Emotional intelligence

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Clarifying the Nature of Emotional Intelligence

 The meaning of Emotional Intelligence continues to develop over the years.  In 1997, Salovey and Mayer refined their definition as: “the ability to process emotional information, more specifically an ability to recognize the meanings of emotions and their relationships, as well as being able to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them.  In particular, it involves one’s capacity to perceive and assimilate emotional feelings, to understand the information of these emotions and lastly, the management of them.”   Their ‘academic’ model focuses on intelligence, information processing and importantly, the potential for learning, understanding, developing, and growth (Hein, 2003). 

 More recently, Mayer and Cobb further developed the definition of Emotional Intelligence, into the following four branches (2000):

  1. Emotional identification, perception and expression
  2. Emotional facilitation of thought
  3. Emotional understanding
  4. Emotional management

 Hein defines Emotional Intelligence as: “being able to know how to separate healthy feelings from unhealthy ones and how to turn negative feelings, into positive ones.”  He believes Emotional Intelligence refers to an individual’s innate potential, with a core formed by four inborn components: emotional sensitivity, emotional memory, emotional learning ability and emotional processing (Hein, 2003).  He claims this innate intelligence is affected, either developed or damaged, by life experiences.  It appears to be particularly affected by the emotional lessons taught by parents, teachers, caregivers and family.  Hein considers emotional processing as one of the four core innate components, which affects individuals’ natural intelligence and potential.  Therefore, to improve an individual’s Emotional Intelligence, perhaps one needs first to develop their emotional processing abilities. 

Association between Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Processing

Emotional processing was defined by Rachman (1980), as “a process whereby emotional disturbances are absorbed and decline to the extent that other experiences and behaviour can proceed without disruption.”  Thus similarities are seen with Salovey and Mayer’s recent definition of Emotional Intelligence, which focuses on the ability to process emotional information, more particularly the ability to recognise their meanings and relationships.  However, emotional processing does not involve the conscious management and manipulation of emotions, to the extent that Emotional Intelligence does.  Rather, it refers more to the psychological mechanisms involved in processing.  According to Bucci (1997), these underlying mechanisms are often unconscious, non-verbal, sub-symbolic (Teasdale, 1999), passive and automatic (Epstein, 1998).  Goleman (1995) considers Emotional Intelligence to be a skill, which can be learned.  Whereas emotional processing is regarded as a natural, and largely unconscious, process (Baker, Thomas, Thomas & Owens, submitted). 

In 2003, Peter Salovey and David Pizarro concluded that Emotional Intelligence is beneficial for two reasons.  Firstly, it provides an organizing framework that enables the field to synthesize a large body of research on affective phenomena.  Secondly, Emotional Intelligence reaches beyond traditional views of Intelligence, by incorporating the emotional system.  This provides a theory of individual differences in emotional abilities.  Emotional Intelligence has a strong interpersonal focus and works on positively improving individuals’ own skills and successes.  Therefore, an important distinction between these two concepts is that emotional processing has its roots in clinical psychology, rather than social or business psychology (Rachman, 1980).  It focuses on processes related to disorders, rather than self improvement.  Baker’s Emotional Processing Scale (EPS) measures individuals’ abilities at accurately identifying, and dealing with, their own emotions (Baker, 2004), in particular deficits or blockages, which can hinder the processing of emotions.  From a therapeutic stance, this identification of deficits allows therapy to be better focused on providing the individual with release from their problems.  Emotional processing aims to improve our understanding, and ability to predict, both physical and psychological disorders.  It has the ability for measuring change in individuals’ emotional processing abilities over time, for example, before and after therapy.  Thus, it has the potential to contribute new ideas to therapeutic programmes. 

Emotional processing is applicable to mental health, psychosomatic disorders and physical illness.  Baker’s ongoing work endeavours to gain a deeper understanding of the role of emotional processing in each of these areas.  In conclusion, emotional processing has the potential for bringing together very diverse schools of psychological therapy, by offering a reformulation of the therapy process (Baker, 2004).  Developments in this area could potentially see the exciting emergence of an encompassing concept, which leads to improvements in future clinical practice.

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