Saturday, June 19, 2010

June '10 IOP Part I: Emotional Intelligence

The July 2010 issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology has two very good focal articles with, as always, several thought-provoking commentaries following each. This post will review the first article and I'll cover the next in the following post.

The first focal article, by Cary Cherniss, attempts to provide some clarity to the debate over emotional intelligence (EI). In it, Cherniss makes several key arguments, including:

- While there is disagreement over the best way to measure EI, there is considerable agreement over its definition. Cherniss adopts Mayer, et al.'s definition of "the ability to perceive and express emotions, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion in the self and others."

- EI can be distinguished from emotional and social competence (ESC), which explicitly links to superior performance.

- Among the major extant models, the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso model (MSCEIT) represents EI, while the others (Bar-On; Boyatzis & Goleman; Petrides, et al.) primarily consist of ESC aspects. Importantly, this does not make the Mayer, et al. model "superior", just more easily classified as an ability measure.

- There are significant problems with all of the major measures of EI/ESC, such as convergent/discriminant validity and inflation (depending on the measure). According to Cherniss, "it is difficult at this point to reach any firm conclusions--pro or con--about the quality of the most popular tests of EI and ESC."

- Emerging measures, such as those involving multiple ratings (e.g., Genos EI), appear promising, although they may be more complex and expensive than performance tests or self-report inventories.

- Other, even more creative, measures hold even more promise. This includes video and simulation tests. This point was echoed in several commentaries. I've posted a lot about the promise of computer-based simulation testing, and EI may be one of the areas where this type of measurement holds particular promise.

- Context is key. I think this is one of Cherniss' most important points: the importance of EI likely depends greatly on the situation--i.e., the job and the "emotional labor" required to perform successfully. This point was also echoed in several commentaries. EI may be particularly important for jobs that require a lot of social interaction and influence, team performance, and in jobs that involve a high level of stress.

- Several studies have shown modest correlations between EI/ESC measures and job performance, but there are issues with many of them (e.g., student samples, questionable criteria). Newer meta-analyses (e.g., Joseph & Newman, 2010) suggest "mixed-model EI" measures may hold more promise in terms of adding incremental validity.

The commentaries provide input on a whole host of points which would be difficult to summarize here (I will say I enjoyed Kaplan et al.'s the most). Needless to say there is still an enormous amount of disagreement regarding how EI is conceptualized, measured, and its overall importance. Then again, as Cherniss and others point out, EI as a concept is in its infancy and this type of debate is both healthy and expected.

Perhaps most importantly, users of tests should exhibit particular caution when choosing to use a purported measure of EI as the scientific community has not reached anything close to a consensus on the appropriate measurement method. Of course pinpointing the exact moment when that occurs will be--as with all measures--a challenge.

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