Improved emotional intelligence may come with age

January 9, 2019

Q. Are we like wine? Do we improve with age?

It's clear to me that most of us improve in one area. I believe we become better people. My mother used to insist that individuals don't change. We had many arguments about this. 

I think our opinions are highly influenced by perception and personal experience. It's difficult to prove either side of the argument. However, there have been studies done on emotional intelligence that indicate we are like Cabernet, not water.

Emotional intelligence was popularized by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who was a science journalist for The New York Times. His 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence,” was a bestseller. The term emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) was coined by psychologists John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey, who is now president of Yale University.

According to these psychologists, EI improves social relations. The emotionally intelligent person:

• Perceives emotions, uses them in thought, understands their meanings, and manages them better than others can 
• Solves emotional problems with less thought
• Has highly developed verbal skills
• Tends to be more open and agreeable than others
• Seeks occupations involving social interactions such as teaching and counseling
• Avoids self-destructive behavior such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, or violence 
• Owns objects with sentimental value.

How important is EI in living a successful life?

“No one can yet say exactly how much of the variability from person to person in life's course it accounts for,” Goleman wrote in his book. “But what data exist suggest it can be as powerful, and at times more powerful, than IQ.”

Mayer disagrees with Goleman on this point.

“Dr. Salovey and I had published our review article, 'Emotional Intelligence' in 1990, and a demonstration of how emotional intelligence could be measured as well,” said Mayer. “In 1993 we published a further article entitled, 'The Intelligence of Emotional Intelligence.' My colleagues and I made no such claims about the power of EI in those articles – or in any of the many articles we have published since. In fact, we have tried to explain why such claims are unrealistic in a number of ways.”

In our next column, we'll report on research that indicates higher emotional intelligence in people over the age of 60.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter