IQ vs. EQ: How Are They Different?

What's more important in determining life success—book smarts or street smarts? This question gets at the heart of an important debate contrasting the relative importance of cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ).

Proponents of so-called "book smarts" might suggest that IQ plays the most critical role in determining how well people fare in life. Those who advocate for the importance of what might be called "street smarts" would instead suggest that EQ is even more important.

This article compares IQ vs. EQ and how the two are different. It also discusses how EQ is measured, potential biases that may exist, and what you can do to improve your EQ.

IQ vs EQ
 Illustration by Hugo Lin, Verywell

Understanding the IQ vs. EQ Debate

In his book Emotional Intelligence, author and psychologist 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.

The psychologist Howard Gardner, for example, has suggested that intelligence is not simply a single general ability. Instead, he suggests that there are actually multiple intelligences and that people may have strengths in a number of these areas.

Instead of focusing on a single, general intelligence, usually called the g factor, some experts believe that the ability to understand and express emotions can play equal, if not more important, role in how people fare in life.

The Difference Between IQ and EQ

In order to understand how IQ and EQ are different, it is important to first look at what they measure and how they are assessed.

IQ

Intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a number used to express a person's overall mental ability. This score is derived from a standardized test.

On the original IQ tests, scores were calculated by dividing the individual's mental age by chronological age and multiplying that number by 100. 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 average scores of other people in the same age group. IQ represents abilities such as:

  • Visual and spatial processing
  • Knowledge of the world
  • Fluid reasoning
  • Working memory and short-term memory
  • Quantitative reasoning

EQ

Emotional intelligence 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. EQ is centered on abilities such as:

  • Identifying emotions
  • Evaluating how others feel
  • Controlling one's own emotions
  • Perceiving how others feel
  • Using emotions to facilitate social communication
  • Relating to others

Since the 1990s, emotional intelligence has gone from a semi-obscure concept found in academic journals to a popularly recognized term. You can no buy toys that claim to help boost emotional intelligence or enroll kids in social and emotional learning (SEL) programs designed to teach emotional intelligence skills. Social and emotional learning is a curriculum requirement in some schools in the United States.

EQ
  • Emotional quotient

  • Measure of emotional competency

  • Involves identifying, controlling, and using emotions

  • Affects motivation, empathy, relationships, self-awareness, and self-control

IQ
  • Intelligence quotient

  • Measure of cognitive abilities

  • Involves processing, knowledge, memory, and reasoning

  • Affects academics, expertise, critical thinking, and logic

How IQ and EQ Are Measured

IQ and EQ also utlilize different assessments to measure these abilities. IQ tests first emerged to assess cognitive abilities in school children, while EQ tests have been introduced more recently to assess emotional abilities.

Measuring IQ

Several different IQ tests can be used. Some are designed for use with adults, while others are developed to measure IQ in children. Some of the most commonly used IQ tests include:

Measuring EQ

Several different assessments can be used to measure EQ. Some of these assessments are self-report tests in which people respond to questions about their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Some other tests involve having an observer rate another person's abilities and behaviors.

Two tests that are commonly used to measure emotional intelligence are the:

  • Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT): In this test, people engage in tasks that measure the four components of EQ under the observation of a mental health professional.
  • Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI): In this assessment, an individual who knows you well answers questions to rate your emotional competency.

There are also a number of different online self-assessments. While such tests are not diagnostic tools, they may help you get a general idea about your emotional abilities.

Which 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 nature versus nurture debate).

However, some critics began to realize that high intelligence was 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 that IQ is not the only determinant of life success. Instead, it is part of a complex array of influences—one that includes emotional intelligence. Many companies now mandate emotional intelligence training and use 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.

Emotional abilities can also influence consumers' choices when confronted with buying decisions. Nobel-prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that people would rather deal with a person they trust and like than someone they do not, even if that means paying more for an inferior product.

The Impact of Bias

It is also important to note that both IQ and EQ are influenced by environmental variables. They are not simply inherent, unchangeable qualities. Not only does a person's environment affect their IQ and EQ, but the measurement of these abilities is also prone to bias.

The validity of IQ tests has long been questioned. While these tests often purport to evaluate inherent mental abilities, factors such as nutrition, educational quality, socioeconomic status, health status, and motivation levels can all affect people's IQ scores. Research also indicates that IQ tests are often biased against certain groups of people, including Black and Hispanic Americans. 

Emotional intelligence is also affected by environmental variables. While research suggests that temperament can play an important role, other factors, including upbringing, experiences, cultural factors, and trauma, can affect a person's EQ.

Recap

It is important to remember the measurement of IQ and EQ is subject to limitations. These are not purely fixed, inherent qualities. Tests cannot capture all aspects of intelligence and may be affected by bias.

Can IQ and EQ Be Improved?

If emotional intelligence is so important, can it be taught or strengthened? According to research on the effects of social and emotional learning programs, the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.

One study found that kids enrolled in SEL programs had better achievement scores. These programs were also linked to lower suspension rates, increased school attendance, and reduced disciplinary problems.

And while IQ was once thought to be set in stone, it is now believed that it is a capacity that can be improved and strengthened.

Improving IQ

Some ways to boost your IQ include:

  • Practicing memory activity: Doing tasks to improve your memory, such as jigsaw puzzles, concentration games, and sudoku, may help boost different aspects of IQ.
  • Improve your reasoning skills: Games that rely on higher-order reasoning skills may also help sharpen your intellectual abilities. 
  • Build your relational skills: Developing your ability to understand relationships and associations may help boost IQ scores. Strategies that may help include reading and making comparisons between objects.
  • Learn a new language: Learning and practicing a new language may help boost your cognitive abilities.

Improving EQ

Strategies that can help strengthen EQ include the following:

  • Focus on how you feel: Building self-awareness is essential for good emotional intelligence. Spend time observing your emotions and considering what made you experience those feelings. Keeping a journal can be a great way to help build this self-awareness.
  • Put yourself in someone else's shoes: Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence. Make an effort to consider how other people might feel in different situations. Put yourself in their place and reflect on what they might be feeling in that moment.
  • Become more open-minded: It is crucial to approach situations with openness and a lack of judgment. Doing so will better help you understand others and consider new perspectives and ideas.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves fully focusing on the present moment without worrying about the past or future. It can be an excellent tool for developing a greater awareness of your feelings.

Strategies for teaching emotional intelligence include character education, modeling positive behaviors, encouraging people to think about how others are feeling, and finding ways to be more empathetic toward others.

A Word From Verywell

Life success is a result of many factors. Both IQ and EQ play roles in overall success, as well as health, wellness, and happiness. Rather than focusing on which factors have a more dominant influence, the greatest benefit may lie in learning to improve skills in multiple areas. In addition to strengthening cognitive abilities, such as memory and mental focus, you can also acquire and improve social and emotional skills.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.