The EQ Test: How Our Emotional Intelligence Affects Us

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If asked to define intelligence, you might initially describe it in academic terms. People tend to think of intelligence as being the ability to perform well on a test or the ability to grasp difficult subjects more easily than other people do.

However, there are many forms of intelligence, and not all of them relate to things like academic ability. Emotional intelligence is one type of intelligence that relates to how we understand and manage our emotions.

Let’s explore what emotional intelligence is and how it can affect things like our relationships, our success at work, and our mental health.

The characteristics of emotional intelligence

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Having difficulty understanding and managing your emotions?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control, use, understand, and recognize emotions in ourselves and in other people. The degree to which one can successfully recognize, manage, and understand emotions differs from person to person. This ability partly may be a result of a person’s neurology, but it’s also partly a learned skill that can evolve over time. 

Psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey developed a four-branch model to define the fundamental characteristics of emotional intelligence. They include perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions. 

These four characteristics of emotional intelligence are complex, and each subsequent characteristic builds on and integrates the ones that came before. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Perceiving emotions

When we appropriately perceive emotions, we can recognize our feelings and those of others. Knowing what we ourselves are feeling or what others might be feeling can help us navigate social situations with greater ease. Mayer and Salovey noted that an ability to perceive emotions can help us understand works of art or music and to understand whether someone is being truthful with us or not. Our ability to perceive emotions also seems to be connected to our ability to express our feelings in order to meet our physical, emotional, and mental needs.

Some people have an inability to recognize and understand emotions in themselves and others. This condition is called alexithymia. Alexithymia may be connected to traumatic experiences, physical brain injuries, or neurodivergence. Navigating social situations may seem difficult if you are unable to accurately perceive your emotions and the emotions of those around you.

Using emotions to facilitate thought

According to Mayer and Salovey, the emotions that become attached to performing certain tasks can assist us in accomplishing what we have set out to do. For example, if you feel anxiety over a deadline, this emotion may prompt you to work ahead and finish your assignment early. 

This can also apply to how we anticipate and plan for future events. For example, as you plan an overseas vacation, you might imagine how you will feel along your journey whether you are at an airport, hotel, museum, or restaurant. When you think of the airport, you may feel a sense of dread and remember feeling cold and uncomfortable the last time you traveled. This emotion activates the memory of forgetting to pack a jacket for the airport because you were traveling somewhere warm and didn’t anticipate needing one. Your feelings can prompt you to plan differently this time. 

Understanding emotions

Understanding our emotions usually entails being able to identify what our feelings are and how those feelings might change over time. It allows us to name and navigate emotions that can be very complex or even contradictory. For example, you might feel a mix of fear and excitement over moving to a new city. Being able to understand emotions in ourselves and others also allows us to anticipate how other people might behave based on the emotions we perceive they are experiencing.

Mayer and Salovey note that part of understanding emotions is knowing that emotions can exist in connected chains. Mayer and Salovey give examples of anger being transformed into rage or how feeling unlovable can lead someone to reject an offer of help or a relationship.

Managing emotions

One marker of successfully managing your emotions might be remaining objective when it comes to your feelings. This may involve trying to feel your emotions without attaching judgment to them. When your emotions are well-managed, you may be able to limit the impact of your negative feelings, and you may become able to encourage positive emotions in their place. Accepting all your emotions, whether they are positive or negative, and being able to pinpoint how they impact your life can be an important skill. Having this skill can potentially affect the success of your relationships with other people in friendships, romantic relationships, and at work.

Why does emotional intelligence matter?

Having high emotional intelligence has a range of benefits. Individuals with high emotional intelligence are often better able to achieve success in many areas. Below is a discussion of some of the areas of your life that may benefit from growing in emotional intelligence.

Making decisions

People who can separate emotions from thoughts are better able to make decisions based on careful consideration instead of in-the-moment feelings. When a decision has major consequences for the future, it can be especially beneficial to approach it carefully rather than impulsively. Emotional intelligence may help us take calculated risks and control the amount of influence our emotions have on our choices.

