IQ or EQ: Which One Is More Important?

Traditional Intelligence vs. Emotional Intelligence

Man writing on chalkboard
Justin Lewis/Stone/Getty Images

In his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman suggested that EQ (or emotional intelligence quotient) might actually be more important than IQ. Why? Some psychologists believe that standard measures of intelligence (i.e. IQ scores) are too narrow and do not encompass the full range of human intelligence. Instead, they suggest, the ability to understand and express emotions can play an equal if not even more important role in how people fare in life.

What's the Difference Between IQ and EQ?

Let's start by defining the two terms in order to understand what they mean and how they differ. IQ, or intelligence quotient, is a number derived from a standardized intelligence test. On the original IQ tests, scores were calculated by dividing the individual's mental age by his or her chronological age and then multiplying that number by 100. So a child with a mental age of 15 and a chronological age of 10 would have an IQ of 150. Today, scores on most IQ tests are calculated by comparing the test taker's score to the scores of other people in the same age group.

EQ, on the other hand, is a measure of a person's level of emotional intelligence. This refers to a person's ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions. Researchers such as John Mayer and Peter Salovey as well as writers like Daniel Goleman have helped shine a light on emotional intelligence, making it a hot topic in areas ranging from business management to education.

Since the 1990s, emotional intelligence has made the journey from a semi-obscure concept found in academic journals to a popularly recognized term. Today, you can buy toys that claim to help boost a child's emotional intelligence or enroll your kids in social and emotional learning (SEL) programs designed to teach emotional intelligence skills.

In some schools in the United States, social and emotional learning is even a curriculum requirement.

So Which One Is More Important?

At one point in time, IQ was viewed as the primary determinant of success. People with high IQs were assumed to be destined for a life of accomplishment and achievement and researchers debated whether intelligence was the product of genes or the environment (the old nature versus nurture debate). However, some critics began to realize that not only was high intelligence no guarantee for success in life, it was also perhaps too narrow a concept to fully encompass the wide range of human abilities and knowledge.

IQ is still recognized as an important element of success, particularly when it comes to academic achievement. People with high IQs typically to do well in school, often earn more money, and tend to be healthier in general. But today experts recognize it is not the only determinate of life success. Instead, it is part of a complex array of influences that includes emotional intelligence among other things.

The concept of emotional intelligence has had a strong impact in a number of areas, including the business world. Many companies now mandate emotional intelligence training and utilize EQ tests as part of the hiring process. Research has found that individuals with strong leadership potential also tend to be more emotionally intelligent, suggesting that a high EQ is an important quality for business leaders and managers to have.

So you might be wondering if emotional intelligence is so important, can it be taught or strengthened? According to one meta-analysis that looked at the results of social and emotional learning programs, the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes. The study found that approximately 50 percent of kids enrolled in SEL programs had better achievement scores and almost 40 percent showed improved grade-point-averages. These programs were also linked to lowered suspension rates, increased school attendance, and reduced disciplinary problems.


  • "…a national insurance company found that sales agents who were weak in emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, and empathy sold policies with an average premium of $54,000. Not bad, right? Well, compared to agents who scored high in a majority of emotional competencies, they sold policies worth an average of $114,000."
    (Cooper, 2013)
  • "Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. Additionally, Nobel Prize winning Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, found that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t, even if the likable person is offering a lower quality product or service at a higher price."
    (Jensen, 2012)
  • "IQ alone is not enough; EQ also matters. In fact, psychologists generally agree that among the ingredients for success, IQ counts for roughly 10% (at best 25%); the rest depends on everything else—including EQ."
    (Bressert, 2007)

Enjoy this article? You might also be interested in learning more about:


Bressert, S. (2007). What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?. Psych Central. Retrieved from

Cooper, S. (2013, March 18). Look for employees with high EQ over IQ. Forbes. Retrieved from

Goleman, D. (n.d.). Emotional intelligence. Retrieved from

Jensen, K. (2012). Intelligence is overrated: What you really need to succeed. Forbes. Retrieved from

Continue Reading