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A Brief History of Emotional Intelligence (EI)

By Renée Adams

October 30, 2020


Emotionalintelligencenews.com is dedicated to bringing you stories and advice based on our current knowledge of Emotional Intelligence (EI) and how we can use that knowledge to improve our lives and the world we live in. But where did these ideas come from and what is the future of EI? In this article, I will go over a brief history of EI research and study. Following this will be an article on the future of EI research and what we can expect to see in years to come.

Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

EI’s Origins

While the term “Emotional Intelligence” had existed since 1985, it was vague and wasn’t properly researched or defined until 1990. According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, two university professors, were chatting while painting Salovey’s house. While working, they discussed a mutual concern that certain theories of intelligence neglected the importance of emotions. This innocuous conversation gave us their 1990 research study, Emotional Intelligence. In it, they defined EI as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” 

This research caught the public’s eye in 1995 when reporter and writer Daniel Goleman published his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In his definition and research, Goleman broke down the EI skillset into four main groups, subdivided into 12 primary competencies. One important thing to note is that around the time of his book’s publishing, the term Emotional Quotient (EQ) became almost synonymous with EI. To this day, Goleman has stated that he does not like the term EQ and does not believe it is the same thing as EI. He has also advocated for incorporating EI lessons into school curriculum and in workplace training, both of which have gained popularity since his influential book. 

Since Goleman

In the years since Goleman’s famous book, many researchers and thinkers have contributed to our understanding of EI and how best to study and teach its core concepts. Dr. Travis Bradberry was one of the first to refine Goleman’s approach to EI in his book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In it, he examined differences in EI with regards to gender, different generations, cultural and societal shifts, and more. 

Gill Hasson further added to the research, especially her idea that there are no ‘bad’ emotions. Her work shows how all emotions, even sadness (link to benefits of sadness article) and anger, have merit with biological and philosophical functions and that avoiding them entirely can lead to emotional damage. 

John Gottman also added his own highly influential work in the field of applying EI to marriages and children. His research showed children have a vast, complex level of EI, even at an early age. In order to navigate that complexity, he devised a 5-step coaching program for children that is still used today. 

Where EI is Heading?

The list of influential figures in EI can go on and on forever, but this is just a brief overview of some of the most influential thinkers in the field. Thanks to dedicated curriculum, such as the Yale Center’s RULER approach, EI is taught across the globe to students of all ages. With a continuing dedication to EI in schools and businesses, it’s no wonder that the market for teaching and implementing EI is considered a rapidly-growing industry. In the next part of this series, I will outline the future of EI research and what areas and concepts we are still exploring and may learn more about in the future.

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