You decided to renovate your kitchen set and ended with the ceiling in your corridor. You had a cough and were referred to a cardiologist. Do these situations look familiar? In life, everything is interconnected, and psychology is no exception. Emotional intelligence is a concept that cannot be discussed in isolation from other psychological components. People’s relationships with each other, their attitude toward themselves and the world, emotional burnout, and impostor syndrome – read about this and much more in an interview with Fyodor Mikhailovich Shankov, a practicing first-category psychologist of Moscow Psychological Assistance Service for the Population and a researcher at Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy Lab of the Psychological Institute of RAE.
What is emotional intelligence? Is this a scientific concept or a colloquial name?
Emotional intelligence is a concept located in the abyss between academic psychology and psychological practice. In general, it strives to be scientific and relies on scientific data, but on the other hand, it is very monetized, focused on business environment, success discourse, and, accordingly, loses its scientific character and sometimes does not stand up to scientific criticism.
Speaking about history, the concept itself arose in the 60s but became popular with the publication of a book by scientific journalist Daniel Goleman. Observations have shown that, in addition to intelligence, there is some other factor that determines how successful a person is. Goleman, based on the data obtained, concluded that, in contrast to academic intelligence, there is emotional intelligence, i.e., how much a person can feel what they really need, determine the emotions of another person, regulate their emotional states. The addressee of Goleman’s book is a manager, a businessman, a person who wants to be successful. In this context, human anthropology is a “gadget.” There is a hard drive, there is software, there are some applications that pump hard skills, knowledge, and awareness, and there are soft skills, “getting along” with other devices. Psychologists John Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David Caruso called the latter “emotional intelligence.”
Nevertheless, in academic psychology there is a postulate of the unity of affect and intelligence, showing that intellectual and emotional processes are merged. Emotions are always involved in our cognitive processes, and intelligence somehow determines the emotional assessment. The concept of emotional intelligence includes a lot of scientifically based things, such as empathy, alexithymia, social intelligence, emotional reconnaissance (to which extent a person can read the feelings and emotions of another person and bring them into communication). There are many interesting studies on each of these components.
It is hard to evaluate this concept since it does not stand up to scientific criticism. There is no so-called incremental (construct) validity. The term covers definitions that already exist in science, such as psychological reasonableness, empathy, social intelligence. But since psychology belongs to the social sciences and psychologists work primarily with people – this is a good formulation to explain to people that they are living organisms, that there are not only intense feelings of aggression or sadness (something that people can really read) but also more subtle phenomenological experiences that should be paid attention to and that determine the quality of life, happiness, relationships, the experience of parenthood, interaction with other people and the ability to lead.
Is it possible to make this concept relevant for the scientific environment and is it necessary?
Relevance to science is determined by how a particular term is involved in the scientific tradition. There is a Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which is actively criticized but still being developed. In addition to contrasting emotional intelligence with academic intelligence, there are logical-mathematical, musical, practical, and other bits of intelligence. And in this vein, of course, science can develop this topic without claiming that emotional intelligence explains everything, as described by Daniel Goleman or Travis Bradberry in his book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In fact, emotional intelligence explains only 2 to 10% of success issues, like John Mayer, an expert in this field, wrote.
And this is a well-known phenomenon in science when a new direction turns into a trend and inflates like a soap bubble. Whether it is psychoanalysis or cognitive psychology, they try to explain everything with them. Therefore, scientists who are engaged in emotional intelligence are trying to avoid this and introduce more and more contexts. If usually, we just say that emotional intelligence improves the quality of life, then the scientist cites the data of a specific experiment with an accurate sample. Unfortunately, if you open popular books about emotional intelligence, then over and over again there are mistakes due to the generalization of conclusions from a specific sample to the entire population, from culture to culture, from statistical inference to global judgments. Therefore, much more needs to be done to ensure that this concept is firmly established in science.
But, in my opinion, this is a good trend, because academic psychology is sometimes too detached from life. It is simply clearer to a person when they hear the “emotional intelligence” phrase. They may think why not start developing it, since there is scientific evidence that it improves the quality of life. This, of course, is the value of this construct.
How is emotional intelligence measured?
There is a big problem with measurement because we are talking about the emotional sphere. Unlike memory, attention, and other theoretical constructs that are introduced in psychology, we experience emotions directly. Measurements are always mediated: either we determine them through physiological reactions (whether a particular emotion is present in a person), or we use self-reporting. Scientists are trying to mix these methods more and more to determine whether a person has a certain intelligence skill. The method of Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso is most often used, which was tested in the dissertation of I. V. Pluzhnikov and modified by E. A. Sergienko and co-authors for reliable testing on a Russian sample.
