The publication of the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman in 1995 led to the sudden popularisation of the earlier proposal for the concept of emotional intelligence by Salovey and Mayer (1990), which in turn was based on earlier proposals such as Gardner's (1983) concept of social intelligence. The popularisation has led to the assessment and teaching of emotional skills in the workplace and in schools, while academically it has remained surrounded by controversy. The main arguments against the proposal (e.g., Davies, Stankov, & Roberts, 1998; Roberts, Zeidner, & Matthews, 2001) are that there is nothing unique in the proposal that is not already covered by existing approaches to personality theory and existing approaches to intelligence. Our own view is that the term "emotional intelligence" is one that is best avoided because of its value-laden and elitist implications, but that there clearly are variations in emotional skills that should not be ignored. The development of these emotional skills is obviously evident during childhood (e.g., Izard, 2001), and there are certain developmental disorders such as autism that are linked to deficits in theory of mind (e.g., Frith & Stroud-Lewis, 2003), which therefore are accompanied by deficits in emotional skills. However, we prefer to refer to such skills as meta-emotional skills and associated meta-emotional representations, in parallel to the use of the term metacognition in cognition and development from Flavell (1979) onwards. These meta-emotional skills are therefore likely to show a different pattern of population distribution than cognitive intelligence, which approximates the normal distribution curve, because of threshold effects consequent on problems and deficits that affect disorders such as autism and psychopathy. We acknowledge, though, that the term "meta-emotional skill" may never have the same popular appeal as that of "emotional intelligence".
The key areas that are important in meta-emotional skills and representations include the perception and understanding of emotion in self and others, and the regulation of emotion in self and in others. The deficits in autistic spectrum disorders lead to clear problems with the recognition of emotions in self and others, together with the additional complexity that such disorders occur in far greater numbers in males than females (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 2004). However, such gender ratios do not imply that all men are deficient in meta-emotional skills, contrary perhaps to some popular views, especially with the powerful cultural pressures on the gender-related expression of different emotions and that can be seen in the reported experience of different emotions (e.g., Power, 2006).
One of the most important areas of meta-emotional skills is that of emotion regulation. There have been a number of conceptualisations of emotion regulation (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 1990; Gross, 1998; Larsen, 2000; Philippot & Feldman, 2004). Our own approach (Phillips & Power, 2007) has been to consider the combination of internal-external and functional-dysfunctional strategies; thus, an internal-functional strategy would be to understand and accept the emotion, an external-functional strategy would be to talk to a friend, and an external-dysfunctional strategy would be to abuse another person. There appear to be clear physical and mental health and quality of life consequences from the differential use of these strategies, as assessed by the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (Phillips & Power, 2007), which we are now following up in further research.
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Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.