Wellbeing Hub

Carolyn Saarni: A Pioneer in the Field of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence

For many people when they think of the term emotional intelligence, it will often be synonymous with the name Daniel Goleman.

However, emotional intelligence should equally be comfortable with the name Carolyn Saarni.

Because while Daniel Goleman was focusing much of his early research on the importance of meditation, Carolyn Saarni, a developmental psychologist, was doing important and pioneering work in the area of emotions.

Saarni’s work on emotions stressed the importance of socialisation, not simply biology which was the dominant paradigm at the time.

Carolyn Saarni’s research agenda was guided by her clinical expertise. She was well aware of the various ways in which adults can fail to acknowledge the emotions they feel or have difficulty in self-regulation. Her major contribution was to take these clinical insights and to set them in a developmental context.

For example, Saarni believed that children are not born with deep insight into their own emotions, but they gradually become more self-aware. She studied the ways in which such insights emerge and the extent to which the child’s family can nurture or hinder such understanding.

Saarni coedited two volumes on this theme – The Socialization of Emotion (with Michael Lewis) and Children’s Understanding of Emotion (with Paul Harris).

In 1999 Saarni published what was to be her seminal work The Development of Emotional Competence. The book drew on research and case studies to lay down a skill-based framework (8 Stages) to the development of emotional competence that contributed to wellbeing.

I believe Saarni’s work laid a significant foundation to the field of emotional intelligence and her work today stands the test of time.

Sadly Carolyn Saarni, passed away on June 8, 2015 aged 70