Each of us has this special friend who seems to have more insight into their feelings, a better understanding of other people’s emotions, and an incredible knack for handling potentially emotionally volatile situations with a seemingly magical touch.
What makes this person so good at these situations? What is this ‘it’ that they’re good at, and can we measure what makes them so good?
One answer is that our friend has high ‘emotional intelligence,’ (e.g., Mayer & Salovey, 1993) (Sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘social intelligence’.)
The topic of emotional intelligence has generated a great deal of interest, especially in the workplace and other highly social contexts. Some researchers have hypothesized that people high in emotional intelligence might perform better in these contexts, and their success isn’t only due to IQ (Boyatzis, 1982; Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2004).
Knowing that emotional intelligence might be advantageous, how can we measure it?
Emotional intelligence is a construct – an abstract concept defined by psychologists and researchers – and consequently, difficult to measure because it doesn’t exist in the physical world. It’s not as though we can pick up a block of emotional intelligence and measure it on a scale – instead, we need to devise questions that reliably tap into this concept.
To help you better understand how emotional intelligence is measured, we’ll begin by introducing different types of methods that have been used in the past. We’ll also provide a list of recommended downloadable PDFs and reliable tools, and we’ll present the Emotional Intelligence Masterclass and toolkit items that PositivePsychology.com makes available for its users.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will not only enhance your ability to understand and work with your emotions but will also give you the tools to foster the emotional intelligence of your clients, students, or employees.
You can download the free PDF here.
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Measuring Emotional Intelligence
Since emotional intelligence is a concept (i.e., it’s abstract), it’s important to first settle on a good definition thereof.
Definition of Emotional Intelligence
What do we mean when we refer to emotional intelligence (EQ)? The concept of emotional intelligence was first introduced by Salovey and Mayer (1990, as cited in Mayer & Salovey, 1993), and defined as:
“an ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions,
to discriminate among them, and
to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
Interestingly, their proposition of the existence of a concept like emotional intelligence was met with a great deal of criticism. At that stage, some researchers felt that similar concepts already existed, whereas others thought that the term ‘intelligence’ was marred with so much criticism that it deterred from the concept of emotional intelligence.
Interested readers are encouraged to read Mayer and Salovey (1993), who do an excellent job of outlining the concept further, and refuting some of their critics.
Since then, the definition of emotional intelligence has expanded, and currently, two definitions exist:
- Emotional intelligence is considered an ability (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000), or a subtype of intelligence. Much like having a skill or aptitude for mathematics, we might have an aptitude for emotional intelligence. This is also known as ‘Ability Emotional Intelligence’ (O’Connor, Hill, Kayla, & Martin, 2019)
- Emotional intelligence is a combination of intelligence, personality, and emotional expression (Petrides & Furnham, 2001). This is referred to as trait Emotional Intelligence (O’Connor et al., 2019)
Most researchers seem to accept that emotional intelligence manifests as someone who is emotionally skilled; that is:
- They’re aware of their own emotions.
- They’re aware of someone else’s emotions.
- They’re able to use this knowledge in social situations to their benefit.
Emotional intelligence can be measured in several ways. We’ll discuss a few of the methods in the sections below.
Identifying Someone Else’s Emotions in their Facial Expression
One way to measure emotional intelligence is by asking participants to identify the emotion displayed in a facial expression (Sanchez-Gomez & Breso, 2019).
For example, participants are given a face (either a photo like the one below, or a video of someone presenting an emotional expression) and are asked to indicate the extent that the different emotions are displayed in the face.
An example would be patients rating the degree to which Fear, Joy, Disgust, or Surprise are expressed in the photo below.
Patients are presented with several emotional problems, which they are required to solve (Sanchez-Gomez & Breso, 2019). This is akin to how intelligence is tested.
Identifying someone else’s emotions in a passage
Patients are given a scenario and must identify how the person in the scenario is feeling (Mayer & Geher, 1996). Here is an example:
“My best friend’s father died this weekend. He had diabetes for a long time. As he got older, his health grew worst and worse. I went to his funeral on Monday. Many of my friends from high school were also there because we wanted to be there for our friend and because we all knew and liked her father. It made me realize how lucky I am to have younger, healthy parents when I saw my friend standing there crying. Just watching her huge family come pouring into the synagogue also made me sad.” (Mayer & Geher, 1996, pp. 98).
