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Are Emotionally Intelligent People Attracted to Careers in Scientific Research?


This is an intentionally provocative question. If we think of what careers emotionally intelligent people probably would be attracted to, we probably would not place scientific research high on the list. For example, we probably would not think that work in the area of nuclear physics would attract as many highly emotionally intelligent people as perhaps art, poetry or diplomacy. Generally we think of people who work with numbers as somehow less emotional and more rational.

So it seems ironic that the most respected definition of emotional intelligence (The Mayer Salovey model) is the one created by university professors working in a field where scientific research is highly valued and rewarded. In fact, the developers of the model consistently try to distinguish their model of EI as being the most "scientific" and they support their claim with, of course, lots of scientific research.

A related question is Does one need to be good at something to be able to design a test of that something? For example, do I need to be good at math to design a math test? With my knowledge of math, I could ask children "What is 2+2", "What is 10-5?" and "What is 12 x 12?". If they could answer my questions correctly, would it be fair to say they are good at math? Or, would my test serve to identify math geniuses? More importantly, perhaps, is the question, "Would my test be able to identify some who is better at math than I am?"

Now let me ask you to think about this situation. Let's say a few university art professors got together and designed a math test. How likely is it that they would be able to design a test that would identify either a genius in math, or anyone who is better at math than they are? My point is that to design a traditional test, you first have to know what the "right" answers are. You then score people according to how often they get the "right" answer.

There are a few immediate problems with this. One is the possibility that the test designers don't know the right answer, and thus call a wrong answer the right answer. As an example, let's say I ask a child what 2+2 is and he says "4." But since I believe the right answer is 5, I decide he has chosen the wrong answer. Another problem is I might think the right answer is 5, so when he says 4, I mark his answer as wrong, and when he says 5, I mark it as correct.

Alos, what happens if you ask a question, to which you think you know the right answer, but actually you don't? In this case you would include only wrong answers as possible choices. So if the question is "What is 2+2?", you might offer only the possible responses of 3,5,7 or 22. Someone who is better at math than you might want to say the answer is "4", which of course it is, but that is not a possible choice, so he or she is forced to pick a wrong answer. Then their ability to guess what you think the right answer is will help determine their score on the test.

Another problem is that if I don't know much about math, I won't even be able to generate many questions, irrespective of the issue of whether I can offer the right answer. In my own case, I might be able to design a math test which asks someone to solve for x when 2x+1=1. I think x would be 0 in this case. But that is about as complicated as I can make it. I can't even ask the question "What is the area of a circle with a radius of 4?" Well, I could ask it, but I wouldn't know the right answer! I think I remember the formula, something with pie in it, and I think pie is 3.14, but I am not sure so I wouldn't want to put the question on a test.

To use another example, let's say I wanted to test people on their Serbian speaking ability. I know a little now since I have lived in Montenegro for a while, but I am definitely not the best one to design a Serbian language test.

These are relatively simple examples. But what if we want to test someone on their ability to prevent war or poverty? Who would be qualified to design such a test? And who would be qualified to select the best answers?

If we now consider the Mayer Salovey test from the perspective of all the above questions, where does that leave us? I believe it leaves us on very unstable ground. We cannot be at all certain that the test designers themselves are sufficiently emotionally intelligent to either design a test of emotional intelligence, or to determine what the best answers are.

Mayer and Salovey, along with their research colleague David Caruso, themselves, admit that they may not be the best judges of what the correct answers are. That's why they opened the questions up to what they call "consensus" scoring and "expert" scoring. Consensus scoring means that they pick the best answer according to what the majority of the people who take the test choose. So if the majority of the people were to say that 2+2 is 5, they would say 5 is the correct answer, even if they personally disagreed with this choice.

Likewise, expert scoring is simply a small modification of the above example. Instead of using the consensus of everyone who takes the test, they sent the test out to a small group of "experts", as they defined them, and let the "experts" decide what the best answers were, again even if they chose answers which Mayer, Salovey and Caruso all disagreed with.

Now we need to know that the "experts" are actually all just other university professors, working in areas where, as I mentioned before, scientific research is highly valued and rewarded. Yet common sense tells us that it is somewhat unlikely that people who are highly emotionally intelligent will be attracted to work in such careers.

I want to emphasize that I am not questioning the integrity of anyone here. I am simply calling attention to something I believe merits serious consideration before the general public somewhat naively accepts the claims made by the test designers, test publishers and those profiting from the administration of the tests around the world today.



1. I personally met Jack Mayer and David Caruso. I am not saying that they are not emotionally intelligent. I believe they are. But do I suspect it is very possible that there are more emotionally intelligent people in the world, and also people who could design a better test of emotional intelligence. EI is relative. It is not something you have or don't have. Probably people who go into psychology are relatively more emotionally intelligent than people who go into physics, but are people who study psychology, or even people who study in a university, with all its rules and bureaucracy, the most emotionally intelligent class of people in the world, (if we can even say there is such a thing as a class of high EI people)? It is just something to think about.

2. I once had a copy of the Mayer Salovey Caruso MSCEIT test, and I posted and criticized several actual examples of questions and answers from their test. Here is one editorial which discusses one of their test questions, the one which asked what mood would help someone compose an "inspiring military march". Unfortunately, I have lost my copy of the test, so I would greatly appreciate it if someone could send me either a copy of it or some of the questions from the test. In particular I remember one about what someone would do if their office colleague took another job without telling them, and what someone should do if they are driving and someone nearly hits them, and one about what a parent should do if a teacher is complaining to the parent about their child's behavior.