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What are the three types of emotional intelligence?

There are three main branches of emotional intelligence - the ability model, the trait model and the mixed model.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

There are three main branches of emotional intelligence – the ability model, the trait model and the mixed model. Here, we will take a closer look at each of them.

The ability model

This model argues that in order to be emotionally intelligent, you need to possess certain competences. The four branch model, detailed in Mayer, Salovey and Caruso (2004: 200), for example, argues that you need to be able to:

  • know your emotions
  • know what to do with them
  • understand their meaning
  • know how to manage them

The trait model

This model, such as that developed by Petrides (2001: 425-448), breaks from the idea that emotional intelligence is based on abilities. It argues that people have emotional self-perceptions and traits that form part of their personality. These are self-identified by the person rather than scientifically measured and might include self-identifying levels of assertiveness, self-esteem and happiness, for example.

The mixed model

This model combines several types of emotional intelligence qualities. These might include:

  • skills (being empathic, for example)
  • traits (such as optimism)
  • other qualities (such as being able to read facial expressions, being able to inspire others)

There is some debate as to whether emotional intelligence is a set of skills that need to be learned and improved upon or whether it is a set of personality traits that are inherent and self-identified …or a mixture of both.


Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., and Caruso, D. R. (2004) ‘Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Findings and Implications’. Psychological Enquiry 15, 197–215

Petrides, K.V., and Furnham, A. (2001) ‘Trait Emotional Intelligence: Psychometric Investigation with Reference to Established Trait Taxonomies’. European Journal of Personality 15, 425–448

Further reading

Lansley, C.A. (2017) ‘Emotional Intelligence – Ability, Trait or Mixed?’ [online] available from [2 August 2018]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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