IQ vs EQ: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters More Than You Think

Human intelligence is extraordinarily complex. It represents a multifaceted construct that involves both our ability to reason and our ability to understand emotions (Gardner, 2008).

IQ, or intellectual quotient, is our ability to think logically, comprehend and assimilate new information, and problem-solve. Individuals with high IQs can easily make connections between abstract concepts to aid generalizations, and they can apply knowledge to a range of skill sets. 

EQ, or emotional quotient, refers to our ability to recognize and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others (Goleman, 1996).

Understanding how emotions drive our behaviors is crucial, allowing us to develop greater self-awareness, adopt more functional responses to our environment, and develop more empathetic relationships with others.

a brain with a background where there is a blackboard with equations on the left side, and various light reflections on the right.
While IQ is important for academic and technical expertise, EQ provides the interpersonal skills necessary for navigating complex social relationships, empathy, self-awareness, and achieving personal well-being.

EQ and IQ Functions

Some key functions and skills of EQ include:

  • Self-awareness – Being aware of and understanding one’s own emotions. This involves recognizing how one’s feelings affect one’s actions, having self-confidence, and being open to feedback.
  • Emotional self-regulationManaging one’s emotions appropriately instead of suppressing them. This allows one to thoughtfully respond rather than just react. Skills include flexibility, stress management, and taking accountability.
  • Social empathy – Perceiving and understanding the emotions of others. This enables one to respond compassionately and understand social power dynamics. Skills include perspective-taking, listening, and sharing emotions.
  • Social skills – Using emotional awareness to communicate effectively and build relationships. This requires verbal and nonverbal communication skills, leadership abilities, persuasiveness, and conflict management.
  • Cognitive ability – IQ tests measure various cognitive skills like verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. High IQ indicates a greater ability to understand complex ideas, adapt, reason, and problem-solve.

In comparison, some of the key functions and skills of IQ include: 

  • Academic performance – IQ correlates with academic achievement, as intelligence helps students learn, retain information, and apply knowledge. High IQ is linked to better grades and test scores.
  • Abstract thinking – People with high IQs tend to be better at solving novel problems, deducing relationships, recognizing patterns, and thinking conceptually beyond just concrete details.
  • Quick learning – Higher IQ is associated with quicker acquisition of knowledge and skills. Intelligent people tend to pick up new information and grasp new concepts more rapidly.
  • Memory – IQ tests often measure short-term and working memory span and ability, which are tied to better recall and application of learned material.
  • Spatial abilities – Many IQ tests gauge visual-spatial skills like mental rotation and spatial perception, allowing for proficient manipulation of images and shapes.
  • Logic – Standard intelligence tests assess logical reasoning capacities, including inductive and deductive reasoning, which intelligent people use to discern rules and make valid conclusions.

Differences between emotional intelligence (EQ) and IQ

Both EQ and IQ are important forms of intelligence that help people succeed in their personal and professional lives. However, there are some key differences between the two constructs (Figure 1).

The main difference is that EQ involves the ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions effectively, while IQ focuses purely on cognitive intelligence and academic problem-solving abilities.

A table illustrating the main traits and differences between emotional intelligence and IQ.
Figure 1. Differences between EQ and IQ.

Which is more important?

At one point in time, IQ was considered the prime determinant of success in life. The book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” was written by Daniel Goleman and was first published in 1995. It played a significant role in popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence in the mainstream.

According to the author, people with well-developed emotional skills are “more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of the mind that foster their own productivity”, while people who lack control over their emotional life “fight battles that sabotage their ability for focussed work and clear thought” (Goleman, 1996).  

Since then, emotional intelligence (EI) has been extensively researched and linked to positive life outcomes, including job success (Papoutsi, Drigas, and Skianis, 2019), relationship satisfaction (Malouff, Schutte and Thorsteinsson, 2014) and stress tolerance (Lea et al., 2019).

Due to its trainability, EI has also been considered an important skill to develop in school environments, and there is now a growing demand for teachers to implement behaviors informed by EI principles in classrooms (Mortiboys, 2013).

At the same time, a new body of research recognized an overemphasis on the benefits of EI, which in some individuals can lead to an excessive focus on emotions and hinder performance in high-pressure situations.

For example, a study showed how individuals with greater sensitivity to emotions had greater difficulty delivering a speech in front of judges assessing their performance (Bechtoldt and Schneider, 2016).

In some situations, an excess of EI can also impact the consideration of rational aspects in decision-making or result in increased susceptibility to others’ negative emotional states (Chamorro-Premuzic and Yearsley, 2017). 

Additional studies highlighted how cognitive ability remains the most significant predictor of performance in jobs requiring the adoption of analytical and technical skills, like engineering, accounting, or science.

By contrast, EI appears more relevant in jobs that involve more direct interactions with people, such as sales, real estate, and counseling (Grant, 2014).

In school environments, it has been recognized that high intelligence and a conscientious personality are the most important psychological traits associated with academic success, while emotional intelligence represents a third significant factor (MacCann et al., 2020).

Overall, it seems that IQ and EQ are important to different degrees in relation to the contexts in which they are applied.

Nurturing both aspects of intelligence, making them operate in harmony with each other, can help us lead a balanced life where both cognitive abilities and emotional well-being are prioritized.

IQ vs EQ in the workplace

It is recognized that traditional intelligence (IQ) supports critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are crucial in determining employees’ adaptability to a work environment. However, a person’s EQ is just as important.

People who have difficulty managing their own emotions and struggle to acclimatize to a team are more likely to leave their jobs and not progress in their careers (Papoutsi, Drigas, and Sianis, 2019).

In addition, although IQ is associated with leadership success, EQ allows for a better understanding of employees’ needs and priorities, which can enhance team trust and cohesion. Ultimately, this leads to improved performance within an organization (Sadri, 2012). 

