Male and female coworkers walk and talk.Emotional intelligence concerns the ability to feel, recognize, communicate, respond to, and understand emotions. It is a big predictor of success in one’s career and relationships. People who wish to develop their emotional intelligence further might consider speaking to a mental health professional.


Howard Gardner first presented the idea of multiple intelligences in 1983, claiming there were multiple ways one could be smart. Later, Peter Salovey and John Mayer developed the concept of emotional intelligence, or EQ. Emotional intelligence describes one's ability to use and understand emotions (both one's own emotions and those of others).  

The concept of EQ was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 publication Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Goleman described emotional intelligence as having five parts: 

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing one's moods and emotions and their effect on others.
  • Self-regulation: Using emotional knowledge to prevent moods or emotions from causing impulsive behavior.
  • Internal motivation: Taking action or making decisions as a result of an inner drive (rather than for immediate rewards such as monetary gain). This drive can be based on optimism, curiosity, ambition, or personal ideals.
  • Empathy: Understanding the emotions of others and using this knowledge to respond to people based on their emotional state.
  • Social skills: Using one's emotional intelligence to establish strong relationships and facilitate interactions with peers.

Emotional intelligence can be used for good or bad purposes. For example, people with a high EQ may recognize when a coworker is feeling stressed. One individual may use this knowledge to assist the person, perhaps by urging the coworker to take a break. Another individual may use this knowledge to sabotage a rival, riling them up so they look bad in front of the boss. In other words, having a high EQ doesn’t always mean someone is compassionate.


People can use emotional intelligence to improve mental health, reach goals, and develop fulfilling relationships. According to a 2018 report of North Americans, people with a high EQ are 8 times as likely to have a high quality of life as those with lower scores. A higher EQ can improve lifelong physical and mental health even more than academic ability. 

Research also suggests EQ is more important than IQ for succeeding in the workplace. Employees with high EQ are more likely to display leadership skills and high business performance. Managers with a high EQ are more likely to retain employees long-term.

Meanwhile, if someone has a low EQ, they may have difficulty:

  • Forming healthy friendships or relationships.
  • Working as a team in school or on a job.
  • Communicating their needs and desires in a productive manner.
  • Recognizing and regulating their own emotions.
  • Avoiding regretful actions or words spoken in anger.

These difficulties can cause a person to become isolated. Isolation, in turn, can prevent a person from developing social skills on their own. Some people may need to take classes or training sessions to build up their emotional intelligence. Like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be improved through effort and practice.


Studies disagree on whether gender influences one’s emotional intelligence. The 2018 State of the Heart report included 200,000 people in 160 countries. The study looked at average EQ scores in six global regions. Only two regions showed statistically significant differences between men and women. The first, Pacific Asia, showed women having higher average EQ scores. The second, Latin America, showed men having the higher scores.

A 2016 study disagrees with these findings, claiming women overwhelmingly outperform men in emotional intelligence. That study looked at 55,000 working professionals across 90 countries. Researchers found:

  • Women were 45% more likely than men to demonstrate empathy consistently.
  • Women were also more likely to have consistent emotional self-awareness. The report found 18.4% of women had this competency compared to 9.9% of men.
  • Out of 12 emotional intelligence competencies, the only one men and women showed in equal measure was emotional self-control.

It is important to note that these studies measured emotional intelligence in different ways. The 2016 study had a business focus, while the 2018 study looked at general competencies and populations. Furthermore, gender averages are not the same as limits. A woman in Latin America may score higher than the average man; a man in Pacific Asia can score higher than the average woman. One’s emotional intelligence is not constrained by gender.


Research has shown that certain mental health conditions are associated with lower levels of emotional intelligence. 

  • Borderline personality (BPD) may indicate a heightened sensitivity to the expression of emotion. Yet people with BPD often struggle to label said feelings and their meanings. They also have less skill in regulating their own emotions.
  • Depression is often linked to lower EQ scores. Someone with depression may be less sensitive to changing emotional contexts. As such, they may become stuck in a negativity bias. 
  • Social anxiety can sometimes be connected to low EQ. A person may fear talking with others due to their low social skills. They may perceive neutral expressions as hostile, causing them to misinterpret social cues. 
  • Substance abuse can also lead to severe deficits in all aspects of emotional intelligence. Compared to the conditions above, substance abuse often causes the largest impairments in emotional perception and regulation.

Asperger's syndrome is also characterized by lower emotional intelligence. People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty expressing emotions or guessing what others are feeling. Research blames these difficulties on a lack of cognitive flexibility. Autistic people can struggle to shift their attention from one idea to another. Yet emotional intelligence often requires adapting to rapidly changing contexts. Thus, autistic individuals may struggle to integrate emotional information into an otherwise rigid thought process.

Research has shown a link between a low EQ and the likelihood of engaging in destructive or self-destructive acts. Some people may use self-harm as a way to forcibly regulate their emotions. Improving emotional intelligence can help a person reduce mental health symptoms. A high EQ can also reduce tendencies toward aggression and quicken recovery from traumatic events

The right therapist can help an individual improve their emotional intelligence and their overall well-being.


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