Patients were then presented with a set of 12 dichotomous statements and had to choose which of the two statements better described the feelings of the author of the passage. For example:
‘Hostile – Unhappy for another.’
Rating your Emotional Intelligence
Patients are asked to evaluate their emotional intelligence on a variety of scales. The assumption underlying these tasks is that emotional intelligence is comprised of a set of subscales.
For example, the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i; Bar-On, 1997) has five dimensions, and each dimension comprises different subscales:
|Intrapersonal intelligence||Emotional self-awareness||It’s fairly easy for me to express my feelings.|
|Assertiveness||It’s hard for me to say ‘no’ when I want to.|
|Self-regard||I’m happy with the type of person I am.|
|Self-actualization||I try to make my life as meaningful as I can.|
|Independence||I’m more of a follower than a leader.|
|Interpersonal intelligence||Empathy||I’m sensitive to the feelings of others.|
|Interpersonal relationship||I’m a fairly cheerful person.|
|Social responsibility||Others find it hard to depend on me.|
|Adaptability||Problem-solving||My approach in overcoming difficulties is to move step by step.|
|Reality testing||It’s hard for me to understand the way I feel.|
|Flexibility||It’s difficult for me to change my opinion about things.|
|Stress management||Stress tolerance||I can handle stress without getting too nervous.|
|Impulse control||When I start talking, it is hard to stop.|
|General mood||Happiness||It’s hard for me to enjoy life.|
|Optimism||I believe that I can stay on top of tough situations.|
In total, patients answer 133 questions (or items), each measuring one or more of the five subscales. For each item, participants are expected to evaluate the degree that each statement accurately describes them on a 5-point scale, where 1 = ‘not true of me’ and 5 = ‘true of me.’
One criticism of self-report measures is that they can often be fake or untruthful. There are a number of explanations for this:
- Patients might respond in a socially desirable way.
- Patients might not be good judges of their emotional abilities.
Psychometric and Testing Jargon: Questionnaires, Scales, Items
At this point, you have probably noticed that I’m using domain-specific words such as items, scales, surveys, and so forth. Domain-specific words are words that have a special meaning within a specific field (i.e., a domain); this is jargon. To help guide you, here is a quick outline.
Psychological concepts are measured in various ways. Some of the scales that we have looked at so far have used Likert scales, questionnaires, and puzzles. To help you understand the difference, I’ve listed them below. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other ways that we can collect data.
Researchers and clinicians administer questionnaires, which the participant or patient must answer.
Sometimes questions are open (like Question 1), and sometimes questions are closed (like Question 2). Closed questions have a restricted number of possible responses, for example:
Question 1: Please describe how you are feeling today?
Question 2: Did you feel sad today? [yes, no]
A scale – as a tool to collect data – quantifies an abstract concept. Therefore, an abstract concept like emotional intelligence is measured on a scale. Like a thermometer, also a scale, the difference in the scale measurement indicates a difference in intensity or the strength of the concept.
The scale is the tool. For example, many of these emotional intelligence tools are scales that are measuring the intensity of that concept.
A response scale is a type of question where individuals are making a response on a scale. The range of the scale can vary.
On a scale from 1 to 7, indicate how interested you are in positive psychology. A response of 1 means’ no interest at all’, and a response of 7 means extremely interested.
An item refers to the elements (questions, statements, puzzles, tasks) that make up a psychological measurement tool. A questionnaire with 30 items has 30 questions.
In the example questionnaire, there are two items (question 1, and question 2).
You might be wondering why this is important. In the next section, I’ll explain why these terms are so important.
Reviewing the Emotional Vibration Scale
A different type of measurement tool that can be used to assess emotions is the Emotional Vibration Scale.
The premise of this scale is that emotions can be ranked from positive to negative and that each valence type (positive, negative) continues to generate emotions of that same valence.
In order to move up the scale, away from the negative emotions and towards positive emotions, the patient is required to assess their emotions: Complex emotions and thoughts need to be broken down into their smaller, base components. Here is an example:
Jeremy is anxious about work. He has a deadline due later this week. His thoughts are moving at the speed of light. He feels distracted, irritable, and restless.
