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Three Streams of Research

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Three Streams of Research

Lesson Content

Different scholars out there have put forth numerous other models and proposed other ways to measure emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence research over the past 20+ years was neatly summarized in a 2005 article by Ashanasy and Daus as forming three main streams.

The first stream of research to gain favor focuses on Mayer and Salovey’s ability-based intelligence model. More specifically, it pertains to a Performance Test of their ability-based model of Emotional Intelligence. Peter Salovey, John Mayer and David Caruso were the first to create such a performance test. It measures the four branches in their ability-based model. Do you remember the four branches mentioned in another lesson?

Emotional Perception, Emotional Understanding, Emotional Regulation, and Emotional Facilitation.

Since their model defines Emotional Intelligence as a set of mental abilities, their test and others like it were designed to be similar in format to an IQ test. Some of these tests ask the participant to describe the emotional qualities of a picture or sound. For example, a performance test question may display a photo of an upset person and ask the participant to identify the emotions expressed by the person in the photo. These types of questions are intended to estimate the participant’s ability to accurately identify the other people's emotions.

These performance tests have been criticized for issues with…

Number 1, test reliability, number 2, test content validity because seemingly irrelevant test questions such as identify the emotions of specific colors, number 3, test predictive validity, performance test ironically tend to have lower correlations with job performance than others, and test number 4, consensus scoring, comparing test taker’s answer to the answer of many others, and number 5, being too academic and impractical for HR professionals to use with their internal clients.

The second stream of research also leverages the ability-based model, but rather than using an ability-based performance test, they use a self-report questionnaire method asking the participants to rate their efficacy in each of the four subdomains of the ability-based model. So this is based on what the participant think about himself or herself as opposed to a performance test.

The third stream of research is referred to as the category of Mixed-Models of emotional intelligence.

It is this group of Emotional Intelligence models and their associated self-report questionnaires that are the most popular among practitioners and get the most attention in the business world as they are published in the Harvard Business Review articles, bestselling business books, and the mainstream press. The models within this third stream of research were designed by a variety of different scholars or practitioners. These models vary but are similar in a few key respects.

First these “mixed-models” generally consist of one or more of the following:

Personality traits, motivators, skills and/or competencies. Unlike Stream 1 and 2 that argue that the ability-based model is a specific ability related to general mental ability, Stream 3 defines itself more broadly to include traits as self-confidence, competencies such as effective self-management and interpersonal skills that are clearly distinct from general mental ability.

A good example of a “mixed-model” can be found in the Harvard Business Review article in 1998 entitled “What Makes a Leader?” by Daniel Goleman in which he states Emotional Intelligence consists of five components.

Number 1, Self-Awareness. Number 2, Self-Regulation. Number 3, Motivation. Number 4, Empathy. And 5, Social Skill. Criticisms of the Mixed-Models tend to be Number 1, their models are not as clearly defined as the ability-based, and Number 2, many of the mixed-model EI tests are too similar to existing personality tests.

So, in the world of Human Resources, business and psychology, the term Emotional Intelligence actually refers to a few different things and that has created a lot more interest in the topic as this has allowed it to enter the mainstream, but it has also created a lot more confusion and misunderstandings about what is and what is not Emotional Intelligence. One prominent figure in the ability-based model camp has suggested that by referring to this third stream of research as “mixed-models” of emotional intelligence, they have diluted the definition of emotional intelligence and so they recommended the term emotional intelligence strictly refer to the ability-based model and other models should be termed “Emotional and Social Competencies” or “Trait Models” if preferred.

However, the Mixed-Models that more broadly define Emotional Intelligence exemplify the mainstream view of Emotional Intelligence. And the majority of the Emotional Intelligence tests and training programs in favor with HR professionals are actually based on the Mixed-Models. So even if the academic scholars were all to agree on a new term, little else would likely change for you, the HR Professional.

Craig Haas


Craig Haas

Dr. Craig Haas is a Management Consultant and Executive Coach at Advantage Performance Group with over 15 years of experience in helping companies select high quality talent and develop leaders.


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