The sub-title of my 1995 book Emotional Intelligence reads, “Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” That subtitle, unfortunately, has led to misinterpretations of what I actually say – or at least it seems to among people who read no further than the subtitle. I’m appalled at how many people misread my work and make the preposterous claim, for instance, that “EQ accounts for 80 percent of success.”
I was reminded of this again when browsing comments on a journal article that fails to find much of a correlation between teenagers’ level of emotional intelligence and their academic accomplishments (Australian Journal of Psychology, May 2008). For me, there’s no surprise here. But for those misguided people who think I claim emotional intelligence matters more than IQ for academic achievement, it would be a “Gotcha!” moment.
But I never made that claim – it’s absurd. My argument is that emotional and social skills give people advantages in realms where such abilities make the most difference, like love and leadership. EI trumps IQ in “soft” domains, where intellect matters relatively little for success. That said, another such arena where EI matters more than IQ is in performance at work, when comparing people with roughly the same educational backgrounds (like MBAs or accountants) – which is exactly what goes on in human resource departments of companies every day.
As I’ve explained elsewhere on this website:
My belief is that if a longitudinal study were done, IQ would be a much stronger predictor than EI of which jobs or professions people can enter. Because IQ stands as a proxy for the cognitive complexity a person can process, it should predict what technical expertise that person can master. Technical expertise, in turn, represents the major set of threshold competencies that determine whether a person can get and keep a job in a given field. IQ, then, plays a sorting function in determining what jobs people can hold. However, having enough cognitive intelligence to hold a given job does not by itself predict whether one will be a star performer or rise to management or leadership positions in one’s field.
IQ washes out when it comes to predicting who, among a talented pool of candidates within an intellectually demanding profession will become the strongest leader. In part this is because of the floor effect: everyone at the top echelons of a given profession, or at the top levels of a large organization, has already been sifted for intellect and expertise. At those lofty levels a high IQ becomes a threshold ability, one needed just to get into and stay in the game.
The one place I expect we will be seeing more data showing a relationship between skills in the emotional and social arena and school performance will be in studies of children who have gone through social/emotional learning (SEL) programs. These curricula give students the self-management skills they need to learn better. And so to the extent that advantage boosts learning (as opposed to IQ, which differs from learning), they should do better on academic achievement scores. A forthcoming study from the University of Illinois finds around a 10 percent boost in achievement test scores among these students. Presumably, the SEL programs would also have meant higher scores on the particular assessment of EI used in the Australian study – and so had they tested such children, there may well have been a...