When Jeremy breaks down his feelings into their basic components, he realizes that he is feeling:
- Worry (Will he meet his deadline?)
- Doubt (Is he able to meet his deadline?)
- Frustration/irritation (He is more ‘prickly’ than usual)
Now that Jeremy can recognize his feelings, he can work on ways to address them. His goal is to avoid feeding his negative emotions; he should not ignore these emotions or suppress them, but instead, he should actively work on ways that he can counteract the further development of negative emotions. There are numerous ways to do this, and one such way is practicing mindfulness and gratitude.
At first glance, you might think that this seems like a sound way to measure emotional intelligence. However, although the Emotional Vibration Scale contains the word ‘scale’ in its name, it does not measure emotional intelligence on a psychological scale (as understood in psychometrics).
Instead, the term scale is meant as a way of ranking emotions informally. Therefore, if you are looking for emotional intelligence scales that are empirically sound (i.e., that have good psychometric properties), then you need to look for tools that have been tested extensively and are well researched. Later in this post, I’ll introduce some empirically sound scales to you.
A Look at the Emotional Maturity Scale
Measuring Emotional Maturity – Willoughby
One of the earliest attempts to measure emotional intelligence was made by Willoughby (1932). His interest was in ‘emotional maturity, which he describes as:
“Consists essentially in a loosening and slipping away of attitudes and interests which are tolerable in children, but fatal in adults.” (Willoughby, 1932, pp. 3).
Willoughby was a psychoanalyst (i.e., trained in the school of thought developed by Sigmund Freud), and much of his theory and writing is bedded within this field. He specifically recognized that measuring emotional maturity was a difficult task because the subject (i.e., the patient or the participant) would change their behavior if they knew they were being observed. For these reasons, he recommended that the subject was to be observed unknowingly.
He developed a method whereby students would rate themselves according to specific scenarios as indicating various levels of emotional maturity. Peers would also rate the student and rate themselves.
The purpose of this was to determine:
- Whether individuals who considered themselves to have high emotional maturity were also rated as highly emotionally mature by their peers. In other words, Willoughby was measuring the reliability of the items.
- Whether certain items were able to discriminate between people with low, medium, and high emotional maturity.
The test is not without criticism: Although Willoughby meant to study emotional maturity, it remains unclear whether emotional maturity is synonymous with emotional intelligence.
Emotional Mature Scale
The Emotional Maturity Scale was developed by Singh and Bhargava (1991, as cited by Singh & Sharma, 2014). This tool consists of 48 items, which measure five dimensions:
- Emotional instability
- Emotional regression
- Social maladjustment
- Personality disintegration
- Lack of independence
The questions are self-report; that is, patients respond to each statement based on their own assessment of themselves.
The responses are made on a 5-point scale, ranging from Never (1) to Always (5). This scale is interpreted differently to other scales – the higher the score, the less emotionally mature the respondent is, and the lower the total, the greater emotional maturity.
Therefore, when looking for tools, make sure that you read the administration manual very carefully and take note of:
- Scoring rules (e.g., reversing scores)
- Interpretation rules
6 Empirically Sound Scales
So how do we know if a scale is empirically sound? Well, we need to consider the psychometric properties of the scales.
Brief Introduction to Psychometrics
Psychometrics is quite a broad, well-developed field, with a great deal of theory, and refers to the method that researchers develop tools to measure psychological concepts and processes.
Psychometrics = ‘Psyche’ (mind) + ‘metron’ (measurement) + ‘ikos’ (resembling something)
It is important that you know a little bit about this topic because it will help you evaluate whether a tool – like a test, a scale, a questionnaire – is sound. To determine whether a tool is sound, researchers will conduct a large scale study where they attempt to validate the tool, discover the underlying dimensions of the tool, and prune the items (i.e., questions) used.
Two of the most critical concepts in psychometrics is:
- Reliability: Tools that are reliable are consistently measuring what they are meant to measure. The results of the tool are dependable and stable. For example, a scale that says that you weigh 140 pounds today, and 240 pounds tomorrow would be unreliable.
