The Four Branch Model of Emotional Intelligence

The four branch model of emotional intelligence describes four areas of capacities or skills that collectively describe many of areas of emotional intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). More specifically, this model defines emotional intelligence as involving the abilities to:

1. PERCEIVING EMOTION. The initial, most basic, area has to do with the nonverbal reception and expression of emotion. Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have pointed out that emotional expression evolved in animal species as a form of crucial social communication. Facial expressions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and fear, were universally recognizable in human beings. Emotions researchers, evolutionary biologists, specialists in nonverbal behavior, and others, have made tremendous inroads into understanding how human beings recognize and express emotions. The capacity to accurately perceive emotions in the face or voice of others provides a crucial starting point for more advanced understanding of emotions.

2. USING EMOTIONS TO FACILITATE THOUGHT. The second area appeared every bit as basic as the first. This was the capacity of the emotions to enter into and guide the cognitive system and promote thinking. For example, cognitive scientists pointed out that emotions prioritize thinking. In other words: something we respond to emotionally, is something that grabs our attention. Having a good system of emotional input, therefore, should helped direct thinking toward matters that are truly important. As a second example, a number of researchers have suggested that emotions are important for certain kinds of creativity to emerge. For example, both mood swings, and positive moods, have been implicated in the capacity to carry out creative thought.

3. UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS. Emotions convey information: Happiness usually indicates a desire to join with other people; anger indicates a desire to attack or harm others; fear indicates a desire to escape, and so forth. Each emotion conveys its own pattern of possible messages, and actions associated with those messages. A message of anger, for example, may mean that the individual feels treated unfairly. The anger, in turn, might be associated with specific sets of possible actions: peacemaking, attacking, retribution and revenge-seeking, or withdrawal to seek calmness. Understanding emotional messages and the actions associated with them is one important aspect of this area of skill.

Once a person can identify such messages and potential actions, the capacity to reason with and about those emotional messages and actions becomes of importance as well. Fully understanding emotions, in other words, involves the comprehension of the meaning of emotions, coupled with the capacity to reason about those meanings. It is central to this group of emotionally intelligent skills.

(For a more advanced discussion of emotional information, see the section, "Similarities and Differences Between Emotional and Cognitive Information" in this article).

4. MANAGING EMOTIONS. Finally, emotions often can be managed. A person needs to understand emotions convey information. To the extent that it is under voluntary control, a person may want to remain open emotional signals so long as they are not too painful, and block out those that are overwhelming. In between, within the person's emotional comfort zone, it becomes possible to regulate and manage one's own and others' emotions so as to promote one's own and others' personal and social goals. The means and methods for emotional self-regulation has become a topic of increasing research in this decade.