Trait and Ability Emotional Intelligence

Mathias Sager
5 min readFeb 9, 2019


Summary. As an “individual’s ability to monitor his or her own feelings and those of others” EI in general, in contrast to the more stable personality traits such as measured by the Big Five instrument, is considered to be learnable [2]. This implies that interventions for improving interpersonal competencies and workplace behavior is possible. There is mixed evidence for EI as a distinct concept with more or less strong correlations between EI and personality. One key to resolve the threat to the so far expected stability/durability of personality traits and direction for future research could be a further sophistication of personality frameworks that better account for individuals’ differences in (general and emotional) intelligence levels [9], besides other factors such as culture, gender, and age.

Conceptualization of Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional Intelligence (EI) comprises abilities such as the identification and regulation of one’s mood, self-consciousness, handling of emotions, self-motivation, and relationship management [1]. EI generally is considered to be learnable [2]. This applies mainly to the Ability EI (AEI) part of the overall EI construction [3]. AEI consists of skills allowing the adaptive handling of emotions that is measured by “maximum-performance measures” [4, p. 65]. The complementary self-reported Trait EI (TEI) part of EI represents emotional conceptions of personality trait-like facets [5] measured by “typical performance measures” [4, p65].

Correlation Between Stable Personality and Malleable EI

Rather than being innate, TEI too bases on adapted cognitive processes based on experiences [6]. AEI is considered a particular personality characteristic separate from other types of traits or intelligence [5]. However, both AEI as in the case of confirmed incremental validity above and beyond the Big Five measure for predicting aggressive behavior [5], and TEI link with Big Five personality dimensions [7]. Research found that both AEI and TEI significantly correlate with the Big Five (albeit the third-party scoring of AEI showed less significant relationships) [8]. The correlation between extraversion and neuroticism and EI are determinative for positive or negative emotionality [9]

The associations of the Big Five with malleable EI is questioning its expectedly stable prediction of personality. Seeming inconsistent, that could result from the neglect to put personality variations into the context of individual significant intelligence differences, although the basic factor structure may hold valid across intelligence levels [10].

The Relevance of EI as Social Intelligence and Its Impact on Career Success

Having its roots in the 1920’s definition of social intelligence [3], EI confirms its positive correlation with social adjustment [5] and its negative link with, for example, asocial work behavior [11]. EI tests aim to understand emotional states and interpersonal competencies, which makes them valuable instruments to anticipate desirable workplace behavior. For example, research is evidencing EI capabilities’ construct validity. One study suggests, based on finding significant contributions of the TEI Questionnaire-Adolescent Short Form (TEIQUe-ASF) to explain coping capacity in the developmentally critical phase of adolescence, that coping strategies may be a more suitable personality concept than the Five-Factor Model [4].

Conclusion and Outlook

Because of the overlap between EI and Big Five, the complex relationships to concepts like empathy and physiological aspects of emotions like addressed by Zuckerman’s psychobiological Alternative Big Five model [3], as well as the existence of mixed evidence related to EI’s association with personality and its predictive power [13], further research is required to increase EI’s conceptual maturity to contribute more clearly to the understanding of individual differences. The potential becomes evident when looking at the Big Five measure only explaining 56% of normal personality [14]. Also, there is report of the need to further explore the role of culture [15], and to emphasize the importance of gender and age as additional factors influencing EI [7]

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Mathias Sager

Awareness Intelligence research and application since 1975. It’s humantime., Thanks and all the best!