- Validity: Tools that are valid are measuring what they say they measure. For example, a scale that is meant to measure your weight, but instead measures your heart rate is not valid. The scale is not measuring what is intended to measure.
Empirically sound scales
Many scales and tools exist that measure emotional intelligence (O’Connor et al., 2019).
In their paper, O’Connor et al. (2019) provide an excellent overview and criticism of the field and guide researchers and clinical practitioners who wish to utilize these scales in their work. We have relied on their paper as guidance for this post.
|Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Tests (MSCEIT) (Mayer et al., 2002).||Widely used (>1 500 studies)||Expensive, time-consuming.|
|Self-report Emotional Intelligence Test (SREIT) (Schutte et al., 1998)||Widely used (>3 000 studies)
|Some researchers question whether this test measures EI overall.|
|Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue) (Petrides & Furnham, 2001)||Widely used (>2 000 studies)
Has good reliability and validity.
|Expensive; easily faked because it uses self-report measures.|
|Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) (Bar-On, 1997)||Some good psychometric properties.||Social-desirability might distort responses.|
|The Situational Test of Emotional Management (STEM) (MacCann & Roberts, 2008)||Strong psychometric properties.||Not as widely used as other measures (>250 studies)
May need to be used alongside other tools.
|The Situational Test of Emotional Understanding (STEU) (MacCann & Roberts, 2008)||Strong psychometric properties.
Appropriate for professional and workplace contexts.
|Not as widely used as other measures (>250 studies)
May need to be used alongside other tools.
Overall, the best, free tool, which is also freely available, is the SREIT (Schutte et al., 1998). Administration and scoring of the tool are described in Schutte et al. (1998). Otherwise, if clinicians are willing to pay for the tool, then the EQ-i (Bar-On, 1997), and the TEIQue-SF (Petrides & Furnham, 2001) are highly recommended (O’Connor et al., 2019).
3 Downloadable PDFs
First, we would like to recommend the Self-report Emotional Intelligence Test (SREIT), which is described in Schutte et al. (1998).
The authors of this paper have made this tool freely available for research and clinician purposes. The authors list the 33 items that comprise this test, as well as the procedure followed to develop this tool. To find this paper, search for it on Academia.Edu.
The second tool that we can recommend is the adaptation of the Emotional Intelligence Framework created by The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence. This tool includes two domains:
- Personal Competence (with dimensions self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation) and
- Social Competence (with dimensions social awareness, and social skills).
In total, there are 94 questions. This tool is meant for self-assessment, but it could be adapted for use in a clinical setting. Responses are made on a five-point scale where 1 = underdeveloped, and 5 = excellent.
We would also recommend the Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire developed by the National Health System, which forms part of their Leadership Toolkit. This tool assesses five dimensions using 50 items. Those dimensions are:
- Managing emotions
- Motivating oneself
- Social Skill
Using a 5-point scale, patients indicate how much each statement applies to them: 1= does not apply at all, and 5 = always applies. The scoring rubric for this tool is especially useful because it grades certain ranges of scores.
Therefore, total scores:
- between 35 and 50 are considered a strength,
- between 18 and 34 need attention,
- between 10 and 17 are categories as a development priority.
Emotional Intelligence Masterclass and Toolkit
At PositivePsychology.com, we have many resources that can help you to:
- Increase your emotional intelligence
- Increase your patient’s emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Masterclass
The first tool that we would like to suggest is the Emotional Intelligence Masterclass©. This course contains six modules and is specifically geared towards professionals. Each mobile tackles a different topic, such as:
- Emotional intelligence
- Emotional awareness
- Beliefs about emotions
- Emotional knowledge
- Emotional expression
The class is presented by own of our team members, Dr. Hugo Alberts (so you’re in good hands), and you’ll learn how to convey this knowledge in a professional setting as a teacher, or clinical professional such as a therapist or life coach.
9 Toolkit Resources
The second list of resources you would find beneficial is included in our Toolkit. In total, we currently have nine tools that you may find useful.
These five exercises can easily be used in a clinical or coaching setting with a client. The exercises can be divided into two groups:
- Exercises that help to identify emotions in other people
- Exercises that help to identify emotions in oneself
For the first category of exercises, we recommend the Reading Facial Expressions of Emotions Tool. In this tool, patients will learn how to read different emotions from different facial expressions, which is a very useful social skill. The exercise can be performed in a group exercise, but could also be adapted in a solo-patient context.
