Facets of Emotional Intelligence by Salovey and Mayer

The 10 original facets of Emotional Intelligence proposed by Salovey and Mayer.

Introduction: Emotion is a relatively difficult concept to clearly delineate but it is generally accepted that it is an organised mental response that includes physiological, experiential and cognitive aspects (Mayer et al. 2001). Emotions are largely, but not exclusively, related to interpersonal relationships and specific emotions are relatively resistant to cultural and individual differences, although these can affect the way in which emotions are expressed or perceived.

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Personal intelligence is defined as the feelings and emotions of oneself and the ability to understand and interpret these feelings in order to guide behaviour (Salovey, Mayer 1994). This can be expanded into emotional intelligence by including the application of this knowledge to other people and also to regulate actions based on it (Salovey, Mayer 1994).

The term emotional intelligence (EI) per se was coined in 1990 by Salovey and Mayer (cited in Tett, Fox & Wang 2005). The term EI applies to an ability to process emotional information in an appropriate way (Roberts, Zeidner & Matthews 2001), with a balance being achieved between emotion and reason (Fernandez-Berrocal, Extremera 2005).

EI as a concept has been popularised for its management and employment potential. Much research and publications have been directed towards the benefits of assessing and utilising EI within the workplace. As well as management issues EI is said to be the missing ingredient in nursing, medicine, engineering and legal practices (Zeidner, Matthews & Roberts 2001).
This review will aim to cover the various facets of EI, along with the methods by which it can be measured and what happens is something goes amiss.

The facets of EI

The initial facets of EI, as originally proposed by Salovey and Mayer in 1990 (cited in (Tett, Fox & Wang 2005)) are outlined in Table 1 below, together with the way in which these facets are understood now:

Original label

Current label


Sample item

Emotion in the self: verbal

Recognition of emotion in the self

Being in touch with one’s feelings and describing those feelings in words

If I am upset, I know the cause of it.

Emotion in the self: nonverbal

Nonverbal emotional expression

Communicating one’s feelings to others through bodily (i.e., nonverbal) expression

I like to hug those who are emotionally close to me.

Emotion in others: verbal

Recognition of emotion in others

Attending to others’ nonverbal emotional cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice

I can tell how people are feeling even if they never tell me.

Emotion in others: nonverbal


Understanding others’ emotions by relating them to one’s own experiences

I am sensitive to the feelings of other people.

Regulation of emotion in the self

Regulation of emotion in the self

Controlling one’s own emotional states, particularly in emotionally arousing situations

I can keep myself calm even in highly stressful situations.

Regulation of emotion in others

Regulation of emotion in others

Managing others’ emotional states, particularly in emotionally arousing situations

Usually, I know what it takes to turn someone else’s boredom

Flexible planning

Intuition versus reason

Using emotions in the pursuit of life goals; basing decisions on feelings over logic

I often use my intuition in planning for the future.

Creative thinking

Creative thinking

Using emotions to facilitate divergent thinking

People think my ideas are daring.

Mood redirected attention

Mood redirected attention

Interpreting strong—usually negative—emotions in a positive light

Having strong emotions forces me to understand myself.

Motivating emotions

Motivating emotions

Pursuing one’s goals with drive, perseverance, and optimism

I believe I can do almost anything I set out to do.

However these 10 facets have been simplified into the 4-branch mental ability model, which has 4 main facets:

Verbal and non verbal appraisal and expression of emotion in the self and others,
The regulation of emotion in the self and others,
Understanding and reasoning about emotions, and
The utilisation of emotion to facilitate thought. (Roberts, Zeidner & Matthews 2001)

The fundamental difference between the facets is that the former 3 involve reasoning about emotions, whereas the final one uses emotions to enhance reasoning (Mayer et al. 2001). The 4-branch model is yet to be universally accepted and some researchers change the names of the branches to focus on those aspects that are believed to be more relevant to their arguments. For instance Lopes highlights the 4 interrelated abilities of EI as:

Perceiving emotions,
Using emotions to facilitate thinking,
Understanding emotions, and
Regulating one’s own emotions and those of others. (Lopes et al. 2005)

These are essentially the same as the 4-branch model but place less emphasis on the methods in which it is possible to perceive emotions.

Whilst some researchers are quite specific about what EI involves, others view it as more elusive – with ‘fuzzy boundaries’ (Kemp et al. 2005). This does present a problem for the overall concept of EI, as a lack of agreement about what should be included and how to assess these aspects, means that reliable and replicable measures are not in place.

