Trait and Ability Emotional Intelligence


Summary. As an “individual’s ability to monitor his or her own feelings and those of others” EI in general, in contrast to the more stable personality traits such as measured by the Big Five instrument, is considered to be learnable [2]. This implies that interventions for improving interpersonal competencies and workplace behavior is possible. There is mixed evidence for EI as a distinct concept with more or less strong correlations between EI and personality. One key to resolve the threat to the so far expected stability/durability of personality traits and direction for future research could be a further sophistication of personality frameworks that better account for individuals’ differences in (general and emotional) intelligence levels [9], besides other factors such as culture, gender, and age.


Conceptualization of Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional Intelligence (EI) comprises abilities such as the identification and regulation of one’s mood, self-consciousness, handling of emotions, self-motivation, and relationship management [1]. EI generally is considered to be learnable [2]. This applies mainly to the Ability EI (AEI) part of the overall EI construction [3]. AEI consists of skills allowing the adaptive handling of emotions that is measured by “maximum-performance measures” [4, p. 65]. The complementary self-reported Trait EI (TEI) part of EI represents emotional conceptions of personality trait-like facets [5] measured by “typical performance measures” [4, p65]. 

Correlation Between Stable Personality and Malleable EI

Rather than being innate, TEI too bases on adapted cognitive processes based on experiences [6]. AEI is considered a particular personality characteristic separate from other types of traits or intelligence [5]. However, both AEI as in the case of confirmed incremental validity above and beyond the Big Five measure for predicting aggressive behavior [5], and TEI link with Big Five personality dimensions [7]. Research found that both AEI and TEI significantly correlate with the Big Five (albeit the third-party scoring of AEI showed less significant relationships) [8]. The correlation between extraversion and neuroticism and EI are determinative for positive or negative emotionality [9]

The associations of the Big Five with malleable EI is questioning its expectedly stable prediction of personality. Seeming inconsistent, that could result from the neglect to put personality variations into the context of individual significant intelligence differences, although the basic factor structure may hold valid across intelligence levels [10].

The Relevance of EI as Social Intelligence and Its Impact on Career Success

Having its roots in the 1920’s definition of social intelligence [3], EI confirms its positive correlation with social adjustment [5] and its negative link with, for example, asocial work behavior [11]. EI tests aim to understand emotional states and interpersonal competencies, which makes them valuable instruments to anticipate desirable workplace behavior. For example, research is evidencing EI capabilities’ construct validity. One study suggests, based on finding significant contributions of the TEI Questionnaire-Adolescent Short Form (TEIQUe-ASF) to explain coping capacity in the developmentally critical phase of adolescence, that coping strategies may be a more suitable personality concept than the Five-Factor Model [4].

Conclusion and Outlook

Because of the overlap between EI and Big Five, the complex relationships to concepts like empathy and physiological aspects of emotions like addressed by Zuckerman’s psychobiological Alternative Big Five model [3], as well as the existence of mixed evidence related to EI’s association with personality and its predictive power [13], further research is required to increase EI’s conceptual maturity to contribute more clearly to the understanding of individual differences. The potential becomes evident when looking at the Big Five measure only explaining 56% of normal personality [14]. Also, there is report of the need to further explore the role of culture [15], and to emphasize the importance of gender and age as additional factors influencing EI [7]

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[1] Emert, S. E., Tutek, J., & Lichstein, K. L. (2017). Associations between sleep disturbances, personality, and trait emotional intelligence. Personality And Individual Differences, 107195-200. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.11.050

[2] Di Fabio, A. (2015). Beyond fluid intelligence and personality traits in social support: The role of ability based emotional intelligence. Frontiers In Psychology, Vol 6 (2015), doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00395/full

[3] Nikić, G., Stamatović, L., & Sućeska, A. (2017). Emotional competencies and personality traits of managers in modern agrobusiness. Ekonomika Poljoprivrede (1979), Vol 64, Iss 1, Pp 97-111 (2017), (1), 97. doi:10.5937/ekoPolj1701097N

[4] Siegling, A. B., Vesely, A. K., Saklofske, D. H., Frederickson, N., & Petrides, K. V. (2017). Incremental validity of the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-Adolescent Short Form (TEIQue-ASF). European Journal Of Psychological Assessment, 33(1), 65-74. doi:10.1027/1015-5759/a000267

[5] García-Sancho, E., Salguero, J. M., & Fernández-Berrocal, P. (2017). Ability emotional intelligence and its relation to aggression across time and age groups. Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology, 58(1), 43-51. doi:10.1111/sjop.12331

[6] Athota, V. S., & O’Connor, P. J. (2014). How approach and avoidance constructs of personality and trait emotional intelligence predict core human values. Learning & Individual Differences, 3151-58.

[7] Andrei, F., Mancini, G., Mazzoni, E., Russo, P., & Baldaro, B. (2015). Social status and its link with personality dimensions, trait emotional intelligence, and scholastic achievement in children and early adolescents. Learning & Individual Differences, 4297-105.

