Indian Journal of Psychiatric Nursing

: 2021  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 106--111

Emotional intelligence: What is it and how can it transform your life?

Harpreet Singh Dhillon1, Shibu Sasidharan2, Gurpreet Kaur Dhillon3, Babitha Manalikuzhiyil4,  
1 Departments of Psychiatry, Military Hospital, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India
2 Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care, Level III Hospital, Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo
3 Department of Paediatrics, Military Hospital, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India
4 Department of Radio-diagnosis, Ojas Hospital, Panchkula, Haryana, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Harpreet Singh Dhillon
MD (Psychiatry), Department of Psychiatry, Military Hospital, Jammu


Emotional intelligence (EI) is a social intelligence distinct from academic intelligence and assists us in successfully comprehending complex personal, social, and professional situations. The four components of EI are perceiving, understanding, managing, and using emotions to enable better adaptability and creativity. In this review, the authors have examined the existing literature on the contemporary concepts of EI construct, the available means to measure it, and its implications across various life situations with special emphasis on the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The necessity for research into multiple intelligences (cultural, practical, and spiritual) is further discussed in the way forward.

How to cite this article:
Dhillon HS, Sasidharan S, Dhillon GK, Manalikuzhiyil B. Emotional intelligence: What is it and how can it transform your life?.Indian J Psy Nsg 2021;18:106-111

How to cite this URL:
Dhillon HS, Sasidharan S, Dhillon GK, Manalikuzhiyil B. Emotional intelligence: What is it and how can it transform your life?. Indian J Psy Nsg [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Nov 26 ];18:106-111
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Cognition, emotions, and motivation are the fundamental mental operations dictating human behavior. Motivation is essential for the most basic needs such as survival and procreation. It has a direct causal relationship between a need that energizes and directs a particular behavior. Emotions, on the other hand, are mainly a mammalian attribute, are more flexible, and make life vibrant. The various emotional states such as fear, anger, sadness, joy, and love elicit different physical reactions in the body, thus leading to wide range of behavior, ranging from productive to debilitating ones. Cognition is the most flexible and dynamic process and is based on intelligence, memory, learning, and intentional information processing to help adapt to a novel situation. Intelligence as defined by Wechsler is "the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally and to deal effectively with his environment."[1]

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a distinct social intelligence, which lies at the intersection of emotions and intelligence and is considered essential for successful interpersonal communication, across personal, social, and professional domains. EI is conceptually defined as the ability to perceive and understand emotions; discern them as distinct from each other; and to regulate their expression within self and others.[2] The major components can further be explained as:

Perceiving emotions: The ability to correctly identify emotions and discern from one-another in self, other's face, language, music, and stories etc.Understanding and incorporating emotions: The ability to understand and assimilate emotions with intelligence to assist and guide thought processManaging emotions: The ability to amalgamate emotions with language to label different emotions as distinct with the capacity to experience and manage different emotions simultaneouslyUsing emotions: The ability to monitor, regulate and express emotions in self and others to accomplish better sense of control, enhance creativity and social competence.

 Contemporary Concepts

There are various models and definitions to explain EI. The mental "ability" model proposes EI as a compilation of capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one's ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures.[3] The emotional competencies include self-awareness and regulation, self-motivation, social skills, empathy, and interpersonal skills. Thus, EI is probably related to general intelligence in being ability, but differs in terms of underlying mechanisms of emotionality, emotion management, and neurological substrates. Fiori on the contrary to common understanding proposed that EI is more of an unconscious processing of emotional information than a conscious effort.[4] The trait model of EI emphasizes on traits such as optimism and self-esteem which are essential components of EI.

 Nature or Nurture

Goleman (1998) proposed that unlike intelligence quotient (IQ), which is inherited, EQ is more amenable to change and can be improved with sustained efforts. This leads us to the argument – Is EI influenced by nature or nurture?

The role of nature is supported by the inherent emotionality in which individuals differ in their ability to emote, such that some are emotionally fluent and others are not. This emotional fluency is predetermined genetically and equips them to rapidly generate emotions and facilitate emotion-related thoughts. They experience their feelings clearly, distinctively and are able to manage their affect better. This empowers them to quickly and effectively control disturbing emotions.[5] The neurological substrate basis can be explained on the model of alexithymia, in which an individual is unable to appraise and verbally express his emotions. Alexithymia could result from inefficient neural circuitry at the corpus callosum, amygdala, and mirror neurons.

