Emotional Intelligence According to Salovey and Mayer

In recent years, emotional intelligence has jumped to the best placed positions in the shop windows.


In recent years, emotional intelligence has jumped to the best placed positions in the shop windows. More and more people are interested in their study and how knowledge can help them be better emotional managers. However, few really know its origin. We can situate his appearance in 1990, in a book in which Salovey and Mayer try to explain what emotional intelligence is and how it is articulated in our behaviors and minds.

Salovey is a professor at Yale University, while Mayer was a postdoctoral student at this time. They researched together and published numerous articles on the subject. Despite this, many people attribute the concept to their best disseminator, Daniel Goleman: he popularized the concept of emotional intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer in 1996, after publishing a book called Emotional Intelligence: why it is more important than the IQ.

The concept of emotional intelligence is slightly different for Salovey and Mayer than for Goleman. Due to this, there have been some confusions regarding what his original theory was. In this article we will see exactly what it is for the two authors who gave it shape.

What is emotional intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer?

According to the definition included in his first book, emotional intelligence is the ability to process information about one’s own emotions and those of others. In addition, it also includes the ability to use this information as a guide for thinking and behavior.

Thus, people with emotional intelligence pay attention, use, understand and manage emotions. On the other hand, these skills serve adaptive functions that provide advantages to them and to others. To consider that a person has high emotional intelligence, these two authors spoke of four basic skills:

  • Ability to perceive and express one’s own and others’ emotions correctly.
  • Ability to use emotions in a way that facilitates thinking.
  • Ability to understand emotions, emotional language, and emotional signs.
  • Ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals.

In this model of emotional intelligence, each of the fields is developed in four different phases. This process, however, does not have to occur spontaneously. On the contrary, it usually requires a conscious effort of the person. Next we will see the four phases more closely.

1- Perception and correct expression of emotions

The first ability of emotional intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer is the identification 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 derivatives and those that generate them. Later, in the second phase, the ability to do the same with foreign states is acquired. For example, the feelings of other people, or those expressed through art.

In the third phase, the person acquires the ability to express their emotions correctly. Thus, he also learns to convey his needs related to his feelings. In the fourth phase, finally, the ability to distinguish between correct and incorrect expressions of the emotions of others is achieved.

2- Emotional facilitation of thought

In the first phase, people direct their thoughts to the most important information. Here, one’s own feelings are still not taken into account. In the second stage, on the contrary, emotions begin to be perceived with sufficient intensity to be identifiable. Therefore, the person is able to use them as an aid in making a decision.

According to Salovey and Meyer, in the third phase emotions would cause the person to fluctuate from one emotional state to another. Thus, I could consider different points of view on a topic. Finally, in the fourth stage, the person’s feelings would lead them to make more correct decisions and to think more creatively.

3- Understanding of emotions

First, you acquire the ability to distinguish one basic emotion from another, and to use the right words to describe them. Then, this skill is taken a step further, allowing the person to place that feeling in their emotional state.

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

4- Ability to manage emotions to achieve goals

First, this ability requires the will not to limit the role that emotions actually have. This, which is easier to achieve with positive emotions, costs considerably more with negative ones. In this step we will go further, allowing us to choose which feelings to identify with depending on whether they are useful or not.

In the previous step, the person would acquire the ability to study emotions in relation to oneself and to others. This would be done according to how influential, reasonable or clear they are. And, finally, the person would be able to manage their own and others’ emotions, moderating the negative ones and increasing the positive ones.

Emotional intelligence: a practical skill

The model of emotional intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer does not pick up, by far, everything we know today about emotional intelligence. However, it brings us back to the origin of the concept, to the bases, to what in its day was an authentic revolution.

Perhaps the strongest point of this model is its simplicity and the fact that it presents a graduation that facilitates its understanding. Thus, it is a magnificent starting point to immerse ourselves in the wonderful world of emotions. That which, willingly or unintentionally, is ours.