White Paper 1: An Examination of Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence

Prepared by Prof. Con Stough

April, 2017

Many teachers have asked us about the difference or overlap between Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence applied to schools.

To briefly discuss differences between these two school- based programs

What is Positive Psychology?
Positive Psychology has had many different definitions. The movement has notably been championed by Prof Martin Seligman who suggested that Psychology move away from its traditional role in studying and treating illnesses and move towards emphasising positive emotions. As such it focuses on core constructs that relate to well-being rather than illness. Core constructs include flourishing, positive experiences, positive environments and strengths.

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence first coined by psychologists Salovey and Mayer outlines key abilities related to how we understand, experience, express, manage and make decisions with emotions. Emotional Intelligence is a construct that describes how our emotions and thoughts interact. It has been argued that the way in which we understand, manage and utilize emotions are fundamental to all of our interactions with others and ultimately our success and happiness in life.

What is the difference between Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence?
Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence are two completely different approaches for schools and emphasize different processes. Positive Psychology emphasizes strengths and higher order behaviours related to well-being and flourishing. Conversely Emotional Intelligence focuses on lower order competencies involving emotions that are thought to lead to higher order behaviours and abilities.

At a developmental level, Emotional Intelligence represents the fundamental building blocks for higher order behaviours. So one fundamental difference between Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence is the level at which they work. Positive Psychology at a higher level and Emotional Intelligence at a lower level. Another fundamental difference is in the assessments available for students “Strengths “, “Grit” and other behaviours are assessed within Positive Psychology and “Emotional Self-Awareness” Emotional Expression” “Understanding the Emotions of Others” and “Managing Emotions” within Emotional Intelligence

Is Emotional Intelligence part of Positive Psychology?
No, they are two completely different approaches and disciplines.

Conceptual differences between Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence:
At the top of our development are higher order behaviours such as Leadership, Organizational success, Quality of relationships with others. Positive Psychology works at this level.
At the base of our development are fundamental emotional abilities which involve self-awareness, understanding emotions of others and emotional management. This is Emotional Intelligence.
We believe that the lower order emotional abilities are causally related to the development of important higher order behaviours and are therefore important to develop as early as possible for each child.