Is the Theory of Emotional Intelligence a Scam? A reply.

On 27 February 2017 The Huffington Post published an article by Professor Jordan B Peterson Is the Theory of Emotional Intelligence a Scam? The Huffington Post has probably published more positive articles on EQ than any other media outlet so to publish this piece was a surprise but not unwelcome. The article itself was an answer first posted on Quora to the age-old question What is more beneficial in life; a high EQ or IQ?

I believe it is fair to say that Peterson vehemently attacked the EQ community making the following points:

  • IQ is the most well-validated concept in the social sciences, bar none. It is five or more times as powerful a predictor of success than such good personality trait predictors such as conscientiousness. The true relationship between grades, for example, and IQ might be as high as r = .50 or even .60 (accounting for 25-36% of the variance in grades). Conscientiousness, however, probably tops out at around r = .30, and is more typically reported as r = .25 (say, 5 to 9% of the variance in grades). There is nothing that will provide you with a bigger advantage in life than a high IQ.
  • On the other hand, EQ is not a psychometrically valid concept. Insofar as it is anything (which it isn’t), it’s the Big Five Trait Agreeableness, although this depends, as it shouldn’t, on which EQ measure is being used (they should all measure the same thing).
  • There is no such thing as EQ, grit or self-esteem. They are some combination of the Big Five traits. The problem is that we cannot measure traits such as Conscientiousness as well as we measure IQ, as we primarily rely on self or other reports for the former. There are no “ability” tests for Conscientiousness. IQ is king. Therefore academic psychologists almost never measure it. If you measure it along with your putatively “new” measure, IQ will kill your ambitions by dominating the results. For the career minded, this is a no-go zone. So, people prefer to talk about multiple bits of intelligence and EQ and all these things that do not exist.

As an EQ practitioner I agree with Peterson. Self-Reporting Tests are a waste of time and I don’t like the Salovey-Mayer Model. (As an aside I cannot help but note that Peterson does not attack them. Salovey is currently the President of Yale.)

My preferred definition of EQ incorporates IQ and uses Goleman’s model: EQ is achieving self- and social mastery by being smart with core temperament emotions. Self-Mastery = Awareness + Management. Social Mastery = Empathy + Social Skills. And the key to improving your EQ is to have a model of Temperament which is far more important that models of Transient emotions.

However where many EQ practitioners do quote Goleman’s model I think what is far more useful is Goleman’s hierarchy of emotional intensities. He defines an emotion as a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and propensity to act such as when we become angry. He then goes on to define a mood, which, while more muted, lasts longer than an emotion, and he compares the emotion anger with a grumpy mood. Beyond moods he then defines temperament, as the readiness to evoke a given emotion or mood, such as someone with a choleric temperament. Finally he notes there are the outright disorders of emotion which can lead to insanity, such as someone with paranoid schizophrenia.

Level of Emotional Intensity

Population Penetration & Frequency


All of the people all of the time


Most of the people some of the time


30% of people most of the time


1% of people all of the time

Nearly all EQ practitioners work at the top two levels. I believe the secret to improving your EQ is to start at bottom and work up. This is why I like the 7MTF model of Temperament which is based on the seven most common mental disorders.


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