What Is An Emotional Intelligence Test Used For?

By Nicola Kirkpatrick|Updated July 8, 2022

Most people are familiar with the concept of IQ, or "Intelligent Quotient," as in "IQ tests." But fewer people are familiar with the concept of EI, or "Emotional Intelligence." There are also tests for EI developed recently, though much of the science and methodology are still debated.

But first, what is emotional intelligence (EI)? According to leading researchers in the field, EI refers to "the individual differences in the perception, processing, regulation, and utilization of emotional information." As you might intuit naturally, EI plays a significant role in our day-to-day lives, affecting our health (mental and physical), relationships, and success in our work life.

Read on to learn more about EI and tests to gauge EI and what they can be used for.

Emotional Intelligence 101

We draw on emotional intelligence (EI) to determine how we feel, and others feel. First identified in 1964 by Michael Beldoch, it was largely ignored in the scientific community until more recently.

EI depends on three components for emotion identification: awareness, application, and management. By recognizing, mirroring, and working to regulate emotions in ourselves and others, we can act in ways that benefit ourselves and others on an emotional level.

When we are children, we tend to identify a suitable time to cry based on our experiences. Although our emotional intelligence is less developed, it is constantly developing as we grow up and are socialized.

Those who have high levels of emotional intelligence may be mistaken as simply "overemotional" or "too sensitive." In reality, a high EI is a strength and allows us to navigate difficult emotional situations effectively. People who have a high EI tend to be better leaders, perform better at work, and have more stable mental health.

We Don't Always Know How To Manage Our Emotions

EQ, IQ, and EI

Most people have heard of IQ, but fewer have heard of EQ and EI. Let's break down these three concepts.

IQ refers to the "intelligence quotient" and is meant to determine intellect, i.e., the ability to reason and understand objectively, particularly regarding abstract concerns.

EQ refers to the "emotional quotient" and is meant to determine our emotional intelligence, or EI, which was defined above.

Now, someone can easily have a high IQ but a low EQ. And another person may very well have a high EQ but a low IQ. This is because EI is distinct from intellect. That said, it is thought that people with higher intelligence may have a greater capacity to develop their EI as they grow into adults.

EQ or EI Tests

While it's possible to find tests that measure EQ and IQ, they tend to be found primarily in the domain of psychology and programs focused on leadership. For example, some companies use such tests to determine better suited for leadership positions.

Tests measuring EQ/EI are not an exact science (in the same way, IQ tests are also far from foolproof). It is thus important to recognize some of the limitations of common EQ/EI tests.

For example, some tests measure EI but do not consider intellect or certain skills or traits that may influence EI. As EQ/EI is only meant to reflect a level of emotional understanding and competency, such tests may falsely establish certain people as leaders or fit for other positions that may not suit them.

Choosing Useful Tests

Arguably the most important test is what's known as a 360-degree assessment. This establishes self-awareness and self-regulation, and the views of others about your EI. By comparing the two, there's no way for a person to skew their results by lying, and any inconsistencies will be easier to spot. For a leadership test, a 360-degree assessment combined with an IQ or personality test is quite possibly the best way of establishing an employee's competency and also predicting their effectiveness as a leader.

The assessment by peers and coworkers is essential to fully understand an employee's EI and address any areas that may need improvement. Even if you're scoring well on an EI test as an employee, your test score can help you in the same way by potentially identifying areas you can improve on if you aim to get promoted.

What shouldn't be presumed is that if you score highly on your EI test, you cannot improve. It isn't about being a perfect employee but about understanding where you can grow and develop as a leader without making assumptions.


Measuring EI is usually done using the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. It is similar to IQ tests in design and measures the four branches of emotional intelligence with a score then combined into a total score. The test relies heavily on "social norms," which differ culturally. This makes this test flawed when looked at from a global perspective.

Twenty-one researchers create an expert-scored version to give "perfect" responses, and tests are scored against these answers in a comparison style, even though there are technically no right or wrong answers. This test uses the "self-reporting" method in that it is wholly based on the person's perception of their emotional intelligence, which can also make the results flawed.

The test originally had 141 questions, but 19 were removed after it was found that these answers were usually outliers and could affect scoring and accuracy. The test is usually an aptitude test to determine leadership aspects and employee competency for promotion. The system relates to motivating others, effective leadership, and empathy.

Adult Facial DANA

This test has two forms, which is much simpler than the MSCEIT. This is a diagnostic analysis of non-verbal accuracy. It requires identifying photographs of different people expressing emotions and identifying them based on their gender and intensity. This test can be administered in both a Japanese- and Caucasian-style test with between 24 and 56 different images.

The simpler tests limit participants to the seven emotions (happiness, fear, surprise, contempt, sadness, disgust, and anger). The more complex test does not prompt participants, allowing them to understand the emotions being displayed. This test is used mostly by psychologists and medical professionals to determine a person's ability to empathize and understand emotion. It is not necessarily useful for leadership, and because it is quite subjective, it is harder to give "right" answers.

The Mixed Model

Daniel Goleman designed this test, the most well-known EI author, to determine the skills and competency of leaders and evaluate their potential performance. The model is based on the 5 EI constructs he outlined in his book "What Makes a Leader" in 1998. These five constructs are:

  • Empathy
  • Motivation
  • Social Skill
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation

Each construct is not a talent but rather something that can be developed and cultivated by an individual to improve their emotional intelligence and potential as a leader. The model is frequently criticized as having no basis on actual psychology and thus having no real usefulness.

The mixed model has two different tests to measure EI based on these five constructs.

The Emotional Competency Inventory was the original test developed by Daniel Goleman to measure EI behavior. This test is like Bar-On or EQ-i but differs as it focuses on learned capabilities rather than inherent traits. It was revamped in 2007 into the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory. This test measures social competency and behavior in relating EI to others. This makes it most useful for employers to evaluate how their workers will work. There's also the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal, which is intended more for self-assessment and self-growth.

The Psychiatric Usefulness

As a tool, an EI test isn't very useful to psychiatrists. When dealing with emotional distress or disorders where people struggle to empathize, the DANA test can be helpful in mimicry and in making patients more aware of how emotions and facial expressions are linked, but this isn't common use for them. Overall, there's very little need for psychiatrists or other psychological sciences to use EI at all because it's usually obvious if patients are struggling with EI or experiencing a disorder that lowers their EI without needing a test to prove it.

We Don't Always Know How To Manage Our Emotions

If you think you're facing a disorder that makes empathizing with others more difficult, then you must seek professional help. An EI test is not a suitable measure of this, and as a possible pseudoscience, the results may not have anything to do with an emotional disconnect. Contacting a professional knowledgeable in emotional disorders is essential in getting treated if you're not already in contact with someone. Sites like BetterHelp allow you to browse specialists based on their fields of specialization (e.g., emotional disorders).

Which Test Should You Use?

The exception to all these tests is simple to peer review. Using a third-party peer to determine performance and ability does not influence their results, making them more accurate. Since EI relates to how others are perceived, it is only the third party that can validate if the subject is correct or not. However, both 360-degree and self-aware EI tests can be biased, making them less reliable.

Choosing the right EI test often depends on what you need it for. If simple peer review is all that's needed, an informal test asking coworkers about their experience may be sufficient, while adding more formal tests like the 360-degree test may help give a more rounded review. Ideally, these tests can be done together so that you can get the full picture of an employee.

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