An individual’s emotional intelligence affects their moral reasoning (Fernandez-Berrocal, Extremera 2005). It has been highlighted that there are different aspects to emotional intelligence, demonstrated by the strength of some individual’s abilities in some areas coupled with severe deficits in other areas. For example some individuals may be very self confident in all that they do and say but have not the ability to realise that, if they get caught out in something that they say, there will be emotional consequences (Salovey, Mayer 1994). These individuals are lacking in the table 1’s empathetic aspects of EI, or the perception / appraisal of emotion according to the 4-branch model.

EI also involves problem solving – the 4-branch model’s utilisation of emotion to facilitate thought. In addition the ability to rationalise analyse a problem differs according to the prevailing emotion and feelings. Different emotions alter the ability to concentrate and attend to a problem. For example emotions centred on danger enhance the ability to analyse a problem, for obvious safety reasons. Similarly emotions that utilise memory also enhance the ability to problem solve. By contrast strong feelings of emotion such as happiness and grief impede the ability to analyse problems, as the individual is less able to concentrate in a focussed way (Salovey, Mayer 1994). An individuals EI can therefore be influenced by situation which has implications within a work situation as it would be logical to try to minimise the occurrence of strong emotions during problem solving tasks.

Recognising and regulating emotions in self and others

One of the critical facets of EI is the ability to recognise emotions in self and others and modify this emotion.

This skill develops early in life, demonstrated by the fact that children as young as 4 are able to identify an emotion that has been presented to them. This develops into being able to recognise the emotion in themselves the majority of the time by age 6 (Salovey, Mayer 1994).

It is particularly important to regulate emotions, as appropriate emotions are crucial in social interactions as well as work relationships. In a study of college students individuals who scored highly on the ability to regulate emotion were those who perceived themselves as being more prosocial and more interpersonally sensitive than those with a lower score (Lopes et al. 2005).
Individuals are able to artificially regulate their emotions and mood, including the use of alcohol, nicotine, food or recreational drugs. The skill of being able to regulate ones own feelings also develops by age 4, and ability in young children is often as good as teenagers (Salovey, Mayer 1994). However EI is more than the simple ability to regulate one’s own feelings – it also involves the ability to regulate the feelings of others. For instance a filmmaker develops a specific character in order to affect the emotions of those watching the film, and people often attribute charisma to celebrities who strong engender emotional feelings in individuals who have never met them.

EI and age

Some researchers suggest that there are 2 distinct views of EI – ability and disposition (Tett, Fox & Wang 2005). The ability theory is that EI relates to making judgements about right and wrong and does require training, eg life experience. The disposition theory, by contrast, is that EI is a relatively stable inclination, which can be self described (Tett, Fox & Wang 2005). However there appears to be little logical evidence for the disposition theory, rather that this is actually the ability to regulate emotions in self.

As might be expected measures of EI do improve with age, which is wholly consistent with the perception that EI is a form of wisdom or life knowledge, and supports the ability view of EI.
Whilst it is not clear whether there is a specific neural correlate to EI it has been suggested that the improvement of EI with age could be due to the maturation of neural circuitry involved in the production of emotional states (Kemp et al. 2005). However, as this circuitry only matures in adolescent years, it is less clear why the measures continue to improve with age far beyond adolescence. There have been few studies directly linked EI to neural circuitry but information has been attained via studies of impairments in EI.

Methods of measuring EI

The differences in the theories of EI are principally attributed to the fact that reliable measures for EI have yet to be put in place. There have been a number of different methods postulated and trialled, but these each assess slightly different aspects, with corresponding different results.
There are several different methods of measuring EI – including the following:

Multifactor Emotional Intelligence scale (MEIS)
Mayer, Salovey, Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)
Emotional Quotient inventory (EQ-i)
Self-Report Emotional Intelligence Test (SREIT) (Kemp et al. 2005)

These methods differ quite substantially as the MSCEIT claims to be an actual ability or performance based measure whilst the other measures are what an individual perceives to be the ability. This has obvious differences due to the fact that a self-report of ability often varies wildly from a specifically measured ability and it is not always the case that one is more accurate than the other. Likewise, just because the measures are of slightly different precepts, they can still be complementary to one another.

