Emotional Intelligence May Be More Important Than IQ For Success

While most of us have taken an IQ test in our lives, few of us know how IQ tests came to be. Traditionally, IQ tests were seen as a major determinant of intelligence and living a successful life.

In modern times, putting a high emphasis on IQ scores is under question. There is now a deeper understanding of the broader skills that a person can possess — not all of which can be found in a written test or factored into a number score. 

Emotional intelligence (EQ) and the complex skills associated with EQ can play a critical, if not more important, role in determining successful living. For those with strong emotional intelligence, schooling, having positive relationships, and building a career may be much easier to navigate. 

Those high in EQ have complex emotional skills

While the theory of emotional intelligence is relatively new, it’s gained interest in recent years. In 1985, Wayne Payne wrote about EQ in a thesis titled "A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence." In it, he argues that many of today’s societal problems, such as depression, conflicts, and war, are a result of disconnection from our emotional nature — something that having a high IQ alone cannot necessarily solve.¹

In 1995, the concept of EQ became better known through a popular book by Daniel Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Goleman argues that many areas of EQ, including self-control, rationality, relationship building, self-awareness, optimism, and other emotion-based skills, are critical and can play a more crucial role in life than a high IQ. 

In his book, Daniel Goleman identified five key areas of EQ that are still widely referenced today: 

  • Self-awareness. The ability to notice your own emotions and recognize them for what they are instead of being solely identified with them. 

  • Self-regulation. The ability to regulate your emotions and react appropriately in different situations. 

  • Self-motivation. The ability to be productive, work toward goals and delay gratification for an end result.

  • Empathy. The ability to recognize emotions in others and understand differing perspectives. 

  • Social skills. Having the ability to build relationships, work well in group settings, and positively interact with others.

It’s generally considered that those who possess higher EQ will find it easier to: 

  • Understand their emotions

  • Identify other’s emotions

  • Control impulses

  • Resolve conflicts 

  • Understand different viewpoints

  • Communicate effectively

IQ tests are designed to measure logical thinking

Intelligence quotient (IQ), on the other hand, focuses specifically on our reasoning and problem-solving abilities and is said to estimate a person’s intelligence. The common areas that IQ tests cover include our ability to: 

  • Think logically 

  • Solve problems 

  • Plan and strategize

  • Adapt to changes 

Once an IQ test is completed, a number score is given. The average IQ globally is 100 points, with 68% of scores falling between 85 and 115 points. Those with scores below the average are traditionally considered less intelligent, while those with scores above the average are perceived as having higher intelligence or even genius.²

It’s been said that those with higher IQ scores perform better at school, do better in the workplace, and are more successful overall in life — though some are calling these ideas into question.³ ⁴ While IQ tests are still commonly used as a test of intelligence, few people know how they originated or why they’re considered a standard test.

The dark history of IQ testing

IQ testing began in 1905 in France when two psychologists, Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon, developed a test for children struggling with schooling. The test created at the time now forms the basis of IQ tests today.

While IQ tests started as a way to identify students who needed extra assistance, they eventually became a way to differentiate and calculate human intelligence in the typical population.

IQ testing became common during the uprising of eugenics. Eugenics is based on the idea that some human traits and races are superior to others. 

For example, during World War I, IQ tests were used by the US military to screen and sort candidates. The findings were later used to make claims about intelligence in certain racial groups. Unfortunately, the basis of the results was flawed in many ways, as many of the minority groups studied were immigrants with low education and English language proficiency, therefore skewing the results and driving racial superiority claims.⁵

IQ tests lead to various forms of historical discrimination. In extreme cases, sterilization in the US was performed on those with low IQ scores. And in Nazi Germany, some children with lower IQ scores were killed.

The hidden problem with IQ tests

Today there’s a deeper understanding that environmental factors, including education, healthcare, and upbringing, play an important role in intelligence. Furthermore, there’s the knowledge that the test itself is limited in what it does measure.

Many critics of IQ tests believe that human intelligence is much broader than what is covered in the test — with some calling for the tests to be redeveloped.⁶

It’s been found, for example, that a person’s IQ only accounts for roughly 20% of life success. In the 1940s, a Havard study of 95 men found that those with a higher IQ did not have significantly higher salaries, life satisfaction, improved relationships, or productivity when compared to those with lower IQ.⁷

Other factors, including perseverance, social class, chance, and emotional intelligence, all appear to play an important role in whether a person has a successful life.⁸

EQ vs. IQ: Which is more important?

In recent years, EQ has become the subject of research — and it’s been shown across a range of areas, including work, schooling, and relationships, that EQ can often play an equally important role as IQ.

EQ at school

In schooling, those with higher emotional intelligence may perform better than those who don’t. 

A 2020 meta-analysis of studies consisting of 42,000 students from 27 countries found that students with higher emotional intelligence generally had better grades irrespective of their age and other personality factors. 

The lead author, Associate Professor Carolyn MacCann of the University of Sydney, noted:

“Although we know that high intelligence and a conscientious personality are the most important psychological traits necessary for academic success, our research highlights a third factor, emotional intelligence, that may also help students succeed.”⁹

Generally, those who possess higher EQ are also more intelligent. A 2021 meta-analysis found that gifted people had higher emotional intelligence.¹⁰

EQ at work

In the workplace, emotional intelligence has been linked to job success and satisfaction.¹¹ And it’s been found that people with leadership skills also tend to have strong emotional intelligence.¹²

Those with a higher EQ are more likely to manage stress better. A 2019 research review found that EQ can help people recover more quickly from acute stress.¹³ It’s something that may make individuals more successful at work.