Being empathetic towards others

Empathy is the ability to view someone’s situation from their perspective, and emotional intelligence is an important part of the ability to empathize with others. Empathy can help us operate in more caring, supportive, and attentive ways. Society often functions more smoothly when people have empathy for one another because empathy can create a strong foundation for all relationships, whether personal, romantic, or professional.

Successful leadership

Successful leaders are often described as having high levels of emotional intelligence. Beyond possessing critical decision-making skills and having the ability to meet the needs of others, emotionally intelligent leaders usually have some combination of the following characteristics:

  • They are often able to motivate themselves and others.
  • They usually have a realistic, yet optimistic, understanding of what the future might hold. 
  • They often have a genuine and balanced personality that makes them well-liked. 
  • They are usually able to understand and manage their own emotions well.
  • They are often aware of what other people are feeling and can use that information to make decisions and create a good workplace culture.

Leaders who have high emotional intelligence often have an easier time managing the people who work for them because they are thoughtful communicators and decision-makers.

Healthy minds

Limiting the negative impact of our emotions and not becoming attached to our thoughts can contribute to good mental health. Being able to understand and think through anxiety-provoking situations, as well as having the ability to move forward after setbacks, may contribute to lower levels of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that there may be links between some mental health conditions and greater difficulty in understanding and managing one’s emotions.

Healthy bodies

Emotional intelligence is one tool that may allow us to manage our stress levels, which in turn can lead to improved physical health. Understanding our emotions and using them effectively may help us combat the effects of stress. We can do this through meditation, yoga, or other activities that help us calm ourselves and connect to our minds and bodies. Understanding how we feel about a particular circumstance or relationship can help us to set healthy boundaries or can lead us to spend more time with people and participate in activities that lead to happiness and contentment.

Measuring emotional intelligence

Having difficulty understanding and managing your emotions?

Since the 1990s, psychologists and psychiatrists have been working to develop tests that measure emotional intelligence. These are sometimes called EQ tests, or emotional quotient tests. EQ tests are usually meant to measure how someone might respond to different situations, yielding an idea about how emotionally intelligent they are. 

Although a quick Google search can lead you to many free EQ tests online, it’s important to note that not all EQ tests are equally reliable. There is still some discussion among psychologists concerning how well such tests actually measure a person’s emotional intelligence, assuming that EQ is something that can be accurately measured by a test in the first place.

Typically, EQ tests are in multiple-choice format, and ask you to imagine yourself in various scenarios and describe how you would respond to each situation. Some of these tests may show you a photograph of a person making a facial expression and ask you to identify which emotion they are exhibiting. Some online tests will give you immediate results and may offer resources and recommendations to help you increase your emotional intelligence. However, it’s important to remember that such online tests are not intended to be diagnostic tools, and they’re usually not a good substitute for care from a qualified mental health professional.

Help managing emotions

While it can be fun to take an online EQ test to learn something about yourself, it’s important to remember that emotional intelligence is a highly complex and multifaceted issue. An online EQ test might highlight areas of strengths and weaknesses, but it’s unlikely to accurately capture everything about you.

If you’re having difficulty understanding, understanding, or managing your emotions, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who can give you tools to better control your emotions so that you can begin to improve your emotional intelligence. In the busyness of life, it can be difficult to find time to incorporate therapy sessions into your schedule. Online therapy can offer a convenient solution, cutting out the commute and allowing you to engage in meetings with your therapist wherever there is a Wi-Fi connection.

A review of 14 studies on internet-supported cognitive behavioral therapy found that the average symptom improvement across studies was 50% for participants with a variety of mental health disorders from social anxiety disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in-person or online, can help you learn to reframe negative thoughts and manage your emotions.


Emotional intelligence is a complex facet of human nature. Identifying, understanding, using, and managing your emotions can be important tools to help create healthy relationships and foster success in the workplace. Talking to a qualified mental health professional can help you learn to manage your emotions and develop emotional intelligence.
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