A tool that is well-suited for patients who struggle to articulate their feelings is The Emotion Meter. In this exercise, patients will learn how to recognize their emotions and verbalize them.
After learning how to identify their emotions, patients can complete the Mindful Speaking exercise, where patients learn how to communicate in a way that requires awareness, purpose, and appreciation.
A similar exercise, which might complement this exercise is the Ripple Effects From Emotions tool, where patients learn how to express their emotions in a way that considers both the short and long outcomes of what they are going to say.
This tool is handy for clients who are unable to regulate their emotional responses in an interaction, and this might lead to negative emotions in the conversation recipient. By considering the various ripple effects these conversations may have, patients learn to express their feelings in a way that delivers the message without the patient feeling accompanying negative emotions such as guilt, shame, or anger.
In the final exercise, Identifying Emotional Avoidance Strategies, patients will gain an even deeper understanding and awareness of their emotions and how some negative emotions may result in maladaptive behaviors. This exercise aims to help patients overcome these challenges and adopt healthier behaviors when experiencing negative emotions. This exercise is better suited for a one-on-one setting.
Rather than relying on self-report assessments and questionnaires, patients can also learn more about their emotional awareness, and develop it further, through our Building Emotional Awareness meditation tool.
In this tool, patients will learn how to implement mindfulness meditation in their daily lives, and how to implement an emotional awareness component to this daily activity. This tool is very useful for patients who want an activity to work on while at home or traveling.
A Teaching tool
This tool is slightly different because it has more of an educational nature, and is not an activity like an exercise. In The Neuroanatomy of an Emotion, patients will learn more about emotions – what they are, how they develop biologically, and how to gain control of them, especially through stress management.
This tool is especially useful for patients who want to understand more about why emotions feel so ‘real’ and govern our behavior and thinking, especially in times of panic, stress, and anger.
These two interventions are meant to be used in a clinical setting. In the first exercise, Using Music to Express Feelings, clients use music to express their emotions. This task can be useful for clients who initially struggle to articular their feelings. To complete the exercise, clients learn to identify the emotions that they’re feeling and to find the necessary vocabulary to convey those feelings to the practitioner.
In the second exercise, patients get used to articulating their feelings. By performing this exercise, patients learn how to (1) identify their emotions, and (2) describe this emotion. Through regular reflection and expression, the patients develop a lexicon for expressing their feelings. It is for these reasons that the tool is aptly named The Feeling Dictionary.
A Take-Home Message
Emotional intelligence is challenging to measure. There are various explanations for this difficulty:
- Some of the challenges result from how emotional intelligence is defined (is it an ability, or is it a combination of skills and personality?),
- Some of the challenges result from how the tests are constructed (Must patients solve an emotional problem, identify an emotion in someone else, or assess their own understanding of their emotional aptitude?)
- Some of these challenges also stem from the challenges with measuring the psychometric properties of a psychological test. Emotional intelligence is not a physical ‘thing’ that exists in the real world and therefore is difficult to measure.
Despite this, you should have a good idea of some of the techniques used to tap into this concept, and you could introduce different techniques and methods into your clinical setting as a way to gauge your patient’s understanding of emotional awareness.
Ultimately, this post has provided you with the necessary foundation and resources so that you can critically evaluate the different Emotional Intelligence scales that are available and given you other options – which are less diagnostic and more therapeutic – that you can easily implement in your professional and clinical setting.
If you want to read more about Emotional Intelligence, then follow these links to the other posts:
- How To Improve Emotional Intelligence Through Training
- 17 Emotional Intelligence Tests and Assessments
- 69 Exercises For Leading With Emotional Intelligence
- 26 Best Emotional Intelligence Books (Reviews + Summaries)
- How to Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
- The Emotion Wheel: What It Is and How to Use It [+PDF]
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free.
If you wish to learn more, our Emotional Intelligence Masterclass© is a 6-module emotional intelligence training package for practitioners which contains all the materials you’ll need to become an emotional intelligence expert, helping your clients harness their emotions and cultivate emotional connection in their lives.
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