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Daniel Goleman's landmark book Emotional Intelligence popularized the theory initially set forth by researchers Salovey and Mayer and subsequently launched an explosion of emotional intelligence training across the country. This paper will examine Goleman's overall theory including neurological and physiological roots, emotional intelligence training, and the educational results of its application. Discussion is given to mounting criticism suggesting further research is needed to answer questions related to both the ethics of emotional intelligence training and its value.

Goleman's Theory of Emotional Intelligence and the Implication on Education

Emotions play a profound role in everyday life, but does learning how to effectively harness those emotions promote academic success?

The emotional intelligence (EI) construct was first introduced by researchers Salovey and Mayer in 1990 (Waterhouse, 2006, p.216). The theory later became popularized in 1995 by author Daniel Goleman when he released his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence. In his book, Goleman outlines his theory based on Salovey and Mayer's work and early Aristotelian ideology.

This paper will examine Goleman's theory, its neurological and physiological roots, educational implications, and the growing body of criticism surrounding Goleman's Theory of Emotional Intelligence.

Goleman's Theory of Emotional Intelligence

EI as defined by Mayer and Salovey is "perceiving emotions, using emotions in order to support ideas, understanding emotions and emotional information, adjusting emotions for emotional and mental development" (as cited in Ulutas & Ömeroglu, 2007, p.1365). Goleman, however, expounded on Mayer and Saolvey's work and proposed five domains of EI, (a) knowing one's emotions, (b) managing one's emotions, (c) motivating oneself, (d) recognizing emotions in others, (e) handling relationships. These domains were later redefined as (a) self awareness, (b) self management, (c) social awareness, (d) relationship management (as cited in Ulutas & Ömeroglu, 2007, p.1365). Accordingly, those individuals with higher levels of EI or, mastery of the domains, should be better in making decisions (Humphrey, Curran, Morris, Farrell, &Woods, 2007, p. 238). Better decision making skills thus lead to more job and academic success. Specifically, high ranges of EI allow individuals to handle painful emotions through self awareness, effectively deal with destructive emotions, and through self control appropriately "channel" unconstructive urges (Kristjánsson, 2006, p.49). Empathy forms and fosters "caring, altruism and compassion, which breaks down stereotypes, creating tolerance and acceptance leading to people living together in harmony" (Rietti, 2008, p.634).

Neurological and Physiological Roots of Emotional Intelligence

EI has been seen as contrary to cognition and reason, however; Humphrey et al. (2007) suggest that due to the central nervous system and its processes, "emotion enables reason to function" (p.237) and serves as a type of filter or lens that hones in on particular aspects of information, thus facilitating the physiological release of dopamine. Humphrey et al. (2007) further elaborates, specifically detailing the role dopamine plays in attention, cognition, and learning:

Dopamine is centrally involved in our cognitive and attentional systems. Dopamine switches our attentional system to a particular stimulus and then facilitates cognitive activation through its release in the frontal brain before finally facilitating the passage of relevant information throughout the brain and establishing learning. (p.238)

Further studies suggest that EI has genetic roots (as cited in Qualter, Gardner & Whiteley, 2007, p.16) as evidenced by significantly different patterns of brain behavior across the variant levels of EI. This difference could also be related to the level of emotion regulation the individual has acquired through the maturation of the regulatory neurological structures in the limbic system. Typically, as one ages, EI increases following normal patterns of child and adult development (Qualter, Gardner & Whiteley, 2007, p.15).

Emotional Intelligence and Educational Impact

The idea of applying the EI concept to the educational milieu has been heralded by many as essential not only to overall life satisfaction but academic success. According to Goleman, the standard measure of intelligence, IQ, contributes no more than 20% towards one's success, while the remainder is determined by EI (as cited in Hassan, Sulaiman, & Ishak, 2009, p.96). Goleman also indicates that by training students in EI it reduces negative emotions, violent behavior, and substance abuse, (as cited in Waterhouse, 2006, p.216) in turn fostering academic achievement and adult success (Ulutas & Ömeroglu, 2007, p.1371). This idea of training students resonates with the Aristotelian ideology that "emotions are central to the emotional experience" thus they (emotions) are "imbued with reason and penetrable to systematic cultivation and coaching" (Kristjánsson, 2006, p.43).

