Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Theory Explained

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With regard to emotional intelligence, Daniel Goldman was not the first to articulate the concept. However, in the double role of psychologist and journalist, Goleman made the elements of emotional intelligence accessible to broad segments of society. His best-selling books — beginning with “Emotional Intelligence”(1995) — have already changed how some businesses interact with clients and some managers recruit employees. His impact has been even more profound on education.

Thanks to Goleman, educators now recognize that emotional intelligence is every bit as important to learning as intellectual prowess or IQ. As a result, tens of thousands of schools throughout the world currently incorporate “social and emotional learning” in their curricula. In some schools, courses geared toward developing emotional intelligence are mandatory.

The history of emotional intelligence

For decades, researchers have studied the reasons why a high IQ does not necessarily guarantee success in the classroom or the boardroom. By the 1980s, psychologists and biologists, among others, were focusing on the important role other skill sets — needed to process emotional information — played in promoting worldly success, leadership, personal fulfillment and happy relationships.

In 1990, psychologists John Mayer (now at the University of New Hampshire) and Peter Salovey of Yale theorized that a unitary intelligence underlay those other skill sets. They coined the term, emotional intelligence, which they broke down into four “branches”:

  • Identifying emotions on a nonverbal level
  • Using emotions to guide cognitive thinking
  • Understanding the information emotions convey and the actions emotions generate
  • Regulating one’s own emotions, for personal benefit and for the common good

As a science reporter for the New York Times, Goleman was exposed to Mayer’s and Salovey’s work and took the concept of emotional intelligence a step further. In his eponymous book from 1995, he argued that existing definitions of intelligence needed to be reworked. IQ was still important, but intellect alone was no guarantee of adeptness in identifying one’s own emotions or the emotional expressions of others. It took a special kind of intelligence, Goleman said, to process emotional information and utilize it effectively — whether to facilitate good personal decisions, to resolve conflicts or to motivate oneself and others.

Goleman’s five components of emotional intelligence

Goleman broadened Mayer’s and Salovey’s four-branch system to incorporate five essential elements of emotional intelligence — or EQ, the shorthand he sometimes uses:

  • Emotional self-awareness — knowing what one is feeling at any given time and understanding the impact those moods have on others
  • Self-regulation — controlling or redirecting one’s emotions; anticipating consequences before acting on impulse
  • Motivation — utilizing emotional factors to achieve goals, enjoy the learning process and persevere in the face of obstacles
  • Empathy — sensing the emotions of others
  • Social skills — managing relationships, inspiring others and inducing desired responses from them

Applications for educators

There are very practical reasons to promote social and emotional learning in schools, from kindergarten through college. According to Goleman, bullying, disciplinary problems, violence and drug abuse are reduced in schools with a high EQ. With a solid basis in emotional intelligence, academic performance — as well as behavior — improves. There is an obvious connection to Goleman’s third, motivational component: learning stimulates curiosity and promotes feelings of satisfaction, even joy, when students immerse themselves in the process of assimilating new information.

The EQ of children starts developing long before they ever enter a classroom. But EQ levels will vary widely, depending on each child’s home environment. Thus teachers must be able to recognize those children whose emotional literacy needs a boost. Teachers should be ready to talk about feelings in the classroom. The message is that no emotion is “wrong,” but certain ways of expressing those emotions or acting on them are indeed inappropriate.

In 2002, UNESCO launched an international campaign to promote emotional learning in the classroom. The U.N. body sent a statement of 10 basic EQ principles to education ministries throughout the world. Those principles drew heavily from Goleman’s exposition of emotional intelligence.

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