Salovey and Mayer’s Emotional Intelligence Theory

· March 8, 2019
Although everyone talks about emotional intelligence nowadays, that wasn't always the case. In this article, learn more about Salovey and Mayer, the first ones to share this concept with the world.

Many people have taken an interest in studying emotional intelligence and are curious about how it can help them manage their emotions better. In spite of its popularity, few people know its origin. It turns out that Salovey and Mayer’s emotional intelligence theory was first published in a book in 1990. In this book, they discussed the definition of emotional intelligence and how it’s articulated in our behavior and minds.

At the time, Salovey was a professor at Yale University, while Mayer was a postdoctoral researcher. They researched and published numerous articles on the subject. In spite of all their work, many people still attribute the concept to its most outspoken proponent, Daniel Goleman. He popularized Salovey and Mayer’s emotional intelligence concept in 1996 when he published his book called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. 

Daniel Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence is slightly different than Salovey and Mayer’s. Consequently, there has been some confusion about the original theory.

Salovey and Mayer's emotional intelligence model.

Salovey and Mayer’s emotional intelligence theory

According to their definition, emotional intelligence is the ability to process information about your own emotions and other people’s. It’s also the ability to use this information to guide your thoughts and behavior.

Thus, emotionally intelligent people pay attention to, use, understand, and manage their emotions. According to these two authors, for a person to be categorized as emotionally intelligent, they have to have four basic abilities:

  • Ability to perceive and correctly express their emotions and other people’s.
  • The ability to use emotions in a way that facilitates thought.
  • Capacity to understand emotions, emotional language, and emotional signals.
  • The ability to manage their emotions in order to achieve goals.

In this particular emotional intelligence theory, each ability has four different stages. However, this process doesn’t necessarily happen spontaneously. On the contrary, it usually requires a conscious effort.

Here are the four stages:

1- Correct emotional perception and expression

The first emotional intelligence skill is identifying your own emotions and other people’s. First of all, you should be able to understand what you’re feeling. This includes your thoughts as well as your emotions.

In the second stage, you acquire the ability to do the same with the way other people think and feel. For example, you can understand other people’s feelings or the feelings expressed by a piece of artwork.

In the third stage, you acquire the ability to correctly express your emotions. Not only that, but you learn to communicate your needs.

In the fourth and last stage, you gain the ability to distinguish between correct and incorrect emotional expressions.

2. Emotional facilitation of thinking

In the first stage, emotions help you direct your thoughts to the most important information. In this stage, you aren’t yet able to take your own emotions into account.

During the second stage, your emotions start to intensify so you can identify them. As a result, you can use them to help you make decisions.

According to Salovey and Meyer, your emotions affect your mood in the third stage. Consequently, you’re able to consider different points of view on a particular subject.

Lastly, in the fourth stage, your emotions help you make good decisions and think more creatively.

3. Understanding emotions

First, you acquire the ability to distinguish between basic emotions and learn to use the right words to describe them. Then, this ability takes you a step further to be able to place the emotion in your emotional state.

In the third stage, you’re able to interpret complex emotions. Lastly, you acquire the ability to detect the transitions between emotions. For example, the transition from anger to shame or surprise to joy.

Clothespins with emojis.

4. Emotional regulation for intellectual and emotional growth

To begin, this ability requires your willingness not to limit the important role that your emotions actually have. This is much easier to achieve with positive emotions than negative emotions. During this step, you’ll let yourself choose which emotions you want to identify with according to whether they’re useful or not.

In the previous step, you acquire the ability to study emotions. This would happen according to how influential, reasonable, or clear the emotions are. Lastly, you’d be able to regulate your emotions and other people’s, moderating the negative ones and increasing the positive ones.

Emotional intelligence: A practical ability

Salovey and Mayer’s emotional intelligence model doesn’t come close to encompassing everything we now know about emotional intelligence. Nevertheless, it shows us something that was truly revolutionary during that time.

This theory is simple and easy to understand. As such, it’s the perfect starting point if you’re interested in delving deeper into the wonderful world of emotions.