Molecular genetics has revealed polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter genes, dopaminergic metabolism enzymes, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. The role of oxytocin has been investigated, but the results are inconclusive.[6]

On the other hand, the mental ability model of EI highlights the role of "nurture" such that emotionally intelligent individuals are more likely to have been raised in a nondefensive environment by emotionally sensitive parents.[7] There are cultural differences in the expression of emotions with respect to moral or ethical responsiveness, culture specific social problem-solving, or spiritual feeling, which further supports the "nurture" theory.[8]

Thus, there appears to exist both universal and culture specific aspects of EI. This influence of culture on EI was first taken into account by the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso EI Test (MSCEIT), where few items were changed as per the cultural specificities, while being translated into various languages.[9]


EI is a qualitative capacity consisting of multiple domains. However, we do need to measure it because, though IQ tests are fairly accurate in predicting academic success, they are incapable of predicting holistic outcomes in higher education, workplace, and social life.

There are various challenges in objective evaluation of EI. First, human mind is inherently the most complex structure and emotions and cognition are intertwined so dynamically, that it is difficult to measure the influence of each other when measured together. Second, there are other important variables such as personality traits, which often dictate us to behave in a particular manner across various scenarios. Another impediment to measurement of EI is the historical psychological notion that emotions and intelligence generally function against each other; hence, there cannot exist any one tool/instrument to measure these inherently opposite mental operations. Despite the above-mentioned challenges, certain scales have been developed to quantify EI. These scales can be classified into two categories: the specific ability test, which measures one particular facet, and the integrative model approach, which measures multiple abilities of EI.

Specific ability

The Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy test, developed by Pitterman and Nowicki with ability to discern emotions in the facial expressions in individuals, has been the most widely used.[10] The participants are exposed to a series of 24 faces and are instructed to indicate the emotion present in the given face. The Japanese and Caucasian Brief Affect Recognition Test, (Matsumoto et al., 2000), is another scale to measure the difference between emotion recognition ability.[11]

The specific ability scales have been updated in the recent research with additions in emotion understanding and management. The Situational Test of Emotional Understanding measures the ability to appraise and react to complicated emotional situations, while the Situational Test of Emotion Management measures the emotion management.[12],[13]

Integrative model measures

These tests integrate multiple facets of EI, are more comprehensive, but time-consuming.

Assessment of Children's Emotion Skills (ACES) (e.g. Schultz and Izard., 2001) measures the children's abilities to identify emotions in facial pictures and understand emotions generated by social situations[14]MSCEIT: MSCEIT contains 141 items and measures perceiving, understanding, and management of emotions.[15]

 How to Boost and utilize Emotional Intelligence during COVID-19 Pandemic?

EI predicts a range of positive outcomes across the entire spectrum of our lives starting from the school academics to higher education and subsequent work place performance. Even in the face of current COVID-19 pandemic which has caused unprecedented negative consequences (ill health, stress, anxiety, depression, death, unemployment, and business closures), individuals with better EI have a better shot at buffering these consequences. As mentioned earlier, EQ is influenced by both nature and nurture; hence, it is possible to improve our EQ by working on the following specific set of skills.


It is the ability to recognize, differentiate, and understand your own emotions, and the effect they have on your behavior. By constantly monitoring your emotions and their effect on your behavior, you can recognize your strengths and limitations. You can enhance your self-awareness by practicing mindfulness, constructive feedbacks, or by keeping a journal/diary to reflect on your thoughts on actions. One can also hire a coach to walk you through this.


After recognizing different emotions correctly, it is important to regulate them, especially the distressing ones, to express them appropriately. People who are good at self-regulation stay composed, think clearly, and tend to be more flexible and adaptable to new situations. We can enhance self-regulation by finding ways to express difficult emotions, building stress tolerance and cognitive reframing. Consciously attending to breathing, relaxing, exercise, movement, self-expression by art, music, dance, writing, etc., all help enhance self-regulation.

Social skills

The ability to interact and communicate well with others, whether at home or workplace, helps in building meaningful long-term relationships. It is seen that people with superior social skills are better at conflict resolution and collaborate in large groups to boost creativity. Social skills can be improved by engaging in open-ended conversations, active listening, and observing nonverbal cues from the body language.


