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Emotional Intelligence Tests

Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as a type of social competence involving the ability to monitor one's own and others' emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one's thinking and actions. EI is a fairly specific ability that connects a person's knowledge processes to his or her emotional processes. As such, EI is different from emotions, emotional styles, emotional traits, and traditional measures of intelligence based on general mental or cognitive ability (i.e., IQ). EI involves a set of skills or abilities that may be categorized into five domains:

  • Self-awareness: Observing yourself and recognizing a feeling as it happens.
  • Managing emotions: Handling feelings so they are appropriate; realizing what is behind a feeling; finding ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger, and sadness.
  • Motivating oneself: Channeling emotions in the service of a goal; emotional self-control; delaying gratification and stifling impulses.
  • Empathy: Sensitivity to others' feelings and concerns and taking their perspective; appreciating the differences in how people feel about things.
  • Handling relationships: Managing emotions in others; social competence and social skills.

The typical approach to measuring EI ability involves administering a set of questions to applicants and scoring the correctness of those responses based on expert judgment (expert scoring) or consensus among a large number of people (consensus scoring). For example, one EI ability test requires the applicant to view a series of faces and report how much of each of six emotions is present, answer questions about emotional scenarios and responses (e.g., predict how an anxious employee will react to a significantly increased workload), and solve emotional problems (e.g., decide what response is appropriate when a friend calls you upset over losing his or her job).

Some tests of EI use a self-report method. Self-report questionnaires are commonly used to measure personality traits (e.g., extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness). Self-report assessments have been around for decades and serve a very useful purpose. As a way to measure EI abilities, they have some drawbacks. Using a self-report approach has been compared to estimating typing skill by asking applicants a series of questions about how quickly and accurately they can type. Does this mean self-report measures of emotional intelligence should not be used? If the objective is to measure a person's self-perceived competence or self-image, then this may be the preferred approach. If the objective is to measure EI as a set of abilities, skills, or emotional competencies, then self-report may not be the best method to use. To the extent employers are concerned with fakability of self-reports, ability models of EI will be more acceptable.


  • Validity - Ability-based tests of emotional intelligence have been shown to contribute to the prediction of job performance, particularly when the maintenance of positive interpersonal relations is important to job success
  • Face Validity/Applicant Reactions - Test items appearing to measure social skill generally have good face validity (e.g., identifying emotions expressed in a photograph of a person's face); Applicants may have a difficult time determining the best answer on some of the items; Some items may not appear to be directly work-related
  • Administration Method - Can be administered via paper and pencil or electronically
  • Subgroup Differences - There is some evidence women tend to score better than men on tests of emotional intelligence, which is consistent with other research showing women are more skilled at reading facial expressions of emotions than are men
  • Development Costs - Cost of purchasing an emotional intelligence test is typically far less expensive than developing a customized test
  • Administration Costs - Generally inexpensive, requires few resources for administration, and does not require skilled administrators
  • Utility/ROI - High return on investment if applicants are needed who possess strong interpersonal skills
  • Common Uses - Used with occupations requiring high levels of social interaction, cooperation, and teamwork


(See Section VI for a summary of each article)

Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., Shiffman, S., Lerner, N., & Salovey, P. (2006). Relating emotional abilities to social functioning: A comparison of self-report and performance measures of emotional intelligence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 780-795.

Frost, D. E. (2004). The psychological assessment of emotional intelligence. In J. C. Thomas & M. Hersen (Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of psychological assessment, Volume 4: Industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 203-215). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Theory, findings, and implications. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 197-215.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

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