EI’s sudden rise to fame brought controversy but also scepticism. It seemed it had been given too much attention too soon and many of its claims and applications had little scientific grounding and empirical evidence.

Many researchers were unhappy with the claims. For example, some felt their names and models had been associated with Goleman’s interpretation of EI, which mixed their proposals with other concepts such as personality traits.

Although debate and differing viewpoints are always part of the scientific process, in the case of EI they have been somewhat detrimental to the cause. It has cast scepticism on the concept of EI because it appears to mean so many different things. Some criticised EI as being merely a catch-all label for concepts that have been around for ages. On a similar tack some writers  (e.g., Locke, 2005) posed the question

“What does EI NOT include?”

Nevertheless EI has become a wildly popular tool in organizational studies and Human Resources. As Salovey & Mayer stated:

“The apparent size of the field dwarfs what we regard as relevant scientific research in the area.”


Ability vs. Trait approaches

Alongside the controversy surrounding EI there is also a longstanding debate about its central constructs. Combining the words ‘emotional’ and ‘intelligence’ has undoubtedly contributed to ensuring that our ability to express, understand and deal with emotions is 'valued' as much as our abilities to calculate, use language and reason logically. However the marriage between the two is not so harmonious when it comes to the scientific detail of definition, measurement and application.

Scientists remains divided as to whether EI is part of one’s personality (suggesting we are to some extent born with a certain aptitude to develop EI) or a cognitive skill that one can learn, much like the concept of intelligence.

This means that there is also disagreement on how it should be measured with the advocates of a personality trait approach such as Petrides and Bar-On using questionnaires that tap into aspects of one’s personality such as self-esteem, optimism, empathy and happiness.

On the other hand those who believe EI should be considered an ability such as Salovey and Mayer tend to use performance-based tools that measure how we fare on various tasks requiring EI, such as recognising facial expressions of emotion or identifying the most likely emotion to be expressed in a certain situation.

The number of instruments to measure EI has continued to increase and to incorporate technology by using video and audio. To explore some of the most recent instruments, take a look at the 'Exploring your EC' page.

This divide also has implications for the debate around whether EI can be learned or not. Those who consider EI to be more of a personality trait tend to think that levels of EI would not benefit a great deal from training in this area.  In contrast, the ability approach would consider training or learning programmes to be an important way to improve EI. See 'Applications' (Training) for more information.

It seems the rift between emotion and rationality, which Aristotle attempted to put to bed, is continuing.

Those favouring the personality approach are tending to ignore the more cognitive aspect of emotions and those favouring the ability approach are tending to try and squeeze emotions into the ‘intelligence’ box.  

We propose to adopt a framework that does not focus on the dichotomy between these two concepts or support one approach more than the other.

Instead it considers emotions to have a functional side and to vary with the person and the context. In consequence, rather than produce a specific model for EI we felt it best to base it on an existing and accepted model of emotion and to measure it using frameworks  developed with this approach. After all, if we are discussing EI or EC, we should have good anchored ideas about what emotions are and what it means to be “competent” about them.


Read more about:


>> History

>> Current models

>> Emotional Competence

>> Components of EC

>> Application of EC