There are several parameters: we evaluate how a person defines an emotion in certain situations, how accurately they manage to do it, whether a person can recognize the facial expressions of another human, how well the psychological culture is developed in general and whether it is typical for a person to see the causality of emotions in themselves / in the external environment, whether they use reflection. In science, each of the components is popular: empathy, alexithymia, psychological reasonableness, etc. Each of them is measured by a separate instrument because the scales of emotional intelligence collect a lot, but it is difficult to attach them to certain psychological mechanisms. This is such a huge construct that measures almost everything. The data on how factors agree with each other within emotional intelligence are contradictory. Pluzhnikov’s dissertation shows that the connection is not so obvious. Emotional intelligence is most likely not one big ability, but a lot of skills.
I.e., there is no testing officially recognized by the professional community?
Officially recognized tests are those that are approved, validated on large samples, that have shown good psychometric reliability, so here they use, first of all, the modification of E. A. Sergienko. There are other approaches to emotional intelligence: some divide it into 4 abilities, some into 12 skills, some into personality traits. There are a lot of methods and tests, but it is important to say here that this is applicable for large samples and scientific research. Scientific research, psychodiagnostic, psycho correction, or job interviews are different stories. In scientific research, a discount is made on the statistical error. What is natural for a huge sample does not correlate at all with what is natural for one person. Especially if they came to the hundredth interview tired, and the employer asks them to fill out an emotional intelligence test. In this case, it is impossible to talk about valid data, it is necessary to consider the context and recheck it with other methods.
What does emotional intelligence depend on? Do age, social experience, gender matter?
There are conflicting studies, but in general, if we talk about gender, women are more likely to read the emotions of others. While in men, the regulation of emotions is more pronounced. It is important here that we are talking about gender, i.e., what is culturally appropriated, and not about some biologically specified mechanisms. Neurophysiological studies actually reflect that physiologically there can be absolutely the same indicators, but at the same time, a woman says that she feels sadness, and a man says that he feels anger or does not feel anything at all. The fact is that since childhood, boys are given toys that do not develop the ability to read and express emotions, but rather manage, direct, understand mechanisms. Parents unconsciously buy them to adapt to the current culture. Girls are accordingly given dolls that communicate with each other and thus, since childhood, they have been developing communicative components of emotional intelligence.
To answer the question about age, we need to talk about the psychological age. The paradox is that with the help of emotional intelligence, it’s possible to measure emotional maturity. There is a common term abroad – kidult, i.e., adult child. Often, managers or those who hold a high position cause embarrassment to subordinates because complex communication processes begin, for example, the superior behaves despotically. In American culture, this means that a person does not know how to manage their emotions in crises, and their psychological age is extremely low. In this context, they do not have high emotional intelligence. On the other hand, we must say that with age, gaining experience, a person better differentiates the contexts in which emotions arise. For example, a person with a developed emotional intelligence who is experiencing anxiety can distinguish: if this is an alarm because something extremely important is happening now or if this is a premonition of a threat. Depending on this, the person builds their further behavior.
Gradually, our inner world differentiates, and a person with developed emotional intelligence experiences not only intense emotions but also those that are just emerging. For example, if a parent has a well-developed emotional intelligence, then when feeling irritated with a child, they can determine what exactly is the source of experience and emotions: not that the child is annoying, but, for example, that they did not have time to drink water, or do not know what to do. Then anger is replaced by sadness, and it is good if there are relatives nearby who can help and take part in this process. The parent asks for help and does not take out their aggression on the child or any other object that now may be perceived by them as an obstacle to calmness. On the contrary, a person with undeveloped emotional intelligence does not read these previous stages and brings themselves to intense affects that narrow their consciousness and have a very detrimental effect on communication strategies, destroying relationships.
And what about children? Do they have developed emotional intelligence or intuition? After all, if the teacher enters the classroom in a bad mood, the children will not behave badly.
Here it is important to separate the concepts of intuition and emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the participation of intelligence, language, and signs in the recognition and regulation of emotional processes. In children, this ability is not fully formed. It begins to develop at school. A well-known example is the “pendulum” of teenagers who jump from one emotion to another: from omnipotence to shame, for example. It is precisely in the social environment that the mechanisms of language designation are set up: a person reads more literature, receives feedback from other people.
At the same time, children have more natural emotions. In addition, no one has canceled the biological mechanisms that help serve the goals. Children do not want to run into aggression and conflicts and, of course, they will naturally read emotions. If you go further, to babies, then just think about who controls the family: the baby or the parent? Everything is led by a baby because no one wants to listen to screams. Some studies show that an infant can read the emotional expression, recognize the face, condition, and mood of the mother, and this determines their mood. We have biologically embedded mechanisms of mirror neurons. In simple words, we have “mirrors” in our brain that unconsciously, automatically reflect the state of another person.
