Salovey and Mayer and the structure of emotional intelligence

Salovey and Mayer and the structure of emotional intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence was proposed in the 90s by psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer

Salovey and Mayer and the structure of emotional intelligence

Last update: July 18, 2020

In recent years, the topic of emotional intelligence has captured the attention of an increasingly wider audience, especially interested in managing their emotions better. However, few really know its origin. The term appears for the first time in 1990 in a book by Salovey and Mayer, which illustrate the structure of emotional intelligence and its action on behavior and mind.

Salovey is a lecturer at Yale University, while Mayer was a postdoctoral researcher at the time. Together they have studied and published numerous articles on the subject. Despite this, most people attribute the term to its top popularizer Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence in 1994, after the publication of the book entitled Emotional Intelligence, What It Is and Why It Can Make Us Happy.

Salovey and Mayer's concept of emotional intelligence is mildly different from that of Goleman. For this reason, some confusion has arisen about the attribution of the original theory. In this article we will focus only on the two authors who gave it light.


What is emotional intelligence for Salovey and Mayer?

According to the definition contained in their first book, emotional intelligence is the ability to process information based on one's own emotions and those of others. In addition, it also includes the possibility of using this information as a guide for thinking and behavior.

People with high emotional intelligence listen, use, understand and manage emotions. On the other hand, these abilities promote adaptive functions that benefit both them and others. To establish whether a person possesses high emotional intelligence, the two authors refer to four basic skills:

  • Correctly perceive, evaluate and express one's own and others' emotions.
  • Resorting to emotions that favor thought processes.
  • Understanding emotions, emotional language and emotional signals.
  • Managing emotions in order to achieve goals.

In this model of emotional intelligence, each skill develops in four different phases. This process, however, doesn't have to happen spontaneously. On the contrary, it usually requires a conscious effort on the part of the subject. Soon we will see the four phases in detail.

1- Perception, evaluation and expression of emotions

The first skill of emotional intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer is theidentification of one's own emotions and those of others. First, the person must be able to understand what he is feeling. This includes emotions, but also thoughts, both derived and generated. Later, in the second stage, the ability to do the same with external states is acquired. For example, other people's feelings or those expressed through art.

In the third stage, the person acquires the ability to correctly express their emotions. He therefore also learns a express their related needs. Finally, in the fourth phase, the ability to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate expressions of the emotions of others is obtained.

2- Emotional facilitation of thinking

In the first phase, the person directs their thoughts to the most important information. Here, one's feelings are not yet taken into account. In the second phase, on the contrary, emotions begin to be perceived with sufficient intensity to be identifiable. Therefore, the subject is able to use emotions to help make a decision.

According to Salovey and Meyer, in the third stage the emotions could cause the person to fluctuate from one emotional state to another, with the possibility of considering different points of view on a topic. Finally, in the fourth stage, the person's feelings would lead them to make better decisions and think more creatively.

3- Understanding and analysis of emotions

First, one acquires the ability to distinguish one emotion from another and to use the right words to describe them. Then this skill takes it one step further, allowing the person to recognize the relationship between words and emotions.

In the third stage, the person is able to interpret complex emotions. For example, a reaction that mixes disgust and fascination or fear and surprise. Finally, the ability to detect the transition between two emotions as from anger to shame or from surprise to joy.

4- Ability to manage emotions to achieve goals

This ability requires a willingness not to limit the role that emotions play actually. This is easier to achieve with positive emotions, while it is more difficult with negative ones. In this phase we will go further, allowing us to choose which emotions to identify with depending on how much they are more or less useful.

In the previous step, the person has acquired the ability to study emotions in relation to himself and others according to how influential, reasonable or clear they are. In the end, the subject is able to manage his own emotions and those of others by moderating the negative ones and maintaining the positive ones.

Emotional intelligence is a practical skill

Salovey and Mayer's model of emotional intelligence misses, even remotely, what we know today about emotional intelligence. However, it takes us back to the origin of the concept, to the basics, and to what was a real revolution in its day.

Perhaps the strength of this model is its simplicity and the gradualness that facilitates its understanding. A magnificent starting point to immerse ourselves in the wonderful world of emotions. Which, like it or not, is ours.

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