The dark side of emotional intelligence

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Robert Maurer

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The dark side of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a relatively modern concept. Studied and appreciated since the last few years, today we want to investigate its darker side.

Last update: February 18, 2022

The concept of emotional intelligence was coined in 1990 by Salovey and Mayer, although it became popular later thanks to the book by author Daniel Goleman. This ability has been recognized by multiple disciplines as a crucial skill for achieving success on a variety of levels, from academic and professional to personal. But we also invite you to discover the dark side of emotional intelligence.

Goleman's book has become a landmark in the study of this concept. Slowly, emotional intelligence has become a subject of debate and the focus of numerous studies and research. Even UNESCO in 2002 included it in the educational program of 140 countries as a key element of emotional learning. However, there is a dark side to emotional intelligence that not everyone is talking about. Let's find out more!

What is emotional intelligence?

The first definitions of "intelligence" referred to purely cognitive abilities, leaving aside the sphere of emotions. Only later did this approach begin to be questioned, giving rise to numerous theories, including that of multiple intelligences. This new theory has classified intelligence into different types, such as mathematical, linguistic or emotional.

Thus began to speak of intrapersonal intelligence, referring to the ability to know one's emotions and their feelings through self-analysis. It was then that Goleman published his book pointing to this ability as emotional intelligence.

The author defines it as the ability to motivate oneself, to preserve oneself in the face of frustrations, to control impulses and to regulate one's mood, thus coming to feel empathy and trust towards others.


There are eight elements identified in reference to Goleman's theory.

  • Emotional self-knowledge. It refers to the ability to adequately and reliably identify, know and express feelings and emotions, as well as their effects.
  • Emotional self-control. The ability to control one's impulses.
  • Self-motivation. It is what allows you to achieve your goals by properly managing emotions.
  • Empathy. It is defined as the ability to respond appropriately to the needs expressed by others, as well as the ability to share their feelings.
  • Interpersonal relationships. It is the ability to relate effectively to others, making them feel comfortable and generating positive emotions.

Following its great success, this theory it was considered complementary to that of traditional intelligence. Today it is taken for granted that emotional abilities affect people's adaptive and cognitive abilities.

What is known about this skill?

The enthusiasm for emotional intelligence as a success factor allowed the dissemination of hypotheses, models and research in the field. It is curious that this concept became popular before it was known sufficiently.

It was known, for example, that people with higher emotional intelligence generally enjoy better health and are more satisfied, achieve greater work milestones and have fewer interpersonal problems.

Thus proceeded with the analysis of public leaders to whom was attributed a particular ability to recognize, understand and manage the emotions of others. Among them was one of the most influential leaders of the XNUMXth century, none other than Adolf Hitler. Thus it was that a line of research emerged that is not often cited: the dark side of emotional intelligence.

The dark side of emotional intelligence

Adolf Hitler is said to have had very high emotional intelligence. One more weapon to use to increase his power, with the disastrous consequences known to all.

This would be one of the most striking examples of how the ability to interpret emotions, especially those of others, is not always used for noble purposes. Precisely this aspect has aroused interest in the field of social research.

Emotional intelligence has been linked to narcissism. A group of Austrian researchers evaluated emotional intelligence levels in 600 people, finding that those who scored higher tended to "charm" others for personal gain.

Another Michigan study found that narcissism is closely related to the ability to recognize emotions, a factor that in addition to being essential for empathy, also facilitates manipulation.

Another study from the University of Toronto revealed that there is a high chance that a person with strong emotional intelligence will ridicule others for the purpose of obtaining personal recognition. Furthermore, curious data obtained from the same study shows that these people are more adept at recognizing negative emotions than positive ones.

The same study indicates that people with obvious Machiavellian tendencies, or workers willing to sabotage others to make a career, have higher levels of emotional intelligence.

Conclusions on why the dark side of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence allows you to recognize and reflect on your own and others' emotions. It is an important skill to ensure well-being, giving emotions the role they deserve. It is crucial to achieving one's goals, as it affects other personal abilities.

Nevertheless, it is not enough to have a high emotional intelligence to do good for oneself and for others; directing this ability in the right direction depends on other personal, moral and contextual factors.

Being emotionally intelligent does not therefore mean having a better management of emotions, but rather knowing how to recognize them at best and having to channel them in the best way.

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