Researchers Gumora and Arsenio (2002) found that emotional regulation contributed to grade point average beyond the "contribution made by cognition related abilities" (as cited in Humphrey et al., 2007, p.244). Ulutas and Ömeroglu (2007) further validated this study when they examined 120 six year old children targeting the abilities of empathy, social ability, self awareness, and self management (p.1366). Twenty four activities were planned for a period of 12 weeks, administered two days each week. Each child was given pre and post tests using the Sullivan Emotional Intelligence Scale for Children and the Sullivan Brief Empathy Scale for Children. Teachers were also given the Sullivan Teacher Rating Scale of Emotional Intelligence for Children (Ulutas & Ömeroglu, 2007, p.1367). Results from the Ulutas and Ömeroglu (2007) study indicate educational programs geared towards teaching EI principles significantly impacts a child's EI which positively correlates with increases in academic abilities and adult success (p.1371). In contrast to the Gumora and Arsenio study, Barchard (2003) could not validate the study and stated that measures of EI "were unable to add significantly to the incremental predictive validity for academic performance over and above the contribution made by cognitive and personality variables" (as cited in Humphrey et al., 2007, p.244).

Despite conflicting data, Goleman maintains that:

Academic intelligence as measured by IQ tests and carefully nourished in the typical school curricula offers virtually no preparation for the turmoil or the opportunities presented by life's vicissitudes. There are other characteristics--such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one's moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope--that separate the sheep from the goats in our life journeys. (as cited in Kristjánsson, 2006, p.41)

Thus by focusing on the whole child in an EI framework it subsequently decreases emotional and behavioral problems (Rietti, 2008, p.636) and increases the ability to learn (Vandervoort, 2006, p.4).

Benefits of EI training are not limited to young children. Some researchers suggest adult learners struggling with basic education such as literacy skills should receive training in emotional intelligence. Clark and Dirkx (2008) noted that the emotions adult learners experience due to past educational roadblocks, failures, and "underlying trauma and violence" must be considered (p.91-92). Without this consideration the learning process becomes stagnant.

Criticism of Emotional Intelligence

Many of Goleman's claims have been met with much criticism and skepticism. Among the greatest criticisms of EI Theory is the lack of a clear operational definition (Humphrey et al., 2007, p.238). Without this clear definition, empirical evidence becomes difficult to obtain (Kristjánsson, 2006, p.42). Subsequently, tests designed to measure levels of EI are frequently limited to self-report or other subjective measures such as the Sullivan Teacher Rating Scale of Emotional Intelligence for Children. These measures clearly fail to account for variables and possible confounds such as self promotion, positive parent-child interaction and emotional attachment (Humphrey et al., 2007, p.243).

Further, EI training according to some researchers (Kristjánsson, 2006, p.54; Rietti, 2008, p.638-642) can be viewed as teaching values and morals to students. Questions arise regarding the ethics of such training. Rietti (2008) argues that:

This need not be illegitimate-though the question of how deeply the educational system should attempt to reach into a student, and according to which values, does rather uneasily pose itself here. It is important, though, that the value aspect of this should be clearly identified and justified as such, and be introduced in such a way as to leave room for critical examination and discussion, at least once the students are sufficiently developed to engage on this level, and certainly by the society at large. And this is not a goal best achieved by blurring the lines between value systems and applied science. (p.642)


Goleman's EI theory purports to impact one's learning and overall life success through effectively dealing with emotion; specifically, through self awareness, social awareness, self management, and relationship management. Genetic factors, neurochemical release, and developmental issues also factor in to higher levels of EI which helps attune the nervous system to key informational messages leading to learning. Some studies further suggest that training in EI can increase performance on standardized achievement tests and enhance grade point average. Some critics, however, disagree with Goleman's theory citing difficulty with defining the construct and an overall lack of empirical evidence. Others (critics) also suggest that teaching a system of values crosses ethical lines and fails to account for diversity among individuals. Clearly multiple factors play a role in one's ability to learn; however, further empirical studies are necessitated in order to validate and legitimize Goleman's robust claims.

The argument for including EI training in educational settings is strong, however; the criticism appears to outweigh the benefits particularly when discussing teaching of morality and values within the educational milieu. Likewise, without evidence based on true experimentation; educators must give pause before fully embracing Goleman's ideology.


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