Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

Peter Salovey will return to emotional intelligence research after he steps down this summer as president of the University. 

Before becoming Yale’s president, Salovey spent much of his research career investigating topics including jealousy, self-awareness and emotional intelligence. 

Salovey told the News that after he steps down, he intends join psychologists John Mayer and David Caruso to update the Mayer, Salovey, Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test — an the emotional intelligence test the trio developed in 2002. 

“Just a week or so before we knew he was stepping down, he agreed to participate in a research project,” Caruso, senior advisor to the dean of Yale College, said. “And we were both a little surprised. A week later, he announced he was stepping down. I think he’s now thinking about returning to his roots.”

Salovey’s former colleagues said that Salovey agreed to collaborate with them again just one week before announcing his plans to step down from the presidency.

The Mayer, Salovey, Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test — also known as the MSCEIT  — assesses emotional intelligence through a series of tasks and scenarios that measure different facets of emotional intelligence, such as recognizing others’ emotions, understanding the causes of emotions, effectively managing emotions and utilizing emotional information for problem-solving and decision-making. According to Caruso, the MSCEIT is unique because unlike other assessments that rely on self-reporting, their test has definitive right and wrong responses.

Some MSCEIT questions ask test-takers to analyze emotions in people’s faces or landscapes, while others ask participants to predict how someone would emotionally react based on a given scenario. The test takes 30 to 45 minutes for a participant to complete. 

Salovey and his collaborators told the News that they plan to update the MSCEIT to make it shorter and more interactive than previous iterations, Mayer said. The test will also adopt a new analytical method called “veritical judging” to determine the most “emotionally-intelligent” answer to a question. 

Their new method, according to Mayer, would rely on a panel of emotional experts and judges to answer the prospective questions that the researchers develop. If the experts and judges cannot agree on the most emotionally intelligent response to a question, Mayer said that question will not be included in the test.

Salovey’s early research on jealousy, joy and sorrow 

Before studying emotional intelligence, Salovey was first interested in jealousy research. This interest in studying jealousy and envy grew during his time working in Stanford University Psycology and Law Professor David Rosenhan’s laboratory while he was an undergraduate in the late 1970s. 

“I’ve always been interested in complex social emotions and their impact on thinking and behavior,” Salovey wrote to the News. 

Salovey pursued a doctoral degree in psychology under Judith Rodin, a former Yale provost and professor of psychology. In 1986, Salovey published three separate studies that analyzed the distinctions between social-comparison jealousy and romantic jealousy. 

In one of these studies, Salovey found that, on average, Yale undergraduates reported feeling more jealous during instances of social comparison — such as when “someone else gets a job that you want” — compared to instances of romantic envy, like when a romantic partner has an affair.

While he was working on publishing his research on jealousy, Salovey was also seeking to explore the connections between emotions, self-awareness and behavior in his dissertation. His research studied how fleeting emotional states — like positive and negative moods — can shape self-perception and influence an individual’s actions. 

“My PhD dissertation research was an attempt to figure out the connections between positive and negative emotions on helping behavior by studying in particular the thinking patterns that linked them,” Salovey wrote to the News. “I was especially interested in the way in which joy or sorrow changed what one thought about oneself.” 

Salovey found that participants who reported being in positive moods tended to report feeling higher levels of self-esteem at that moment. These participants were also more likely to attribute positive traits to external circumstances. Participants who reported being in negative moods reported having a lower sense of self-esteem. According to Salovey, these experiments were only partly successful, though he published a paper based on these findings five years later. 

The foundations of emotional intelligence 

In 1990, Salovey and Mayer, then an assistant professor of psychology at Yale, published a paper that laid the foundation for the concept of emotional intelligence, or EI. The duo defined emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize, understand, manage and utilize emotions effectively. Additionally, they argued that EI is distinct from cognitive intelligence or an IQ. 

Despite receiving pushback against their initial article, Mayer’s said that this criticism was crucial for improving their research. 

“We were fortunate enough to have really helpful smart colleagues who didn’t like what we were doing and expressed their criticism very clearly,” Mayer said. 

After Caruso joined Mayer and Salovey in their research, the team developed the MSCEIT in 2002. In response to scholarly criticisms and challenges since creating the MSCEIT, Mayer and Salovey said they have worked to refine their approach.  

According to his colleagues, Salovey played a crucial role in making these adjustments, even during his time as Univversity president. Caruso said that Salovey is a skilled science writer who often looked over research papers while they were in progress to ensure that they were communicating the findings in a clear and concise manner.

Alexander Rothman, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota and one of Salovey’s earliest graduate students, said that Salovey has been dedicated to impacting science with a “balance of passion and humility” throughout his career.  

“He’s incredibly committed and focused to do the best work that you can do and to ensure that the work he does has the impact that he wants to have,” Rothman said. “He does it with a tremendous amount of humility.” 

Peter Salovey is the 23rd president of Yale University.

Carlos Salcerio covers the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Nursing for the SciTech desk. Originally from Cuba, he is a prospective pre-medical student majoring in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry in Jonathan Edwards College.