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The concept of emotional intelligence (EQ) has been recognized in the field of psychology, most especially in the school of thought established by the humanists. EQ is understood as the ability to identify, use, understand and manage emotions. When a person possesses an elevated or high EQ, they are able to use their abilities positively as a means to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse potential conflicts with others.

As stated above, EQ has been on the psychological scene for some time. The earliest known allusion to the concept dates back to the 1930s when Edward Thorndike offered a description of a concept he called 'social intelligence.' To Thorndike, this was simply the ability to get along with other people.

In the 1950s, psychologist Abraham Maslow, famous for his theory, 'The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs,' built upon the concept of social intelligence when he offered instruction on how people could successfully build emotional strength.

It wasn't until 1985 the term 'emotional intelligence' was actually introduced. The first known appearance of this term was presented in a doctoral dissertation entitled "A study of emotion: developing emotional intelligence; self-integration; relating to fear, pain and desire (theory, structure of reality, problem-solving, contraction/expansion, tuning in/coming out/letting go), written by then-PhD candidate Wayne Payne.

Two of the most recognized contemporary proponents of EQ are psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer. They have developed a well-regarded model based on four different factors of EQ: the perception of emotion, the ability to reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotion and the ability to manage emotions. These branches, they claim, are "arranged from more basic psychological processes to higher, more psychologically integrated processes. For example, the lowest level branch concerns the (relatively) simple abilities of perceiving and expressing emotion. In contrast, the highest level branch concerns the conscious, reflective regulation of emotion."

In a recently published study in the journal Psychological Science, Stéphane Côté, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, claims stress experienced while making important decisions is often less a result of the immediate task before them and more often than not can be linked back to a completely unrelated occurrence, such as being stuck in traffic or an argument with a spouse or loved one. Of course, the higher an individual's EQ, the less outside events can cloud their judgment.

"People often make decisions that are influenced by emotions that have nothing to do with the decisions they are making," says Côté, who co-wrote the study with lead researcher Jeremy Yip of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "Research has shown we fall prey to this all the time."

The study claims that if one can fully understand the source and relevance of their individual emotions and their influence on the decision-making process, the willingness to make decisions and take risks will be embarked on from a more rational position.

"People are driving and it's frustrating," says Côté. "They get to work and the emotions they felt in their car influences what they do in their offices. Or they invest money based on emotions that stem from things unrelated to their investments. But our investigation reveals that if they have emotional intelligence, they are protected from these biases."

Emotional intelligence is not a fixed quotient. People can, once they recognize certain weaknesses, begin to employ methods to increase their EQ. And this is important because as one is made aware of a deficient EQ, future decision making can be made more rationally or, perhaps, not at all.

"The findings suggest that an emotionally intelligent approach to making decisions is if you're feeling anxious because of something unrelated to the decisions, to not make the decisions right away," suggests Côté. Though the above high-stress negative emotions were supposed as a result of traffic, eliciting what could be termed a negative emotional response, it is just as likely the findings would apply to a positive emotional response as well. When someone is excited, they are just as likely to allow that emotion to impede a rational response to a completely separate situation.

Côté and Yip are not advocating a cool, emotionless existence for those tasked with decision making. Their study actually points out that one who learns to pay attention only to feelings relevant to the decisions being made is what counts.

"People who are emotionally intelligent don't remove all emotions from their decision-making," says Côté. "They remove emotions that have nothing to do with the decision."