A review of EI research in Serbia

Arising at a time when the field of El had passed through its “popularization” phase and entered the “era of clarifying research” (see timeline in Mayer, 2006), scholarly interests in El in Serbia were naturally directed towards the major issues of the day - scrutinizing the construct and validating the instruments claimed to assess it. Thus, the prime question addressed by Serbian El researchers during the last decade - more precisely, from 2008 to 2018 - was whether this construct fulfilled the necessary (a) semantic and (b) psychometric criteria to be established as another intelligence, or more generally, as a valid and useful new individual-differences construct.

Conceptual foundations

At its inception, the study of El in Serbia was focused on clearing the conceptual ground for any empirical or practical considerations of the construct. In this vein, Altaras (2008) conducted a critical analysis of the then dominant conceptions of El in view of the commonly uttered semantic criteria derived from the construct’s name (e.g., Matthews, Zeidner, & Roberts, 2007; Salovey, Brackett, & Mayer, 2004: Schulze, Wilhelm, & Kyllonen, 2007). For the sake of systematicity, these criteria were ordered into a series of progressively more specific requirements, asserting that the construct dubbed El should refer to (1) a disposition, i.e., a latent quality of the individual, and not observable performance; (2) an ability, i.e., individual differences in “strength” and not in “style”; (3) a cognitive ability, i.e., capacities for processing information and acquiring knowledge, not any physical or other mental strengths, such as willpower; (4) an intellectual ability, i.e., capacities for higher-level information processing - such as making inferences and reasoning - not just for perceiving or memorizing information; and finally, (5) a distinct intellectual ability, i.e., capacities that are specifically suited for processing information or solving problems from a particular domain, namely that of human emotional functioning. With a few caveats, the ability model formulated by Mayer and Salovey, and revised so as to include understanding emotions as a fourth branch (Salovey et al., 2004), was judged as essentially adhering to all of the above listed requirements; in contrast, the models proposed by Bar-On (1997, 2000) and Goleman and colleagues (e.g., Boyatzis, Goleman, & Rhee, 2000) were deemed highly problematic in each aspect, and dismissed as not outlining any scientifically tenable constructs. In line with these conclusions, it was Mayer and Salovey’s definition of El as the ability to process emotion- related information and their hierarchical four-branch model that provided the conceptual groundwork for much of El research in Serbia.

This is not to say, however, that all of this research has centered solely on ability El: As Petrides’s trait El theory (e.g., Petrides, 2009) gained ever more prominence in the international El literature, so too it became appealing to researchers from Serbia. That trait El didn’t fulfill any of the above-listed requirements beyond the first one was judged obvious but irrelevant, given Petrides’s clearly articulated position that this construct only bore the label but did not really claim the status of a true intelligence, and that, in fact, it would more appropriately be referred to as emotional self-efficacy, standing for a constellation of self-perceptions related to one’s performance in the socio-affective realm (e.g., Petrides, Pita, & Kokkinaki, 2007). Following this clear separation of trait El from any ability-focused interpretations, Serbian studies have also explicitly acknowledged the existence of two El constructs instead of just one and, up to now, devoted almost equal attention to both ability and trait El, as will be seen below.

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