Each of us has that 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 it that they’re so good at, and can we measure it?
One potential answer is that our friend has high ‘emotional intelligence’ (Mayer & Salovey, 1993).
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 and, consequently, difficult to measure. 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 better explain 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, as well as the Emotional Intelligence Masterclass and toolkit items that PositivePsychology.com makes available for our users.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three 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
Since emotional intelligence is a concept, it’s important to first settle on a good definition.
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):
“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.
The definition of emotional intelligence has since 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 in 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’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 presented with an image of a face (either a photo or video of someone demonstrating an emotional expression) and asked to indicate the extent to which different emotions are displayed.
For example, participants might rate the degree to which fear, joy, disgust, or surprise are expressed in the photo below.
Participants are presented with and asked to solve several emotional problems (Sanchez-Gomez & Breso, 2019). This is akin to how IQ is tested.
Identifying someone else’s emotions in a passage
Participants 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 worse 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, p. 98).
Participants 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
Participants 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:
It’s fairly easy for me to express my feelings.
It’s hard for me to say ‘no’ when I want to.
I’m happy with the type of person I am.
I try to make my life as meaningful as I can.
I’m more of a follower than a leader.
I’m sensitive to the feelings of others.
I’m a fairly cheerful person.
Others find it hard to depend on me.
My approach in overcoming difficulties is to move step by step.
It’s hard for me to understand the way I feel.
It’s difficult for me to change my opinion about things.
I can handle stress without getting too nervous.
When I start talking, it is hard to stop.
It’s hard for me to enjoy life.
I believe that I can stay on top of tough situations.
In total, participants answer 133 questions, 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:
Participants might respond in a socially desirable way.
Participants might not be good judges of their emotional abilities.
Psychometric and testing terminology: Questionnaires and scales
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. Below is a rundown of some of the terminology used in psychological testing. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other ways to collect data.
Researchers and clinicians administer questionnaires that the participant must complete.
Questions can be open (Question 1) or closed (Question 2).
Question 1: Please describe how you are feeling today.
Question 2: Did you feel sad today?
As tools to collect data, scales quantify an abstract concept. The difference in the scale measurement indicates a difference in intensity or strength of the concept.
Many emotional intelligence tools are scales that measure the intensity of that concept.
A response scale is a type of question where individuals make a response on a scale. The range of the scale can vary.
For example, “On a scale from 1 to 7, indicate how interested you are in positive psychology.” A response of 1 might mean ‘no interest at all,’ and a response of 7 might mean ‘extremely interested.’
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 negative emotions and toward positive emotions, the person 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 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.
Although the Emotional Vibration Scale contains the word ‘scale’ in its name, it does not measure emotional intelligence.
Rather, this tool is meant as a way of informally ranking emotions. Later in this post, we’ll introduce some empirically sound scales with good psychometric properties that measure emotional intelligence.
How does one measure emotional intelligence? Let’s take a look at emotional maturity scales.
Measuring emotional maturity
One of the earliest attempts to measure emotional intelligence was made by Willoughby (1932). His interest was in ‘emotional maturity,’ which he said:
“Consists essentially in a loosening and slipping away of attitudes and interests which are tolerable in children, but fatal in adults” (Willoughby, 1932, p. 3).
Willoughby was a psychoanalyst, and much of his theory and writing is steeped in this field. He specifically recognized that measuring emotional maturity was a difficult task because the subject would change their behavior if they knew they were being observed. For these reasons, he recommended that the subject 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. This helped Willoughby measure 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 Maturity Scale
The Emotional Maturity Scale was developed by Singh and Bhargava (1991). This self-report tool consists of 48 items, which measure five dimensions:
Lack of independence
The responses are made on a 5-point scale, ranging from Never (1) to Always (5). The higher the score, the less emotionally mature the respondent is; the lower the total, the greater emotional maturity.
Emotional intelligence test | are EQ test valid
6 Empirically Sound Scales
To know if a scale is empirically sound, it’s important to consider its psychometric properties.
Brief introduction to psychometrics
Psychometrics is a broad, well-developed field with a great deal of theory. It refers to the method that researchers use to develop tools to measure psychological concepts and processes.
A solid understanding of psychometrics can help you determine if a given measurement tool is sound. To determine whether a tool is sound, researchers will conduct a large-scale study where they attempt to validate the tool, discover its underlying dimensions, and prune the questions used.
Two of the most critical concepts in psychometrics are:
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.
Empirically sound scales
There are many scales and tools that measure emotional intelligence (O’Connor et al., 2019).
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.
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 EQ overall.
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.
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 that is also freely available is the SREIT (Schutte et al., 1998). For paid tools, the EQ-i (Bar-On, 1997), and the TEIQue-SF (Petrides & Furnham, 2001) are highly recommended (O’Connor et al., 2019).
Domains of EI - Emotional Intelligence
Understanding the different characteristics of emotional intelligence domains can be useful when learning how to optimize your emotional intelligence.
Mastering emotional intelligence includes learning about emotions and which categories they fall into.