It has been argued that, as EI scores as measured by ratings such as MEIS and MSCEIT are not objective, rather formed on a basis of group consensus, that EI is therefore not an intelligence at all (Roberts, Zeidner & Matthews 2001). However this is refuted by the research team behind those measures, who claim that, as specific objective answers are possible, then EI must be an intelligence (Mayer et al. 2001).

A new method of measuring EI via self-report is known as the Brain Resource Inventory for Emotional intelligence Factors (BRIEF). BRIEF assesses the perception of emotion in self and others. When measured using BRIEF females perform better than males and the activity in the frontal lobes was strongly correlated with performance. In particular low left frontal lobe theta waves combined with raised frontal beta waves were correlated with higher EI measures. This is in accordance with findings that high theta / low beta measures are found in those with emotional difficulties including attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (Kemp et al. 2005).

Impairments to EI

The inability to make appropriate personal judgments when decision-making is associated with ventromedial cortex lesions and occurs in individuals who are otherwise intelligent. The deficit appears to be solely related to the ability to relate to other people (Bar-On et al. 2003).

There are also individuals who appear to be unable to identify emotions, either in themselves or others. This may manifest in an inability to categorise emotional expressions in others, through to a failure to adequately express their own emotions via facial expressions (Salovey, Mayer 1994).

It has been found that EQ-i measures are affected by damage to the amygdala, insula and ventromedial cortex (Kemp et al. 2005). These areas are associated with all aspects of the somatic state – from its development through to the memory of the actions undertaken. It is known that somatic markers are important in guiding human behaviour, particularly in context of inter-personal relationships, so any damage to the ability to form or recollect these markers would logically have an impact upon those aspects of EI which relate to relationships. It is the ability to judge what the somatic markers are relaying in terms of relationships with other people that is an important aspect of the decision making processes of EI.

Individuals with deficits to their somatic marker circuitry (but no general intelligence deficits) were found to make disadvantageous decisions when compared to a control group (Bar-On et al. 2003). This was primarily manifest within a setting assessing gambling, but also with measures relating to more general emotional and social intelligence.

Individuals with damage to somatic marker circuitry often suffer from anosognosia, which is an inability to be self aware of any acquired impairments (Bar-On et al. 2003). As a number of the measures for EI are based around self-reporting, this would obviously bias results against these individuals as they would not be aware that they had any deficits, even though these might be glaringly obvious to other people.

Some models suggest that a low EI is consistent with alexithymia, but this is not always the case (Taylor 2000).

EI as related to other models of behaviour and intelligence

EI does overlap with several other models of intelligence, perhaps due to the broad scope of facets covered by EI (Roberts, Zeidner & Matthews 2001).

The structure of intellect model suggests that intellect is comprised of many different facets based around operations, content and products(Roberts, Zeidner & Matthews 2001). There is some overlap between the concepts of EI and the structure of intellect model in that both cover behavioural aspects outlined within the content facet. However the EI model does not address the products facets and some of those within operations.

Likewise the somatic marker theory, as outlined above, is highly consistent with many of the findings from EI studies, particularly relating to the biological basis.

Conclusion and challenges

Not all researchers agree on the term emotional intelligence. Claude Steiner coined the term emotional literacy, which he describes as comprising the ability to listen to other people, understand and express emotions (Steiner, Perry 1999 p11). However it can be seen that in fact these are the same concepts as those outlined by the main theorists of EI. Similarly, for all the disputes that there have been since the initial description of the term, there remains close agreement on the essential basics.

Emotional Intelligence is a measure of the understanding that an individual has about their own emotions and how these can be modulated in order to achieve success in interpersonal relationships. EI also involves understanding of the emotions of others, including how these can be influenced.


Bar-On, R., Tranel, D., Denburg, N.L. & Bechara, A. 2003, “Exploring the neurological substrate of emotional and social intelligence”, Brain; a journal of neurology, vol. 126, no. Pt 8, pp. 1790-1800.
Fernandez-Berrocal, P. & Extremera, N. 2005, “About emotional intelligence and moral decisions”, The Behavioral and brain sciences, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 548-549.
Kemp, A.H., Stephan, B.C., Hopkinson, P., Sumich, A.L., Paul, R.H., Clark, C.R., Gordon, E., Bryant, R.A. & Williams, L.M. 2005, “Toward an integrated profile of depression: evidence from the brain resource international database”, J.Integr.Neurosci., vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 95-106.
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Zeidner, M., Matthews, G. & Roberts, R.D. 2001, “Slow down, you move too fast: emotional intelligence remains an “elusive” intelligence”, Emotion, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 265-275.

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