Difference Between EI, EQ & SEL

What is Emotional Intelligence and Social-Emotional Learning? 

 There seems to be some confusion about the terms that are used to explain the concept of Emotional Intelligence.  Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability of our brain to effectively blend thoughts and feelings.  EI can be improved in each of us.  The skills of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are both teachable and learnable. Growing our Emotional Intelligence can be thought of like exercising a muscle; the more we use EQ skills, the better we get at applying them in our lives. Social and Emotional Learning programs (SEL) teach the skills of Emotional Intelligence in a variety of settings. Optimism, empathy, and using individual talents to better the lives of others are examples of some of the EQ competencies that are typically taught in a Social and Emotional Learning program.

What are the qualities of an emotionally intelligent person?  At work, in school and interacting with others, individuals who learn EQ skills are better prepared to deal with the adversities of life, to learn from mistakes, to reframe difficult situations, and to adapt to life’s constantly changing circumstances.  (Durlak & Weissberg, 2011). 

Emotional Intelligence competencies, or EQ, are developed from the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions and patterns of behavior (Self-Knowledge), to manage negative or destructive emotions effectively (Self-Management), and to share in positive relationships and experiences with others in a way that enhances learning and life satisfaction (Relationship Management). EQ skills allow an individual to shed light on the inner emotional world and utilize the data that emotions provide to make decisions that positively affect an individual’s life.

The first step in the process of developing EQ skills is becoming aware of our emotions and naming them.  Research suggests that naming our emotions allows us to “slow down” and consider them before acting.  The naming of emotions actually calms the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in the recognition of fear, and the resulting action of “fight or flight” (LeDoux, 1994; Willis, J., 2007).  This automatic process from the amygdala raises anxiety and often causes us to overreact or choose an action that doesn’t help solve the problem we are facing. The emotional brain must be allowed to practice the skills of empathy and understanding, receive feedback from the surrounding environment, and evaluate the correctness of judgments made as a result of emotional input. 

Emotional Intelligence matters. Unchecked emotions can raise an individual’s stress level, and stressed brains find it very difficult to learn and interact with others in a successful way (Medina, 2008). As Nueva and Synapse School founder, Karen Stone McCown, observed, “If we don’t help children to create a ‘neural dialogue’ between their emotional data and their cognitive processing, we are limiting their capacity to grow and learn in a healthy manner” (Stone McCown, 2005). Understanding emotions affects how and what individuals learn and increases an individual’s success in interactions with others. Using EQ skills enhances an individual’s ability to react successfully in diverse situations, and to respond to difficult situations with a calm and purposeful manner (Fatum, 2008).


Durlak,J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., and Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82.

Fatum, B. (2008). The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement in Elementary-School Children. Unpublished dissertation, University of San Francisco.

LeDoux, J. (1994). Emotion, Memory and the Brain. Scientific American, 270

Medina,J. (2008) Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Amazon.com.

Stone McCown, K. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: The Cornerstone for Positive Change. Retrieved from 6seconds.org.

Willis, J. M.D. (2007)Brain-friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher. ASCD.

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