John was the CEO of a successful tech company and known for his brilliance in business strategy and product development. However, his employees often felt he lacked empathy and emotional intelligence in his leadership style. For example, when an employee's parent passed away, John failed to express condolences or adjust her workload during her grief. This caused the employee to feel upset and neglected. She eventually quit due to feeling burned out and unsupported. This case illustrates how even highly intelligent leaders can benefit from developing emotional intelligence skills like empathy, compassion, and relationship management in the workplace. While IQ helps with technical expertise, EQ is key for motivating teams, resolving conflicts, and retaining talent.

In general, both IQ and EQ are considered essential abilities in the workplace. Balancing logical thinking with emotional intelligence and empathy can result in greater versatility, which represents a highly valued attribute in today’s workforce.

On the one hand, IQ allows us to maintain focus, analyze problems with accuracy, and respect deadlines, which can be advantageous in fast-paced work environments.

On the other hand, applying emotional intelligence skills in everyday work situations promotes more constructive relationships between co-workers, leading to successful group outcomes (Zeidner, Matthews, and Roberts, 2004).

Which do employers prefer?

Traditionally, hiring decisions are made based primarily on a candidate’s professional background (i.e., university attended, grades obtained, status of previous jobs) and their intelligence potential.

This is because a high IQ can ensure a candidate will learn the most technical aspects of the role more quickly and use assimilated knowledge to suggest improvements in an organization.

However, a high IQ does not guarantee a person’s success in the longer term, and now hiring managers have started to value the importance of soft skills, including EI (Ashaye et al., 2023). 

In today’s scenarios, the ability to work under pressure and adapt to changing circumstances is required by most workplaces, and therefore, handling one’s emotions effectively becomes increasingly important to reach the desired outcomes.

In addition, people with EI tend to be more open to critical feedback, which allows them to continuously identify areas of improvement and grow professionally, ultimately leading to better quality of work (Zeidner, Matthews, and Roberts, 2004). 

In the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report, cognitive skills were ranked at the top of the list of abilities considered important for companies, with ‘analytical thinking’ coming in first place.

However, attributes associated with EI, such as ‘resilience, flexibility, and agility’ and ‘motivation and self-awareness’ also resulted in the top five (Di Battista, Grayling, and Hasselaar, 2023).

This again suggests how an integration between cognitive and emotional skills is crucial for a person’s success in the workplace.

Are IQ and EQ related to each other?

Although IQ and EQ represent distinct aspects of human intelligence, there is emerging evidence suggesting a relationship between the two constructs.

A recent meta-analysis found that people who have been classified as gifted also tend to be more emotionally intelligent, specifically when this is measured as an ability rather than a trait (Ogurlu, 2021).

There might be different explanations as to how people with high IQ also present with above-average levels of emotional competency. For example, it has been revealed that gifted children score higher on measures of ‘overexcitability,’ which is characterized by intense emotionality and empathy.

This can in turn make them more sensitive to what happens around them (Winkler and Voight, 2016). Similarly, gifted individuals might have greater cognitive abilities, including verbal skills, that allow them to more effectively cope with emotional and social problems (Eklund et al., 2015).

Additional research highlighted how both IQ and EQ are essential to human cognitive processes that involve problem-solving, decision-making, and the ability to control impulses.

For example, a study found that both IQ and EQ were positively related to more effective inhibition of interfering information on a cognitive control task (Checa and Fernández-Berrocal, 2015). 

This might mean that people with higher EI are able to generate a mood that allows them to more adaptively respond to environmental demands and make better use of their cognitive resources.

Overall, it appears that when IQ and EQ coexist and complement each other, they are most effective.

This association has important implications for various life domains, as a combination of cognitive and emotional skills allows people to more easily succeed in academic and job environments, maintain healthy relationships with others, and improve their general well-being.


Do IQ tests measure EQ?

IQ tests measure a person’s ability to use logical skills, solve problems, and understand and communicate complex ideas. They represent standardized tests in which the final score is compared to the results obtained by people of the same age group.

As a person’s IQ score tends to be quite consistent over time, it does not capture elements of knowledge that are learned through later life experiences, such as emotional skills or other forms of intelligence.

EQ is generally measured through ability-based and trait-based tests (Schutte et al., 1998). Since it taps into a more flexible group of skills, people’s scores on EQ tests might change over time.

Are people with high EQ more successful than those with high IQ?

IQ and EQ should be viewed as co-factors in determining a person’s success in life. They both directly affect accomplishment and ambition, allowing people to flourish in different areas of life.

At the same time, research points out that while IQ contributes to greater access to opportunities, for example, the likelihood of securing a job, EQ allows us to sustain it in the longer term.

Indeed, people with high EQ can establish more collaborative relationships with others and are more capable of adapting to challenging environments, which can ultimately help them grow faster within an organization.

Can both IQ and EQ be improved?

Although EQ appears more susceptible to change than IQ, there is evidence suggesting that both can be trained and improved with consistent practice.

Some ways to boost IQ include practicing memory games, such as jigsaw puzzles, concentration games, and sudokus, reading books, which can expose you to a variety of new vocabulary and phrases, and learning new skills, such as a foreign language or playing an instrument.

To improve EQ, strategies focus on developing greater self-awareness, which can be achieved through keeping a journal or practicing mindfulness and making a more conscious effort to attune to other people’s emotions to increase empathy and establish healthier interpersonal relationships. 


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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Sara Viezzer

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc in Applied Neuropsychology

Sara Viezzer is a graduate of psychological studies at the University of Bristol and Padova. She has worked as an Assistant Psychologist in the NHS for the past two years in neuroscience and health psychology. Sara is presently pursuing a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.