Returning to the question of intuition, the current situation with emotional intelligence is such that intuition is included in this concept, as well as awareness, although in academic psychology intuition refers more to the processes of thinking. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, the famous book of the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, the concepts of a system of logical thinking and intuition are separated. Several cognitive errors, primarily emotionally conditioned, are shown. For example, why does a person intuitively make wrong decisions? They may have a warm cup of coffee during the interview, and they speak more affectionately, or they may have a cold carbonated drink, and the person is prone to harsh judgments. There are hundreds of such cognitive errors.
The intuition here is instant decision-making without understanding how a person came to this. A classic example is chess players. There is a study where grandmasters were shown a chessboard for a couple of seconds and asked to recall how the pieces were placed. One of the players replied that he did not remember the pieces positions, but he knew for sure that if White’s pawn attacks the knight, then in five moves there will be checkmate. Instant grasp. Therefore, Kahneman warns that it is important to trust intuition, but only if it is an expert intuition when a person has spent enough time in a particular professional context.
At the same time, you cannot trust spontaneous judgments without logical thinking. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to differentiate whether this an erroneous judgment or not. For example, I saw this person, and I immediately did not like him. Why? If you think about it, it often depends on the external context: the mood is bad, the family relations have deteriorated, or he looks like a friend with whom you quarreled. The ability to use intuition and emotional information in decision-making is also about emotional intelligence.
Is it possible to develop emotional intelligence?
The most frequent subject of a request for psychotherapy is relationships with loved ones or at work. Based on my experience working on the helpline (emergency psychological assistance line 051), I can say that first of all, people turn for help regarding relationships. The simplest solution to the problem is to ask, to receive feedback. Let’s say I got an emotional response: it seems that the person is angry at me. You can directly ask: “It seems to me that you are angry with me now, is it so?” It is important to admit that our emotional assessment may be wrong. The introduction of such open questions is the assumption that the other person is free. We often attribute the reasons for the anger and emotions of another person to their character (a fundamental error of attribution or causality). But when we experience negative emotions, we believe that the external environment is to blame for this. Such is the phenomenon of consciousness. If we remember this, we can assume that there are a thousand more reasons why a person is in a bad mood. And here, rather, it is necessary to show sympathy and care, not resistance.
Now they write a lot and make many movies about it. Communication of people is a kind of dance. One always attacks, tries to catch up somehow (in couples it is often a woman). A man in this situation often begins to lock himself in, taking the position of a “detached” partner to preserve the relationship and avoid conflict. If at some point you stop and express it out loud: “I’m angry now because it seemed to me that you judged me,” you will give the person an opportunity to respond honestly. Both are trying to maintain this relationship, just in different ways.
Every time a unique situation is formed, you cannot give universal recipes, but every time it is also awareness, asking yourself the question: “What do I really want now?” It often turns out that a value that is not related to the person you want to take a shot at is under threat. There is a whole drama unfolding in psychotherapy. I remember a client who contacted me about the work situation and the impostor syndrome. Despite a job well done, he feels that he does not know anything and is not competent. After several meetings, we concluded that he is very worried about the lack of personal meetings with his wife when they would be in emotional intimacy. In America, they call it quality time. And after he went on a date with his wife, his stress and worries about work disappeared. The emotional life world is revealed amazingly whenever you find how one thing resonates with another.
It turns out that emotional intelligence is not only about interaction with others, but also about interaction with yourself?
Yes, experts, first of all, recommend starting with yourself. With questions such as “What do I really want?”, “What caused this or that emotion?”, “Do I now devote time to the most valuable?” After all, chronotopic, the temporal-spatial world of emotions is different from our current logical time. It is very systematic and tied to the structure of language and associations. Here you can dig around and find some completely unexpected reasons that you will not come to with your head.
You mentioned training sessions. What exercises are given for the development of emotional intelligence?
The training effectiveness is overestimated. After all, individual or group psychotherapy is much more useful, including for emotional intelligence. Training is more about business, about sales, and about charisma, which does not have long-term effects. It is simply impossible to physically take everything into account here: one participant is not yet aware of their problem, another is ready to act, and the third has an addiction and the task is simply to stay at some level of life. After all, the process of life changes is exactly a process, and you need to prepare for it, enlist social support, warn your loved ones, consider the moments of slipping.
