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Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Key Topics

What Kinds of Data Pertain to Emotional Intelligence?

1. "Where" and "what" is EI -- And How Should EI Be Measured?

Emotional intelligence is an ability that exists inside of personality. That is, it is a property of the personality system -- internal, mental, and functional.

There are a variety of proposals as to what kinds of data one needs to collect in order to establish someone's emotional intelligence. Some people argue that one should use 360 degree assessments (that is, multiple observers of the target individual). Others use paper-and-pencil tests. Others argue for self-report data. Still others argue for ability testing.

2. Problems of Terminology

To address such issues, it helps to have a list of what the possible types of data are, and what terms such as "paper and pencil" and "self report" actually mean. This is a general issue that extends beyond the field of emotional intelligence itself. Until recently, the system employed for organizing data in personality psychology and psychology more generally (the umbrella disciplines involved) dated back to the1960's. Since the 1960's, however, many psychologists have developed new sorts of data, and the organizational systems used previously cannot handle those new forms of data.

3. An Overview of Contemporary Data in Personality Psychology

Several proposed revisions of data types have recently been advanced. One is in David Funder's personality textbook, The Personality Puzzle. This is a convenient-to-use update of the system introduced (by Raymond Cattell) in the 1960's. In one version, it enumerates four types of data:

  • L -- Life data; that is, data about a person's life.

  • I -- Informant data; that is, data about a person from someone who knows the person.

  • S -- Self-Judgment data, that is, data from a person indicating his or her own judgments concerning his or her attributes.

  • T -- Test data; that is, objective tests of a person's qualities from experimental observations or objectively-scored tests.

Funder's system is a system of convenience, and it is excellent for that; that is, it provides a short-hand way to talk about data and to introduce the idea that there are multiple kinds.

For the issue of the best data to use to study EI, however, a slightly more formal system is needed (we are talking about differences of opinions, after all). The added clarity of a formal system can really help facilitate the conversation.

So, a more complete revision is offered in a forthcoming article that reviews historical classification systems and integrates them. This provides a more fully contemporary organization of types of data available (see Mayer, 2004).

In the new system, data is first divided into two categories according to its source. The first category concerns data that has its source in systems outside of the personality system itself. That is, from observers, from institutional records, and from biological brain scans (if such are available). There are four broad classes of such external-source data.

External Source Data

(Data from Sources Surrounding the Personality System)

Institutional Data are data provided by institutional records -- e.g., marriage licenses, school transcripts.
Observer and Rating Data are data concerning a target individual, supplied by someone who knows or observes that individual.
Setting Data are data about the individual's setting: Clothes, props, location.
Biological Data are data about the individual's internal biological processes, including the body and brain.

The second category concerns data that arises from within the personality system itself. Here the data is also first divided into four areas. These areas reflect four areas of knowledge on which a person can draw.

Personal Report Data

(Data from Sources Within the Personality System)

World Data Reports by the person of his or her knowledge of the world.
Life Data Reports by the person of his or her surrounding life involvements -- what the person does, where the person lives, etc.
Self-Data Reports by the person involving judgments of him- or herself.
Process Data Reports by the person of the internal conscious experience of urges, feelings, thoughts, and social plans.

These data sources can be further broken down. The rationale for this further breakdown concerns the mental processes which bring about the report. For example, some responses by people simply involve endorsing (e.g., agreeing or disagreeing) with a test item. Other kinds of responses, however, require coming up with a correct answer (e.g., meeting a criterion). It may not be necessary to understand the whole rationale (see the original paper for that) to get to the bottom line: That there are about 12 commonly employed personal-report types of data in personality psychology. These are:

Important Types of Data Employed in Personality Psychology
Attitude-report, belief report Attitude surveys, belief surveys
Criterion-report IQ, aptitude and achievement tests
Divergent-report Divergent thinking tests of creativity
Projective-report or thematic-report Inkblot based projective tests; thematic apperception tests
Life-report (life-space) data Life-space scales, biodata scales, act-frequency measures
Self-report, self-judgment Scales measuring the Big 5 and Big 3
Criterion-report (about the self) Measures of personal intelligence
Projective-report, open report Sence completion tests beginning with "I" or "My...", personal striving questionnaires, open-ended self-descriptions
State-report Mood adjective checklists
Process-report Free-association, think aloud protocols

4. Back to the Measure of EI

So, as the above section suggests, there are a number of different data sources one could employ in the study of emotional intelligence. Which returns us to the original question: What kinds of data should one collect?

Measuring Intelligence: As an Ability, As it is Expressed in Context, or According to Its Effects

The types of data one would want to collect will vary depending upon whether one wants to measure EI as a mental ability -- or as another part of personality, for that matter -- or as an interpersonal skill, or according to its effects.

If one wants to measure EI as a mental ability (the approach/definition employed here), then one must measure it with criterion-report data. That is, one poses questions and then evaluates the answers according to the proper criterion of correctness for the given answer.

If one believes EI is a style of personality, then one could also add in self-report or projective-report measures of EI.

If one believes EI is not a mental ability, and unrelated to an individual's psychology, but instead is manifest in interpersonal interactions (but then where does EI come from?), then EI should be measured by using "external source" data: Observers watching and evaluating intepersonal interactions.

Finally, if one is interested in both EI and its effects, then it makes sense to measure EI itself -- using criterion report (mental ability) data -- and then relating it either to intepersonal interactions or other expressions of its effects. In such a correlational study, emotional intelligence is correlated with various outcomes below:

A Standard Design for a Study Testing the Expression of Emotional Intelligence
Measure of Emotional Intelligence (and Other Personality Variables) Measure of the Expression of Emotional Intelligence
An Ability Measure of Emotional Intelligence (Criterion-Report Data). Observer-Report Data on Interpersonal Interactions.
Other personality variables of interest: Self-Judgment, Projective, and other data sources on the individual's psychological functioning. Institutional-Report Data on such matters as grades, salary, promotions.
  Life-Report Data on the person's life sphere and daily activities.
  Biological-Report Data on the person's brain and neurological functioning.

To select other variables of personality to be measured along with personality, it is helpful to examine an overview of the types of personality parts there are that can be measured.