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Book Reviews   |    
Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth
Reviewed by Meredith Hanson, D.S.W.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.4.458
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by Gerald Matthews, Moshe Zeidner, and Richard D. Roberts; Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2002, 736 pages, $55

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Emotional intelligence is defined by the authors of this comprehensive, scholarly text as the competence to identify, express, and understand emotions; assimilate emotions in thought; and regulate both positive and negative emotions in oneself and others. Regardless of its validity and clinical utility, the emotional intelligence construct has generated remarkable popular and scientific attention in the past two decades. In part, interest in emotional intelligence can be attributed to its somewhat optimistic view of the human condition. Interest has been spurred also by the recognition that competence must be assessed more broadly than is done by many existing psychological instruments. As with many new ideas, popular claims about the potential of emotional intelligence to improve our ability to understand and assist people can exceed the scientific evidence.

The authors of Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth critically examine the mushrooming literature on the nature, components, determinants, and consequences of emotional intelligence. They try to clarify the scientific status and validity of emotional intelligence by disentangling "factual scientific evidence…from accounts that are grounded in anecdotal evidence, hearsay, and media speculation." They do this by methodically and painstakingly reviewing the theory underpinning emotional intelligence; its conceptualization and measurement; and its applications in the educational, occupational, and clinical arenas. Their target audience includes psychologists, educators, and other health and welfare professionals and students.

The book is divided into four sections. Part 1 covers the conceptualization and measurement of emotional intelligence. Part 2 examines individual differences in emotion and adaptation; this section's discussion of biological and cognitive models of emotion is particularly persuasive. Part 3 reviews clinical, occupational, and educational applications of emotional intelligence. Part 4 presents the authors' conclusions about the science, myth, and future of emotional intelligence. Three appendixes, which review and critique social intelligence and summarize self-report and performance-based measures of emotional intelligence, follow these sections. Finally, a 95-page reference list attests to the authors' scholarship and the thoroughness with which they undertook their task.

So what do the authors conclude from their exhaustive efforts? Is emotional intelligence something new? Is it distinct from existing measures of individual difference? Or is it old wine in new bottles? They conclude with a cautious pessimism about the utility of emotional intelligence. They find serious psychometric limitations with all published measures of emotional intelligence. They are not optimistic about the prospects for developing a coherent, empirically supported theory of emotional intelligence. They suggest that the applied benefits of the construct are limited, especially in the clinical arena, "where the principle of taking emotions seriously is already ingrained." Although they believe that the popularity of emotional intelligence seems to be based more on myth than on science, they urge readers not to underestimate the potential of the emotional intelligence construct to educate us, to stimulate thought and action, and to spur further study.

Emotional Intelligence will appeal to readers who are interested in the psychology of individual difference as well as to those who are interested in how psychological movements take on lives of their own. It is an excellent sourcebook that provides a wonderful introduction to emotional intelligence. It is a superior example of critical scientific inquiry.

Dr. Hanson is associate professor and director of the Ph.D. program in social work at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York City.




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