Theoretical foundations, background and development of the Bar-On model of emotional intelligence

Theoretical foundations, background and development of the Bar-On model of emotional intelligence

Darwin’s early work on the importance of emotional expression for survival and adaptation (1837-1872) influenced the development of the Bar-On EI model, which also stresses the importance of emotional expression and views the outcome of emotionally and socially intelligent behavior in terms of effective and successful adaptation. Additional influence on the development of this model can be traced to Thorndike’s 1920 description of social intelligence and its importance for human performance as well as Wechsler’s 1940 observations related to the impact of non-intellective (non-cognitive) factors on what he referred to as intelligent behavior. Sifneos’ 1967 description of alexithymia on the pathological end of the EI continuum and Appelbaum’s 1973 conceptualization of psychological mindedness on the eupsychic (healthy) end of this continuum have also had an impact on the ongoing development of the Bar-On model as well. Additionally, Gardner’s 1983 introduction of the concept of intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences, within the context of multiple intelligences, had an impact on the development of the intrapersonal and interpersonal components of the Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence.

The Bar-On conceptual model of emotional-social intelligence provides the theoretical basis for the Bar-On psychometric approach to measuring this construct as was previously mentioned. The most popularly used measure of this concept is the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory™ (the EQ-i™). The EQ-i™ was originally constructed to examine a theory of emotional and social functioning that I began developing in the early 1980s during my doctoral studies. At that time, I hypothesized that effective emotional and social functioning should eventually lead to an overall sense of psychological well-being – as such, my dissertation was titled The Development of a Concept of Psychological Well-Being.

The development of the conceptual component of the Bar-On model and the construction of its psychometric component (the EQ-i™) are closely interrelated. Consequently, the EQ-i™ may be considered an operationalization of this model; and the examination of the factorial, construct and predictive validity of the Bar-On EQ-i™ provides an efficient method of examining the model’s structure, accuracy and usefulness as an EI model. Such an approach in theory development is common in psychology as well as in the specific field of emotional intelligence according to Newsome, Petrides, Salovey and Van Rooy based on a number of publications that appeared in the literature over the past 25 years. Moreover, this was my approach when I began to develop a theory of emotional and social functioning in 1980 as I have described in detail in my doctoral dissertation.

The development of the Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence proceeded in six stages:

1) identifying, in the professional literature, and logically clustering various emotional and social competencies, skills and behaviors thought to impact human performance and well-being;

2) defining the individual clusters of competencies, skills and behaviors that emerged from the literature;

3) constructing an experimental instrument based on initially generating approximately 1,000 items that were thought to tap these definitions;

4) eventually determining the inclusion of 15 primary scales and 133 items in the published version of this instrument (the Bar-On EQ-i™) based on a combination of statistical findings and theoretical considerations;

5) norming the final version of the EQ-i™ on 3,831 adults in North America; and

6) continuing to collect data, norm and validate this instrument across cultures worldwide.

Based on research findings that have emerged over the years, I have continued to mold the definition of the Bar-On model and it factorial components. Those aspects that were validated by research findings were maintained, and others that were not confirmed were discarded. This is why I have referred to my model as an empirically-based theory. This approach to theory development is described in detail in my doctoral dissertation, the Bar-On EQ-i™ Technical Manual and in other publications as was previously mentioned.

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