Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 291
Business Practice Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Emotional Intelligence

New findings in emotional intelligence point to uses in the workplace.

Are you emotionally smart? Are you emotionally stupid? These are questions that come to mind when a person sits down to complete a new kind of intelligence test that is gaining popularity in business education settings. Itís titled the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, and it first appeared in 2002. It claims to measure a kind of intelligence involving emotions.

Normally, intelligence tests are given to children, and they donít involve emotions. They pose problems that require cognitive skills, and the questions vary considerably in difficulty. Some are so easy that nearly everyone gets them right. Some are so difficult that nearly everyone gets them wrong. Since the questions vary so much in difficulty, itís easy to conclude that the more questions a person answers correctly, the smarter he/she is. Conversely, the more questions missed, the dumber he/she is.

Intelligence tests are used for educational placement and for identifying degrees of mental retardation and giftedness. This labeling causes considerable trepidation, and most people avoid intelligence tests if they can. Few adults would voluntarily take one, especially if their I.Q. scores would be known by others.

In 1990, a few psychologists began to think about emotion in a new way. They recognized that some people handle emotionally-charged problems quite well while others routinely make a mess of things. For example, people in occupations that favor analytical thinking, like engineers and mathematicians, often suffer with reputations for being inept in problems involving emotions. People in occupations that favor human relations, like teachers and counselors, often enjoy a reputation for being skilled in this area.

Recognizing this difference in skills, these psychologists came to believe that differences among people in understanding emotions and solving emotional problems represented a new kind of intelligence, and they set out to develop a test that would measure it. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso test mentioned above is currently the most widely used test of emotional intelligence. It is known by its acronym: MSCEIT.

The MSCEIT consists of 141 questions that involve a variety of tasks. For example, one section displays a series of photographs of faces and asks the test taker to identify the emotions revealed in them. Another section resembles an emotion vocabulary test. Another poses a series of emotionally charged situations and asks the test taker to identify the most likely sequence of emotions a person in these situations would experience. Another section poses emotionally charged situations and offers a choice of actions a third party could take. Test takers are to chose the most helpful from the choices offered. Another section asked test takers to use their imaginations to conjure up unusual mental pictures and then describe their feelings.

A crucial difference between tests of cognitive intelligence and the MSCEIT involves scoring. With cognitive tests, there are correct answers and incorrect answers. It isnít a matter of opinion, but with the MSCEIT, it is only opinions that matter. Twenty-one experts in emotion were asked to chose the best answers to the questions and the scoring reflects these answers. A person achieving a high score on the MSCEIT would be one who chose answers most similar to these experts, but are they the right answers? Are there right answers? The debate continues as the use of the test increases, and researchers have begun to get involved. The most important question researchers have asked is ďSo what?Ē That is, some people score higher than others, but is that important? Do high scorers perform better than low scorers? If so, what do they do better?

Stephane Cote, from the University of Toronto, is in the forefront of this research, and he recently completed a study that is helpful. He began with a review of previous ďSo what?Ē studies and found a mixed set of results. Some studies showed that high scorers performed better on relevant job functions. Other studies failed to show these connections. Professor Cote wondered if it would help to measure cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence at the same time and then look at job performance. It did help, and the patterns he found revealed a great deal about the MSCEIT and about how emotional intelligence relates to job performance.

Professor Cote tested 175 full-time employees of a large public university, middle aged people with long tenure in a variety of jobs, including supervisors and managers. He found that when cognitive intelligence was low and emotional intelligence was high, performance ratings were also high. He also found the reverse, when cognitive intelligence was high and emotional intelligence was low, performance was also high. This pattern told him how cognitive and emotional intelligence inter-relate. They compensate for each other. A person can use either cognitive or emotional intelligence to excel in their jobs, and this finding has important ramifications for running a business.

Highly intelligent people arenít hard to spot, whether it is cognitive intelligence or emotional intelligence. The lesson from this research is to beware favoring one over the other. Both can be highly successful and can bring that success to their employers. Both kinds of intelligence should be fostered and nurtured.

Emotionally bright people are like the oil in a well designed machine, helping people work together and join their efforts toward the creation of good things. Both kinds of intelligence have an important contribution to make.

Reference: Cote, Stephane and Christopher Miners (2006) Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Intelligence, and Job Performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51, 1-28, March 2006.

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