Is the Theory of Emotional Intelligence a Scam?

02/27/2017 12:50 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2017

What is more beneficial in life; a high EQ or IQ? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Jordan B Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, clinical psychologist, on Quora:

There is no such thing as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient. Let me repeat that: "There is no such thing as an EQ." The idea was popularized by a journalist, Daniel Goleman, not a psychologist. You can't just invent a trait. You have to define it and measure it and distinguish it from other traits and use it to predict the important ways that people vary.

EQ is not a psychometrically valid concept. Insofar as it is anything (which it isn't), it's the Big Five trait agreeableness, although this depends, as it shouldn't, on which EQ measure is being used (they should all measure the same thing). Agreeable people are compassionate and polite, but they can also be pushovers. Disagreeable people, on average (if they aren't too disagreeable) make better managers, because they are straightforward, don't avoid conflict and cannot be easily manipulated.

Let me say it again: There is no such thing as an EQ. Scientifically, it's a fraudulent concept, a fad, a convenient bandwagon, a corporate marketing scheme. (Here's an early critique by Davies, M., Stankov, L. and Roberts, D. Emotional intelligence: in search of an elusive construct. Here's a conclusion reached by Harms and Crede, in an excellent article -- comprehensive and well thought-through (2010):

"Our searches of the literature revealed only six articles in  which  the  authors  either  explicitly examined the incremental validity of EI scores over measures of both cognitive ability and Big Five personality traits in predicting either academic or work performance, or presented data in a manner that allowed examination of this issue. Not one of these six articles (Barchard,2003; Newsome, Day, & Catano, 2000;O’Connor & Little, 2003; Rode, Arthaud-Day, Mooney, Near, & Baldwin, 2008;Rode et al., 2007; Rossen & Kranzler,2009) showed a significant contribution for EI in the prediction of performance after controlling for both cognitive ability and the Big Five... For correlations involving the overall EI construct, EI explained almost no incremental variance in performance ([change in prediction] = .00. Findings were identical when considering only cases involving an ability-based measure of IE...."

Harms and Crede also commented:

"...proofs of validity [for EI] seem to come from measuring constructs that have existed for a long time and are simply being relabeled and recategorized. For example, one of the proposed measures of ESC, the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (Mikolajczak, Luminet, Leroy, & Roy,2007), makes use of measures of assertiveness, social competence, self-confidence, stress management, and impulsivity among other things. Most, if not all, of these constructs, are firmly embedded in and well-accounted for by well-designed measures of personality traits such as the Hogan Personality Inventory (Hogan & Hogan, 1992)and the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (Tellegen & Waller, 2008). The substantial relationships observed between these ESC and trait-based EI measures, and personality inventories bear this out. It, therefore, appears that the predictive validity of ESC or EI measures may be accounted for in large part by the degree to which they assess sub-facets of higher-order traits relevant to the outcomes being predicted. For example, Cherniss (2010) relates that two studies of self-discipline showed them to be significant predictors of academic performance and then criticizes Landy (2005) for not taking them into account in a review of studies of ‘‘social intelligence.’’ Given that self-control (or impulse control)is widely regarded as a major sub-facet of conscientiousness (Roberts, Chernyshenko,Stark, & Goldberg, 2005) and that numerous studies have linked Conscientiousness with academic performance, that there is a relationship between a facet of Conscientiousness, and academic performance is hardly news."

IQ is a different story. It is the most well-validated concept in the social sciences, bar none. It is an excellent predictor of academic performance, creativity, ability to abstract, processing speed, learning ability and general life success.

Other traits are essential to overall success, including conscientiousness, which is an excellent predictor of grades, managerial and administrative ability, and life outcomes, on the more conservative side.

It should also be noted that IQ is five or more times as powerful a predictor as even good personality trait predictors such as conscientiousness. The true relationship between grades, for example, and IQ might be as high as r = .50 or even .60 (accounting for 25-36% of the variance in grades). Conscientiousness, however, probably tops out at around r = .30, and is more typically reported as r = .25 (say, 5 to 9% of the variance in grades). There is nothing that will provide you with a bigger advantage in life than a high IQ.  Nothing. 

In fact, if you could choose to be born at the 95th percentile for wealth, or the 95th percentile for IQ, you would be more successful at age forty as a consequence of the latter choice.

It might be objected that we cannot measure traits such as conscientiousness as well as we measure IQ, as we primarily rely on self or other reports for the former. But no one has solved this problem. There are no "ability" tests for conscientiousness. I am speaking as someone who has tried to produce such tests for ten years, and failed (despite trying dozens of good ideas, with top students working on the problem). IQ is king. This is why academic psychologists almost never measure it. If you measure it along with your putatively "new" measure, IQ will kill your ambitions. For the career minded, this is a no-go zone. So people prefer to talk about multiple bits of intelligence and EQ and all these things that do not exist. 

There is also no such thing as "grit," despite what Angela Duckworth says. Grit is conscientiousness, plain and straightforward (although probably more the industrious side than the orderly side). All Duckworth and her compatriots did was fail to notice that they had re-invented a very well documented phenomena, that already had a name (and, when they did notice it, failed to produce the appropriate mea culpas. Not one of psychology's brighter moments). A physicist who "re-discovered" iron and named it melignite, or something equivalent would be immediately revealed as ignorant or manipulative (or, more likely, as ignorant and manipulative), and then taunted out of the field. Duckworth? She received a MacArthur Genius grant for her trouble. That's all as reprehensible as the self-esteem craze (self-esteem, by the way, is essentially .65 Big Five trait neuroticism (low) and .35 extraversion (high), with some accurate self-assessment of general life competence thrown in, for those who are a bit more self-aware). See: Self-Liking and Self-Competence Separate Self-Evaluation From Self-Deception: Associations With Personality, Ability, and Achievement.

In case I haven't made myself clear: there is no such thing as EQ, grit or self-esteem.

It's crooked psychology. Reminiscent of all the recent upheaval in the social psychology subfield: Final Report: Stapel Affair Points to Bigger Problems in Social Psychology.

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