Daniel Goleman Defends Emotional Intelligence

Yesterday, Daniel Goleman was generous enough to let us fire some tough questions at him about Emotional Intelligence. Today, he answers the first four of our questions.

BRONSON & MERRYMAN: You mention Yale Dean Peter Salovey is your friend and co-worker. During a 2008 speech to the American Psychological Association, Salovey condemned your work as a series of "outrageous claims." For example, you wrote: ". . . what data exist suggests it [EI] can be as powerful, and at times more powerful, than IQ." However, Salovey charges that, when you wrote that, in 1995, there was actually no data at all, to support your position. Similarly, in American Psychologist, Salovey and colleagues wrote: "Journalistic accounts of EI raised unrealistic ideas such as that '90% of the difference' between star performers and other workers is attributable to 'emotional intelligence factors' (Goleman, p. 1998a, p. 94) . . . [these] claims that we have repeatedly pointed out are misleading and unsupported by research."

Particularly in light of your friendship with Salovey, please tell us how you feel about his assessment. Why isn't your research persuasive for Salovey?

GOLEMAN: To create a new field of inquiry in any science, you have to start by connecting dots from previous work in related fields. That's what I did in my 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence (as well as my newest, Ecological Intelligence.) I was building on the 200 or so scholarly studies cited in the book, as well as ten years of reporting on the field for the New York Times. When Peter Salovey refers to the lack of data from measures of emotional intelligence at the time I wrote, he's right – there were few studies of emotional intelligence per se, and only the beginnings of a scale to measure the construct itself. I was arguing for the existence and utility of the construct based on a large amount of converging data from related research (just as Peter Salovey and John Mayer did in their first article on the subject in 1990).

When Peter cites my 1998 book as a source of confusion, he's referring to the point I made in my earlier blog – that the data from competence studies inadvertently created confusion, which rippled through the popular media. More important, there is so much good research on emotional intelligence since 1995 that Peter Salovey summarized it in a chapter in the Annual Review of Psychology. Both Peter and John Mayer have told me that if I hadn't written my book there would not have been the large wave of research on the topic that is going on today.

BRONSON & MERRYMAN: In the 2005 edition of Emotional Intelligence, you report that a 2005 Weissberg meta-analysis of 668 studies had found 50% of children in social and emotional programs improve their achievement scores, and as many as 38% improved their GPA. Then in 2006, you and Dr. Weissberg later co-authored a study, citing the same exact 2005 analysis, but at that time you wrote that the meta-analysis only included 379 interventions.

Then, yesterday, you mentioned Weissberg's still unpublished meta-analysis was now only analyzing "more than 200" studies.

So it seems that as many as 468 of the 668 programs have been dropped from the meta-analysis. Can you please give us some examples of the programs cut from the analysis and why they had to be cut to get the article publishable? Also, can you please update us on the children's achievement scores and GPA data in the remaining studies? Now that the sample has been reduced by two-thirds, do you still see the same improvement in academic performance?

GOLEMAN: You're confusing different meta-analyses. The one with 668 interventions looked at a wide range of programs, including school-based curricula, programs for parents, and community-based interventions. Those results stand.

The analysis with 379 interventions, I believe, was done for a foundation interested in elementary school programs, standard SEL courses, and SEL for kids with special needs. More or less the same results as for the other two meta-analyses in terms of improvements on behavior and academic achievement, as I recall.

And the new findings on 213 interventions look only at SEL programs (not, as you imply, to "get the article publishable").

BRONSON & MERRYMAN: In the 2005 edition of Emotional Intelligence, you write that there is no real way of measuring emotional intelligence. If there is no way to tell how much (or little) of it someone has, how can we know if emotional intelligence has any benefit? And can we determine if efforts to increase EI are effective, without a point of comparison?

GOLEMAN: The content of the 2005 edition of Emotional Intelligence is the same as the original 1995 first edition, except there was a new forward. The assessment you cite was made at the birth of this field, not ten years later. And I do not believe "there is no real way of measuring emotional intelligence." That was true in 1995, but now there are dozens of assessment tools for emotional intelligence – the field is booming.

BRONSON & MERRYMAN: Other scholars do have measures of emotional intelligence. The studies we've seen put the correlation of EI and academic achievement at about r =.1 to an r of .03 – something between no relationship and a very small one. What is wrong with these studies, so that we should disregard them? And if the studies are accurate, is this a strong enough relationship that we should have schools around the world institute social and emotional learning programs – at the expense of other subject matter?

GOLEMAN: I explicitly made the argument in my last blog that IQ is by far the best predictor of academic achievement, not emotional intelligence – no question there. The academic gains for students from social/emotional learning are secondary benefits from the SEL's main effects like improved behavior in the classroom, better attention, and bonding to school and teachers – all of which in turn helps them learn better. And that, indeed, is what the latest meta-analysis shows.

Why these benefits for achievement from programs that focus on social and emotional skills? As I write on my website -

In 1995 I proposed that a good part of the effectiveness of SEL came from its impact in shaping children's developing neural circuitry, particularly the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex, which manage working memory – what we hold in mind as we learn – and inhibit disruptive emotional impulses. Mark Greenberg of Pennsylvania State University, in his research on the PATHS curriculum (an SEL model program), finds not only that this intervention for elementary school students boosts academic achievement but, even more significantly, that much of the increased learning can be attributed to improvements in attention and working memory, key executive functions of the prefrontal cortex.

Finally, I want to thank Po and Ashley for inviting me to respond to their blog. It's refreshing to take part in intelligent and civil discourse in this era of petulance and impulsivity – there seems to be an urgent need for EF in media and political circles these days.

BRONSON & MERRYMAN: Thank you too, Dan, for being open to discussing this field with us. We know you are very busy, and we welcome you back any time if you ever have a moment to discuss our other questions about Emotional Intelligence. We will be writing on this topic once more, tomorrow.