Does Emotional Intelligence Improve with Age?

A happy older couple embraces
(Image credit: Older couple photo via Shutterstock)

"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

Question: Does emotional intelligence improve with age?

Answer: It's clear to me that, like wine, most of us improve with age in one area: I believe we become better people. My mother used to insist that individuals don't change. We had many arguments about this.

I think our opinions are highly influenced by perception and personal experience. It's difficult to prove either side of the argument. However, there have been studies done on "emotional intelligence" that indicate we are like Cabernet, not water.

Emotional intelligence is a relatively new concept. It was popularized by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who was a science journalist for The New York Times. His 1995 book, "Emotional Intelligence" (Bantam Books) was a bestseller. There are more than 5 million copies in print in 30 languages.

The term emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) was coined by psychologists John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey of Yale.

According to these psychologists, EI improves social relations. The emotionally intelligent person:

  • Perceives emotions, uses them in thought, understands their meanings, and manages them better than others can
  • Solves emotional problems with less thought
  • Has highly developed verbal skills
  • Tends to be more open and agreeable than others
  • Seeks occupations involving social interactions such as teaching and counseling
  • Avoids self-destructive behavior such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, or violence
  • Owns objects with sentimental value

How important is EI in living a successful life?

"No one can yet say exactly how much of the variability from person to person in life's course it accounts for," Goleman wrote in his book. "But what data exist suggest it can be as powerful, and at times more powerful, than IQ."

Mayer disagrees with Goleman on this point, writing on his website:

"Dr. Salovey and I had published our review article, 'Emotional Intelligence' in 1990, and a demonstration of how emotional intelligence could be measured as well. In 1993 we published a further article entitled, 'The Intelligence of Emotional Intelligence.' My colleagues and I made no such claims about the power of EI in those articles — or in any of the many articles we have published since. In fact, we have tried to explain why such claims are unrealistic in a number of ways."

If you would like to learn more about EI, go to Mayer's website:

In our next column, we'll report on research that indicates a higher emotional intelligence in people over the age of 60.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at

All rights reserved © 2013 by Fred Cicetti

Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."