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Why do smart people do dumb things? Poor emotional intelligence is likely part of the reason, Peter Salovey, PhD, said in a presidential invited address at APA's 2003 Annual Convention in Toronto.

Understanding emotional intelligence can help people become more aware of the reasons behind such poor judgments and to start using their emotions to their advantage--"to motivate, plan and achieve in their lives," Salovey said.

Salovey presented an overview of the emotional intelligence framework that he and colleague John D. Mayer, PhD, published in 1990 on the interaction between emotions and reasoning.

"Traditionally, passion and reason are viewed as opposites, and emotions, in particular, were viewed as chaotic, haphazard and immature," said Salovey, who is dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology at Yale University.

However, psychology's view of emotions and intelligence has shifted in the last few decades, Salovey said. Emotions were no longer viewed as "disorganized responses" or "acute disturbances" but as "adaptive, functional and organizing of behavior." Theories of intelligence also became more inclusive, with the idea that people could be intelligent in multiple ways, in creative and practical senses, for example.

Testing emotional intelligence

To synthesize the science behind that shift, Salovey and Mayer proposed an emotional intelligence model consisting of four branches: perceiving and identifying emotions, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotions, and managing them.

Using the model, Salovey, Mayer and colleague David R. Caruso, PhD, developed the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, or MSCEIT. Sample test items include identifying facial emotions and solving reasoning problems after exposure to emotion-relevant stimuli.

In related research, the researchers have used music and movies to induce happy or sad moods in participants, then timed them as they solved deductive and inductive reasoning problems.

Salovey and Tibor Palfai, PhD, found that when people were sad, they solved deductive reasoning problems more quickly than when they were happy. Salovey said this might be because sadness leads people to focus on details and worry more about missing pieces of evidence.

Using the MSCEIT to measure such characteristics of emotional intelligence allows researchers to explain how people can use their emotions to solve problems in their lives. And, in turn, Salovey said, people might be able to better monitor and discriminate among their feelings, and use that information to think and act more effectively.