Empathy is the ability to understand how others are feeling. Empathy has four elements:

A cognitive and thinking capacity to understand and adopt different perspectivesA capacity to self-regulate behavior and emotions while keeping track of the origin of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors (self and others)An affective (emotional) capacity to respond and sensibly react to other's emotionsA social capacity to share emotions appropriately.

Empathetic people are sensitive and attentive to emotional cues. We can build empathy by engaging in community work, get feedback, explore the heart not just the head, and walk in others' shoes.


Emotionally intelligent people are intrinsically motivated by the passion and contentment from the task at hand and are not driven much by external rewards like fame, money, recognition, and acclaim. They are optimistic, persistent, and can delay gratification until the goal is achieved. You can work on this skill by setting small, measurable goals; create your own routine and rituals.


EI predicts specific outcomes in limited yet important domains of social interaction. The predictive value of EI can be increased when it is measured concurrently with other potential confounders such as cognitive and personality assessment tests.

Academic performance in children

Trentacosta and Izard studied 193 kindergarten school children with ACESs and followed them up to first grade. They concluded that after controlling for confounders (intelligence, attention, and personality variables), a higher score on ACES predicted better overall academic achievement.[16] The current educational system emphasizes strongly on IQ (i.e. to "know a book," solve mathematics, memorize things, and recall subject matters), while EQ (which makes someone to be able to maintain peace with others; keep to time; be responsible; be honest; respect boundaries; be humble, genuine; and considerate) is not given due attention. It is recommended that EI be introduced and imparted from the formative years onward in schools.

Sports and emotional intelligence

The success in competitive sports is achieved by harmonious interaction between cognition and coordination, but the passion fueling the competitive sports is often driven by the emotions. A meta-analysis studying the effect of EI on performance in sports revealed a small but significant positive relationship.[17] Hence, it can be inferred that EI has a role, not only for the studious kind, but also for students inclined towards sports.

Interpersonal relations

Marriage is considered as the most significant incident in one's life. The couples with high EI are expected to handle intimate and family relationships in a better manner. Eslami et al. reported a significantly positive relationship between EI and marital satisfaction in a comparative study.[18] In another study, it was shown that high EI accords better marital adjustment not only in healthy couples, but also in the couples distressed with Infertility.[19]

Medical education

The medical profession mandates a doctor to master the ability to continue as a self-directed and lifelong learner. In addition, EI can help strengthen the doctor–patient therapeutic alliance, which is the cornerstone of many chronic conditions, especially the psychiatric disorders. Thus, it is recommended that teaching EI should be prioritized alongside the medical education.[20]

Human resource and corporate management

With the ever-increasing population on the planet, the human capital can be considered a resource as well as a liability. The increasing globalization and change in workforce makes it compelling to utilize EQ as an essential component in human resources. Rosete and Ciarrochi (2009) studied 117 Australian public service managers with MSCEIT, personality inventory (16 PF), and detailed history from their supervisors.[21] The MSCEIT could successfully differentiate the better functioning managers from the rest after controlling for personality and cognitive abilities. The successful managers were found to have better communication and cooperation skills. Emotionally intelligent individuals were also said to exhibit "persistence at challenging tasks" and have "positive attitudes toward life that lead to better outcomes and greater rewards for themselves and others." They tend to be better service providers by understanding customers/clients needs, offering appropriate assistance, and enhancing customer's satisfaction and loyalty.

Leadership, politics, and social adaptability

Individuals with higher EI tend to have better social competencies with which they can influence others, communicate better, manage conflicts diplomatically, inspiring leaders, collaborate, build, and sustain long-term bonds.[22]

Mental health

There is growing evidence that emotional abilities are a relevant predictor of mental health and subjective well-being. A meta-analysis of 25 studies with a combined sample size of 8520 revealed a significant positive relationship between EI and subjective well-being.[23] Hertel et al. assessed EI with the help of the (MSCEIT, version 2.0; Mayer et al., 2002; German version: Steinmayr, Schutz, Hertel, & Schroder-Abe, 2008) in a sample of patients with known psychiatric disorders. The study found that major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and substance abuse disorder were associated with significant deficits in emotional abilities.[24]