[8] Nizielski, S., & Rindermann, H. (2016). Self- and external-rated emotional competence: More than personality?. Journal Of Individual Differences, 37(2), 88-95. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000192

[9] Hamed, D., Hadi, a., & Mohammad, R. (2014). A study on effect of big five personality traits on emotional intelligence. Management Science Letters, Vol 4, Iss 6, Pp 1279-1284 (2014), (6), 1279. doi:10.5267/j.msl.2014.4.016

[10] McLarnon, M. J., & Carswell, J. J. (2013). The personality differentiation by intelligence hypothesis: A measurement invariance investigation. Personality And Individual Differences, 54557-561. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.10.029

[11] Ramana, P., Sambasivan, M., & Kumar, N. (2016). Counterproductive work behavior among frontline government employees: Role of personality, emotional intelligence, affectivity, emotional labor, and emotional exhaustion. Revista De Psicologia Del Trabajo Y De Las Organizaciones, 32(1), 25-37. doi:10.1016/j.rpto.2015.11.002

[12] Brown, T., Williams, B., & Etherington, J. (2016). Emotional Intelligence and Personality Traits as Predictors of Occupational Therapy students’ Practice Education Performance: A Cross-Sectional Study. Occupational Therapy International, 23(4), 412-424. doi:10.1002/oti.1443

[13] Jauk, E., Freudenthaler, H. H., & Neubauer, A. C. (2016). The Dark Triad and trait versus ability emotional intelligence: Emotional darkness differs between women and men. Journal Of Individual Differences, 37(2), 112-118. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000195

[14] Boyle, G. J., Stankov, L., & Cattell, R. B. (1995). Measurement and statistical models in the study of personality and intelligence. In D. H. Saklofske & M. Zeidner (Eds.), International Handbook of Personality and Intelligence (pp. 431–433).

[15] Bertram, K., Randazzo, J., Alabi, N., Levenson, J., Doucette, J. T., & Barbosa, P. (2016). Strong Correlations between Empathy, Emotional Intelligence, and Personality Traits among Podiatric Medical Students: A Cross-sectional Study. Education For Health: Change In Learning & Practice (Medknow Publications & Media Pvt. Ltd.), 29(3), 186-194. doi:10.4103/1357-6283.204224

    • Good question, thank you very much! Emotional Intelligence is often used as a development criterion in education and professional life. According to specific needs, selected aspects of emotional competence are sought to be taught/learned. However, I see the potential application of Emotional Intelligence above and beyond the individual and organizational context. Collective Emotional Intelligence seems to me to have the potential to influence the contagion of positive emotions and the increase of interaction synchrony promising higher quality team work and relationship on any group, societal, international, and even global level! I’m right now writing an article about that:-). Thanks again for the great question!

      • Thank you Mathias for getting back to us. We find this extremely interesting. I thoroughly agree with you on emotional intelligence being so important. There is always a need for a blend but emotional makes significant difference. Although I never specifically studied this I can say through almost 40 years in the field of psychology and social work emotional factors always played heavily. Good luck and we’re continuing to read. Its nice knowing you are interactive on this and all topics. You have a great site. We are glad having you along also following our adventures.

      • Hi! Thank you so much for your repeated nice feedbacks and valuable input! You make a big difference on my blog. And I’m happy that you like the topic. I’m not surprised though, maybe Emotional Intelligence (EI) comes also closer to the human factor that you mentioned once. The scientific concept of EI is a relatively new one from last decades and still a bit fuzzy with a lot of need for research to resolve inconsistencies and unknowns. Even more interesting, and a topic to stay in some form (I will personally engage to make that sure:-)). All the best!

      • It is great Mathias that you are deciphering the data and giving us deeper understanding. I think you hit the nail on the head that that was what I was trying to express in a previous post but couldn’t find the right words. Please keep posting cuz we’re reading and learning. We’ll have lots of questions for you too.

  • Dear Mathias, instead of verbosely writing about emotional intelligence one should really define the concept first and then elaborate based on the definition which is exactly what I have done.
    Emotional intelligence: n. the ability to accurately assess a human’s emotional circumstance and to proceed to communicate appropriately and/or to motivate samer human to achieve a goal(s)

    Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to impulsively control your impulsive desires to express intense anger, fear, hatred, jealousy, frustration and not offend or greatly threaten the human whom you are communicating with and not stimulate them into defensive intense emotional reactions. It is the ability to communicate these “negative” emotions where appropriate in a calm controlled way.

    EQ is also the ability to confidently communicate loving, caring, empathetic, praising, or inspiring emotions which motivate a human to do their best at achieving a goal(s).

    Emotional intelligence can be used to do good and/or bad things and to some extent it is also the ability to manipulate other humans to achieve desired goal(s). That is why managers with high emotional intelligence are sought after in business and institutional enterprises.

    Sociopaths are sometimes also good at manipulating gullible humans and they could also be said to have a high degree of EQ but they lack integrity so they are severely handicapped socially and they are usually never admired and respected by others with integrity.

    Propagandists, dictators like Hitler, and politicians in general have high EQ and the more unscrupulous kind name call or stereotype and associate ideas and humans with angry, fearful, and hateful reactions motivating humans into action with these “negative” emotions. They optimize human motivation with both “positive” and “negative” emotions and are still idolized by brainwashed devoted followers. Hitler was an evil genius with a high EQ who motivated vast populations into obedient behaviors with anger, fear, hatred, pride, and love of the “fatherland”. He optimized the motivation in his Aryan hoards totally devoted to the conquest of the world.

    Parents with high emotional intelligence usually have offspring with high emotional intelligence because it is learned from parental role models and personal experience with other good role models. Emotional intelligence can be acquired through extensive interactions and experience with a variety of humans throughout a lifetime and those who mostly learn from personal human experience and not much from parents or school role models are usually mature experienced middle aged and older humans who only acquire EQ late in life.

    • Hi, and thank you very much for your further elaboration, which is extremely valuable! I agree, there is no “good” or “bad” emotional intelligence as you illustrate aptly with your examples. As you mention that EI is “the ability to communicate these “negative” emotions where appropriate in a calm controlled way,” the definition of what is appropriate is indeed determined by the needs of the environment. And these are not always “soft” and altruistic as some may confuse emotional intelligence. Thanks for helping clarify that and all the best!