Mr. Emotional Intelligence

How Peter Salovey made his academic reputation.

Stanford University Archives

Stanford University Archives

Salovey graduated from Stanford in 1980 with an AB in psychology and an AM in sociology. Above, his yearbook photo. View full image

Peter Salovey made the national news when he became Yale’s president-elect. But those in the realm of psychology have known Salovey much longer as an original and productive scholar. Unusually for an academic psychologist, Salovey—who is the university’s Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology—is the author of an idea that many non-psychologists are familiar with as well: emotional intelligence. 

More than 20 years ago, he and John D. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, published a groundbreaking article by that title in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality. Other psychologists had broached
the existence of a social or emotional intelligence, but Salovey and Mayer were the first to analyze and describe a set of skills that contribute, they wrote, “to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.” Noting that Western culture has often cast emotion and intelligence as opposites, Salovey and Mayer made a persuasive case that the ability to process and apply “affective information” associated with “life tasks”—such as engaging in intimate relationships and pursuing personal goals—is indeed a kind of intelligence. 

The two went on to coauthor many more scholarly articles and books on the subject, but it was the publication of Emotional Intelligence, a 1995 book by science writer Daniel Goleman, that made their idea famous. Salovey and Mayer, Goleman wrote admiringly, have “mapped in great detail the ways in which we can bring intelligence to our emotions.” Such maps, compiled over the course of an illustrious career as a psychologist, will be useful guides as Salovey sets out to lead one of the world’s great universities.

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