Theory of Emotional Intelligence

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Social Constructionist theory, Symbolic theory and Emotion-Focused Practice Theory discussed in the following paper, only touches a small scale of the wide scope of the Theories of Emotional Intelligence. Researchers are finding more information to prove their stance, including using MRI machines and biological testing. The idea is to have emotional stability, while living, working and moving through society. How we act and react to each other in conversations, work places and family matters are deemed important for a successful and fulfilling life. People trying to adapt and be accepted into a society are expected to play by the rules and customs. On a deeper level, it is important to be able to communicate effectively and imperative to be able to consciously convey primary and secondary emotions. More than ever, it is important to be in touch with your feelings.

Emotional Intelligence is a theory of how people react internally and externally to social situations and interactions. A person’s ability to quickly process and respond to their environment according to an internal assessment is paramount to this theory. It is believed that a person has to have control over their emotions, reactions and actions during communication with other people and have an understanding of their internal dialog simultaneously to have this intelligence. They should be able to assess and predict outcomes and weigh variables quickly to avoid embarrassment or strife. According to Daniel Goleman, people are “not equally emotionally intelligent about themselves and other people. A person may be more apt to sense other peoples discomfort or distress before they notice their own,” (Hutchison, 2017). There are several theories that will be discussed, yet many investigating the field have come up with different interpretations and have greatly expanded the use of this term.

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The term “Emotional Intelligence” originated from psychologists, John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey and David R.Caruso, in 1990 with the idea that:

Some individuals possess the ability to reason about and use emotions to enhance thought more effectively than others…it was viewed as groups of related mental abilities…and the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guides one’s thinking and actions,” (American Psychologist, 2008).

Additional researchers have expanded this view point to “an eclectic mix of traits” adding “happiness, optimism and self management,” and “other momentary emotions”, (American Psychologist, 2008), changing the original idea and causing confusing among researchers on where to focus:

Primary emotions are fairly simple to understand. They are your reactions to external events. Some precipitating event may cause you to experience emotion. Example: You may feel sad that someone hurt you or anxious about an upcoming test. A secondary emotion is when you feel something about the feeling itself. Example: You may feel anger about being hurt or shame about your anxiety. Secondary emotions turn emotions into complex reactions. They increase the intensity of your reactions. Differentiating between primary and secondary emotions provides powerful coping skills. (Hutchison, 2017)

The range of emotions has changed over time. People are socially allowed to be in touch with their feelings. For example, it is less stigmatizing for a man to cry publicly in 2018 as opposed to 1990. A man crying was ridiculed and raw emotions were avoided, happening only behind closed doors.

In addition, Social theories of emotion focused on perception or interpretation coming before the actual emotion. It is believed that interpretation is a learned behavior and that it is an automatic response. James Averell’s Socialist Constructionist theory believes that emotions are social constructed by norms and expectations within society. A man is pressured to buy an engagement ring for his future wife, get down on one knee and ask for her hand in marriage. An engagement ring and the man proposing are a social constructs as well as the giving of a diamond. “The division of labor, however, leads to social construction of numerous and diverse emotions, apparently by directing or attaching primary emotions to social objects” (Social Psychology Quarterly, 1989). If you are poor or rich, you would have a different expectations of the betrothal and the size of the ring. A person asking and or receiving the proposal can become overwhelmed with primary and secondary emotions.

Another example could be a boy wearing blue, as opposed to wearing pink, and how one would react if a parent decided to put a pink outfit on their son. It has been socially unacceptable for a boy to wear pink, it is feared if a boy wears pink he will become a homosexual or will be perceived as one. This resistance towards pink is seen as preventive maintenance. Averelli discussed temporary reactions socially accepted, like when people say things “out of anger”, or “had a moment” or they “were not themselves” because they were unable to control their actions. In addition, Goleman believes that the messages bypass the IQ and promotes emotions reacting to fight or flight, friend or foe, first. Individuals in addition could have an automatic response to what they perceived as right and wrong. This theory, in part, has been widely accepted because it gives permission for bad behavior, like reacting negatively and feeling regret and asking questions after the fact for clarification.

George Herbert Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory suggested that “emotions develop as symbols for communication. He believed that humans by nature are more sensitive to visual than verbal cues” (Hutcheson, 2017) He believed a person would react by watching someone else’s reaction in a situation that they would respond according to what they see or perceive:

Emotions are difficult to apprehend cognitively, and in our attempts to do so, we may mistake their essence. The bad feelings that travel us come not from those primary emotional responses, which, if experience directly, would tend to dissipate, but from defensive distortions of those responses. We tend to appraise situations accurately with our primary emotions but our frustration in achieving effective goals can produce distortions. Thus in contrast to the assumptions of cognitive theory, distortions of thought may be the result of a emotional phenomena rather than their cause (Hutcheson, 2017)

Some researchers believe our emotions evolved over time and changed accordingly to protect our way of life and survival of humankind. People adapted and many cultures acclimated into western society, yet held onto their core values, which was passed down through generations.

Psychologists, John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey and David R.Caruso gave Golemen permission to use the term “Emotional Intelligence” as his book title. Golemen was first to complicate popular understanding. He believed that the emotional intelligence was “at times more powerful than IQ” and influenced many researchers to come up with their own variations and perceptions. Mayer, Salovey and Caruso, again in 1997 introduced a Four Branch Model, discussed in American Psychologist’s September, 2008 article Emotional Intelligence, New Ability or Eclectic Traits? First branch: Managing emotions so as to attain specific goal.

Second branch: Understanding emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions. Third Branch: Using emotions to facilitate thinking. Forth branch: Perceiving emotions accurately in oneself and others. These branches taught us to evaluate feelings and held an expectation that emotions would change over time. They invented an emotional intelligence test called MSCEIT to evaluate intelligence. There is an adult version and a child version available. The flaw in the model is the influence of culture. What is culturally acceptable in the United States differs from other countries and many questions are based on social norms and are not applicable globally. America is separated by states, class, and race, so feelings and emotions on topics may differ from location to location. An example would be hunting. People living in the mid-west of the United States can value the life of an animal differently than if they live in New York. There is a different respect that occurs when you have to hunt for dinner.

In looking at the broad scope of emotional intelligence, it does give pause to the how and why people react to the same situation in a different way. It becomes difficult to avoid these questions: Does this mean emotional intelligence runs in families? Are these theories just another way of having superiority over each other? Is there a way a person is supposed to act or react and who should decide how these values are measured? Individual core values, religion, upbringing, mimicking of parental attitudes are all in motion when reacting to situations. With all the variables, it is understandable that discord remains among researchers.


  1. Elizabeth D.Hutchison P,(2017) second edition, Essentials of Human Behavior pp 99-103
  2. Fisher, G., & Chon, K. (1989). Durkheim and the Social Construction of Emotions. Social
  3. Psychology Quarterly, 52(1), 1-9. Retrieved from
  4. Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2008). Emotional intelligence: new ability or eclectic
  5. traits? American Psychologist, 63, 503-517. doi:10.1037/0003-055x.63.6.503

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Theory of Emotional Intelligence. (2022, May 18). Retrieved from

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