Emotional intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman (2019), developed an emotional intelligence model which includes five domains:
1. Know your emotions
2. Manage your emotions
3. Motivate yourself
4. Recognize and understand other people’s emotions
5. Manage relationships (others’ emotions)
These realms are further divided into four quadrants, which lie upon a base of competence (either personal or social), recognition of emotions, and regulation of emotions.
2 Downloadable PDFs + 1 Recommendation
As mentioned previously, the Self-Report Emotional Intelligence Test (SREIT; Schutte et al., 1998) is highly recommended.
Schutte et al. (1998) have made the tool freely available for research and clinician purposes. The authors list the 33 items that make up this test, as well as the procedure followed to develop this tool.
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, and self-motivation)
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 5 dimensions using 50 items. Those dimensions are:
Using a 5-point scale, participants 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 ranges of scores:
Scores between 35 and 50 are considered a strength.
Scores between 18 and 34 need attention.
Scores between 10 and 17 are development priorities.
Assessing and Developing Emotional Intelligence with Quenza
Hopefully you’ll agree that emotional intelligence can be an extremely worthwhile area for development.
Indeed, coaches, therapists, and counselors will know that helping clients better understand and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, can be a critical step toward alleviating suffering and enjoying fruitful relationships with others.
Emotional intelligence requires day-to-day practice in contexts outside the therapy room or counselor’s office.
Therefore, if you’re a practitioner looking to develop your clients’ emotional intelligence, finding ways to remind your clients to tune into their and others’ emotions regularly is critical.
To achieve this, you might consider adopting a blended care approach to providing your services which makes the most of digital technologies like apps and smartphones to give your clients more opportunities to reflect on their emotional experiences and interactions on an average day.
For a convenient tool for the job, take a look at the app Quenza. The platform provides a simple way for practitioners to design psychoeducational interventions, such as questionnaires, self-paced reflection exercises, and meditations, including those around the theme of emotional intelligence.
For instance, as part of a set of intake materials assessing clients’ baseline emotional intelligence, you might design and share a questionnaire based on one of the validated examples we’ve explored above. Alternatively, you might use the platform to send daily emotion reflection exercises or meditations that invite your clients to explore their present emotional states.
Regardless of the activities themselves, practitioners can quickly and securely share any activities they design with their clients’ Android or iOS devices for them to complete. They can also track their progress from their own end of the service.
The class is presented by one 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, therapist, clinical professional, or life coach.
Emotional Intelligence Articles
If you want to read more about emotional intelligence, then these other articles may be of interest:
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop emotional intelligence, this collection contains 17 validated EI tools for practitioners. Use them to help others understand and use their emotions to their advantage.
A Take-Home Message
Emotional intelligence is challenging to measure. There are various reasons why:
How emotional intelligence is defined (is it an ability, or is it a combination of skills and personality?)
How the tests are constructed (Must the person solve an emotional problem, identify an emotion in someone else, or assess their own understanding of their emotional aptitude?)
The psychometric challenges of measuring a construct (Emotional intelligence is not a physical ‘thing’ that exists in the real world.)
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 clients’ understanding of emotional awareness.
Ultimately, this post has provided a foundation and resources so that you can critically evaluate the different emotional intelligence scales that are available. Additional tools for assessing and building emotional intelligence and awareness can be easily implemented in your professional and clinical setting.
Boyatzis, R. (1982). The competent manager. Wiley & Sons.
Goleman, D. (2019). The emotionally intelligent leader. Harvard Business Press.
MacCann, C., & Roberts, R. D. (2008). New paradigms for assessing emotional intelligence: Theory and data. Emotion, 8, 540–551.
Mayer, J. D., & Geher, G. (1996). Emotional intelligence and the identification of emotion. Intelligence, 22(2), 89–113.
Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence, 17, 433–442.
Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2000). Models of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of intelligence (pp. 392– 420). Cambridge University Press.
Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2002). Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) user’s manual. MHS Publishers.
O’Connor, P. J., Hill, A., Kaya, M., & Martin, B. (2019). The measurement of emotional intelligence: A critical review of the literature and recommendations for researchers and practitioners. Frontiers in psychology, 10.
Petrides, K. V., & Furnham, A. (2001). Trait emotional intelligence: Psychometric investigation with reference to established trait taxonomies. European Journal of Personality, 15, 425–448.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185–211.
Sanchez-Gomez, M., & Breso, E. (2019). The Mobile Emotional Intelligence Test (MEIT): An ability test to assess emotional intelligence at work. Sustainability, 11(3), 827.
Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 167–177.
Singh, Y., & Bhargava, M. (1991). Emotional Maturity Scale (EMS). Applied and Community Psychology, 2.
Willoughby, R. R. (1932). A scale of emotional maturity. The Journal of Social Psychology, 3(1), 3–36.
Zeidner, M., Matthews, G., & Roberts, R. D. (2004). Emotional intelligence in the workplace: A critical review. Applied Psychology, 53(3), 371–399.
About the author
Alicia Nortje, Ph.D. is a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, where she is involved in multiple projects investigating eyewitness memory and face recognition. She’s highly skilled in research design, data analysis, and critical thinking. When she’s not working, she indulges in running on the road or the trails, and enjoys cooking.