COVID-19 pandemic

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, studies have shown that despite being adequately aware and acknowledging the need for lockdown to contain the spread of COVID, there was widespread psychological stress.[25] Higher trait EI proved to be protective against the negative emotions of anxiety, fear, and sadness during the COVID-19 pandemic.[26] A recent study among the front line nursing staff during the current pandemic revealed that enhancing the EI can reduce the frequency and intensity of negative emotions.[27] There are few practical tips to defuse the widespread fear and panic due to the pandemic. We need to start with enhancing our self-awareness. It can be done by simply sitting in a relaxed posture for as less as 2–5 min and try to download your thoughts from your mind to the paper. You need not worry about the nature of these thoughts or try to resolve/modify them, but simply observe them. You should try and label them as anxiety provoking or fearful or angry and try and find patterns. This simple technique of clearly being aware of your own thoughts can help you regain a sense of control and would alleviate your fears. The physical as well as psychological self-care is an essential component of high EI and is especially relevant in this pandemic. We need to optimise our basic biorhythms such as sleep, balanced nutrition, adequate exercise and avoiding addictive substances to recharge our cognitive and emotional batteries. Self-regulation is the next step in which we should be flexible and able to adapt to health and government guidelines such as wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing. Finally, to successfully navigate through this pandemic, we need sustained motivation, optimism, persistence, and a sense of humor.

E-commerce and emotional intelligence

The online shopping behavior of consumers can be categorized into rational utilitarian buying or unreasonable compulsive shopping sprees due to impulsive decisions, often to ephemerally tide over a negative emotional state. The trend of online shopping has sky-rocketed during the lockdown imposed during COVID-19 pandemic. It is interesting to note that major E-commerce giants study your personal dispositions and exploit your psychoemotional states from your birthdays, anniversary, and other dates of personal significance, to sell items which are not of much utility. Zamboni et al. suggested that the unpleasant emotional states significantly increased the online shopping behavior as well time spent online during this recent COVID-19 lockdown.[28] Hence, it is imperative to develop and employ our EI to identify and regulate our emotional states before buying from the online sites.

 The Way Forward

A simple question arises, why do we need to split and study variety of different kinds of intelligences? Howard Gardner (1983) was the first to propose the concept of multiple intelligences. He proposed eight types of intelligences: visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, kinesthetic, musical or rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. It was criticized for being too broad which included a variety of personality traits, talents, and abilities in addition to intelligence. However, there has been a revival of interest in the research into multiple types of intelligence such as practical or successful intelligence, cultural, and spiritual intelligences.

The successful/practical intelligence as defined by Sternberg is the ability to adapt, shape, and select environments to accomplish one's goals and those of one's society and culture.[29] This can be achieved by amicably adapting to the environment, recognizing, and capitalizing on ones strengths and compensating for weaknesses based on analytical, practical, and creative abilities.

Cultural intelligence: People vary remarkably in their capacity to adapt to novel cultures, because the familiar cues and behavior is generally lacking/modified, and hence entirely new interpretations need to be constructed. A person who is able to generate such new and appropriate responses quickly and accurately is said to have high cultural quotient.[8]

Emmons (2000) defined spiritual intelligence as the adaptive use of spiritual information to facilitate everyday problem solving and goal attainment. It has 4 components: the capacity for transcendence, the ability to enter into heightened spiritual states of consciousness, the ability to invest everyday activities, events, and relationships with a sense of the sacred or divine, and the ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems in life. Spiritual intelligence can be developed and is shown to be beneficial for leadership and organizational performance.[30]

The arduous research in new types of intelligence is justified by the argument that it might provide us with a tool/instrument, which has additional predictive capability than the current measures of intelligence. This can help us to make the best use of human capital available by achieving the "Goldilocks phenomenon" of matching the most suitable man with the best-suited job to achieve optimal efficiency, psychological well-being, and sustained motivation.


EI is a distinct intelligence and provides an exciting new area for research of human ability. As per the existing literature, it does provide an edge in personal, educational, and social achievements in addition to psychological well-being. The good news is that it can be learnt and upgraded to improve the outcomes of variety of daily life scenarios. However, there is a need for further research to advance understanding of EI and integration with new intelligences.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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