I would give an example of an exercise from psychotherapy. Here the following simple meditative practice reveals its value. In the beginning, do not even pay attention to emotions, but just return to the present moment. In ordinary language, “ground yourself,” feel the sensation in your feet, the surrounding sounds, smells. If you are driving, you can focus on the grip, if you are walking, on the step, or taste sensations during eating, but most often people focus on breathing, because, like emotions, breathing is experienced directly.
The first exercise: just return to the present, listen to the breath trying to reject the attempts to control it in any way. Focus on the process and the rhythm: at some point, the airflow is warmer, at some point it is colder, somewhere the rhythm suddenly gets lost. You will definitely come up with some thoughts, feelings, for example, anxiety – note this. This is such a panacea for depressive and other emotional disorders, along with pharmacotherapy. This exercise will take 10–15 minutes a day, but there will be a significant effect. I recommend this kind of conscious meditation to my clients.
Can focusing on emotions and reflection give a side effect, for example, depression? How to deal with this?
Yes, absolutely. D. A. Leontiev, a researcher of the motivational and semantic sphere, has the concept of “vicious reflection”: mental gum or self-loathing. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh – a priest, but at the same time a professor at several universities – has a wonderful example.
He leaves the church and suddenly sees that on a beautiful spring day an old woman is digging through trash. The priest asks what she is doing. It turns out that on this wonderful day, she is interested in what the neighbors are corresponding about.
We often treat ourselves this way: we do not appreciate what is given and what we have, but we try to get to the bottom of the reasons, self-loathing, trying to take control of the emotional sphere, while it is a living organism. No wonder in psychotherapy they talk about the inner child who loves care. If he or she is screaming and crying, then you need to determine what kind of need he or she has now. Unfortunately, very often people with depressive and anxiety disorders are too immersed inside, lose contact with the surrounding reality, with important objects and people, and try to grab more and more at this elusive tail.
There is a vicious circle: a person, trying to avoid mistakes and change something in themselves, loses all the most valuable things. The body begins to scream louder, and the person again tries to score it and control it, and the body screams even more. Therefore, one of the signs of depression is learned helplessness. A person ceases to trust themselves, to believe in self-efficacy, and gets more and more stuck in emotional traps. If by emotional intelligence, we mean “wild psychoanalysis” with digging into the true essential causes – it is harmful.
It is necessary not to forget about intelligence in the phrase “emotional intelligence.” The question is very important here: “Why?”, “What for?” A depressed person always wants to confirm the idea that there is no future, everything is terrible, everything is critical, and they are terrible. As a result, the purpose of the analysis is to confirm the negative attitude, which only makes the internal state worse. Internal emotional knots are tied. This is often due to an injury caused by someone close to you. This often happens when you break up with a partner: he leaves, turns away, or rudely calls me, so I’m bad. Even though a person can say: no, this is not true. All the same, it directly penetrates as an emotional experience, and this is often found in psychotherapy.
Here, the study of emotional distress, or emotional burnout, is relevant. This is now a common term, but it is a serious phenomenon that is included in the international classification of diseases. Now, this is relevant in connection with the overwork of medical staff, volunteers, priests, helping practitioners-psychologists. And here is an interesting point that often in the ordinary consciousness, excessive sensitivity of a person is associated with emotional burnout. In reality, distress occurs not because the person is overly empathic, but because they cannot name their feelings in time. This is proven in the study of T. D. Karyagina on the Russian sample. Emotional burnout occurs, first of all, when a person begins to lock themselves in and does not ask for help. This often happens when feedback is not developed in the organizational culture, i.e., managers do not give employees an assessment of their activities. They do not focus on the advantages but criticize.
That is, the most important rule to avoid difficulties in dealing with others and yourself is to speak everything out, do I understand correctly?
Emotional intelligence is a concept that draws attention to the fact that in several important spheres of human life (social status, education, professional success, family relationships, etc.), an important role is played not so much by the rational and pragmatic functioning of the individual, as by interest, attention, understanding, mastering one’s emotional sphere and involving it in the processes of cognition, decision-making, communication. The concept is widely used in everyday psychology and organizational environment.
At present, the scientific status of the concept is low, there is not enough reliable scientific evidence, the research results are contradictory, there is a large spread of inconsistent alternative models and measurement methods. At the same time, the benefits of a number of competencies and skills included in emotional intelligence (empathy, processing of emotional information, emotional literacy, communicative competence, self-efficacy, etc.) have sufficient scientific justification, and their popularization through the concept of emotional intelligence is culturally significant.
Scientifically confirmed, accessible means of developing abilities related to emotional intelligence are the regularity of the following activities: reading fiction, healthy sleep, practicing mindfulness, regularly receiving feedback about your behavior from the environment, intercultural interaction, creative activities, receiving help and support within the framework of psychological counseling and psychotherapy.
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