Employers also value emotional intelligence in their employees. Research has found that 71% of employers value EQ above IQ in employees, and an estimated 59% would not hire someone with a higher IQ but low EQ.¹⁴

EQ in relationships

Having high emotional intelligence may also lead to greater satisfaction in relationships.

A study of 159 couples found that mood generally was the greatest factor in satisfaction in marriages.¹⁵ And emotional intelligence was the main factor leading to marital satisfaction for 40.8% of the couples. 

Most people can’t judge their level of EQ

If you have high EQ, you’re more likely to be self-aware, aware of others’ emotions, empathetic, self-motivated, and can regulate your emotions. 

While EQ can be difficult to calculate, one test, known as the SEI assessment, is designed to test your level of emotional intelligence. It’s designed to assess four different areas:¹⁶

  • Effectiveness 

  • Relationships 

  • Well-being 

  • Quality of life 

It can be difficult to decipher what level of EQ we possess without completing this test. That’s because we tend to be poor judges of our own abilities. A meta-analysis, for example, found that our judgment of personal EQ is even lower than IQ.¹⁷

Asking for feedback from others then is critical.

How to improve your emotional intelligence

While our IQ tends to be relatively challenging to improve, our EQ can actually be increased over time. It also tends to naturally improve with age without any effort.¹⁷

Here are some key ways to improve your EQ:

Get feedback from others

Given that we tend to be poor judges of our EQ, asking for feedback from friends, family members, and work colleagues can be useful in determining our emotional skills. Coaches, counselors, and psychologists can also play an important role in offering both feedback and constructive advice.

Practice meditation and mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness can be useful in developing our self-awareness and improving our reactions to events. A 2018 workplace study found that meditation increased emotional intelligence in participants while helping to decrease their perceived stress.¹⁸

Have compassion for others

If you lack empathy or the ability to understand others' feelings and emotions, practicing compassionate feelings toward others can help. Loving-kindness meditation is a practice whereby meditation is focused on spreading kind and loving thoughts to others. The practice can take the focus off yourself and put it on others — helping to increase your empathy.

Picture yourself in someone else's shoes

To deeply practice empathy, it’s helpful to imagine yourself living another person’s life. That way, you’ll better understand what they might be thinking and feeling in a given situation.

Share your feelings

Talking through your feelings with loved ones or a health professional (such as a psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist) can help you develop greater self-awareness and understanding. A professional can help you become aware of emotional areas you could strengthen. 

Maintain a positive attitude

Self-motivation is a key component of emotional intelligence. Thinking optimistically can improve your perspective, which can, in turn, lead to better self-motivation.

Practice social skills

Many people lack natural social skills. Fortunately, socializing can be improved. To have better conversations, ask open-ended questions (rather than questions that end with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer), practice eye contact, show interest in others' lives, and find simple conversation starters. Remember: be kind to yourself; many other people find social interactions challenging too.


While IQ was historically viewed as critically important for success, today, it appears a combination of many skills is necessary to thrive. The ability to reason, judge, and analyze while regulating emotions, maintaining positive relationships, and empathizing with others is important for successful living.

  • Having a high IQ is not necessarily a guarantee for a successful life. 

  • Many other factors, including emotional intelligence, play an important role in life's success.

  • Popularized by Daniel Goleman, EQ is now seen as just as important in education, work, and relationship building.

  • Emotional intelligence is generally considered to cover a broad range of social and emotional skills, including the ability to regulate one’s own emotions, have self-awareness, and understand others.

  • Many employers will favor high EQ over a high IQ and wouldn’t consider hiring a candidate with low EQ.

  • High EQ may help us perform better at school, get greater work opportunities, and have more successful relationships with others.

  • Both IQ and EQ appear to play an important role in determining your life's success.

  • While IQ tends to be relatively challenging to influence, EQ is malleable and can improve over time.

  • Certain practices, including meditation, mindfulness, compassion, and sharing your feelings, can all help improve your level of EQ.

EQ plays a critical role in navigating today’s world. Improving your emotional intelligence might just be the difference between living a fulfilled and successful life.

  1. 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). | Google

  2. Do we still need IQ-scores? Misleading interpretations of neurocognitive outcome in pediatric patients with medulloblastoma: a retrospective study (2017)

  3. Intelligence (IQ) as a predictor of life success (2002)

  4. Does IQ really predict job performance? (2015)

  5. The dark history of IQ tests - Stefan C. Dombrowski | TED Ed

  6. Criticisms of IQ tests | Dallas Baptist University

  7. Harvard taught John F. Kennedy this crucial lesson about success (and you can learn from it, too) | Inc.

  8. IQ vs EQ: Which is more important? | Short Form

  9. Students with high emotional intelligence get better grades | The University of Sydney

  10. A meta-analytic review of emotional intelligence in gifted individuals: A multilevel analysis (2020)

  11. The contribution of emotional intelligence to career success: Beyond personality traits (2019)

  12. Emotional intelligence and organizational effectiveness (2014)

  13. Does emotional intelligence buffer the effects of acute stress? A systematic review (2019)

  14. Seventy-one percent of employers say they value emotional intelligence over IQ, according to CareerBuilder survey | CareerBuilder

  15. The relationship between emotional intelligence and marital satisfaction: 10-year outcome of partners from three different economic levels (2014)

  16. White paper: Emotional intelligence and success (2016)

  17. Can you really improve your emotional intelligence? (2013)

  18. Effect of meditation on emotional intelligence and perceived stress in the workplace: A randomized controlled study (2018)

Chloe Garnham is a writer exploring a broad range of topics, including healthcare, education, and technology.

Have you considered clinical trials for your medical condition?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for your medical condition, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any a medical condition clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for a medical condition?
Have you been diagnosed with a medical condition?