which the major theorists already seem to agree. I further propose that we more clearly distinguish between EI and the related concept of emotional and social competence (ESC). The second issue that has generated concern is the question of how valid existing measures are. After reviewing the research on the psychometric properties of several popular tests, I conclude that although there is some support for many of them, they all have inherent limitations. We need to rely more on alternative measurement strategies that have been available for some time and also develop new measures that are more sensitive to context. The third area of contention concerns the significance of EI for outcomes such as job performance or leadership effectiveness. Recent research, not available to earlier critics, suggests that EI is positively associated with performance. However, certain ESCs are likely to be stronger predictors of performance than EI in many situations. Also, EI is likely to be more important in certain kinds of situations, such as those involving social interaction or significant levels of stress. Context makes a difference.