Beyond Emotional Intelligence

by John (Jack) D.  Mayer

In 1990, when the article “emotional intelligence” that I coauthored with Professor (and now President of Yale University) Peter Salovey was published, we were both very excited about the idea and saw its promise–a promise still being fulfilled today. Since that time, I’ve continued to study and write about emotional intelligence, and with Dr. Salovey and Dr. David R. Caruso, have developed a widely-used measure of the ability, the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). Researchers increasingly recognize that emotional intelligence exists and represents an interesting and important human ability, as described, for example, in this review from 2008.

Five years after our 1990 article was published, our work became a  focus of media attention, and a very interesting thing happened: Much of the public discussion about emotional intelligence centered on personality traits and qualities such as zeal, optimism, and more generally on character.

Emotional intelligence, as I thought about it, was an ability focused on the emotions. From a researcher’s standpoint, journalistic reports that equated emotional intelligence with personality traits such as optimism, extraversion or persistence, weren’t accurate.

As a psychologist, I wished for a treatment of a broader intelligence that included not only the emotions, but motives, a sense of self, and other parts of our overall personalities.

I began to wonder about the possible existence of an intelligence about personality. As I suspected, Identifying an intelligence broader than emotional intelligence—one that focused on all of personality—was a challenging endeavor. I tell the story of how I developed the theory in the beginning of the book, “Personal Intelligence”. In the book, I also examine the research that points to the existence of the intelligence, and illustrate the ability with examples from real-life.

I believe personal intelligence includes reasoning about emotional states, but also encompasses reasoning about ourselves and others, including our values, plans and goals. My research to-date with my colleagues David R. Caruso and A. T. Panter—and research in personality psychology more generally—suggests that we can use the theory of personal intelligence to demystify the techniques we use to reason about personality. Moreover, the theory, the preliminary findings from our lab, and related research by others all suggest that using personal intelligence confers helpful advantages to us in making life choices.

I hope you’ll find the idea of personal intelligence intriguing and, if you are interested in learning more, that you’ll find the materials on this website of help.