A new study shows that training in emotional intelligence (EI) - the ability to understand and manage one's own and other people's emotions - actually works. Delphine Nelis and colleagues said their finding has profound implications given the number of positive outcomes, including improved health and occupational success, that are known to be associated with having greater emotional intelligence (one recent study even linked EI to orgasm frequency in women!)
Nineteen students undertook the training, whilst 18 others formed a control group and carried on life as normal. The training - 4 weekly sessions lasting 2.5 hours each plus homework - was theoretically grounded and aimed to improve the understanding of emotions, identifying emotions, expressing and using emotions and managing emotions.
After training and at 6-month follow-up, the training students but not the control students showed improvements in aspects of "trait" emotional intelligence normally considered immutable, including improvement in emotion identification and emotion management (of self and others' emotions). Surprisingly perhaps, "emotional understanding" showed no improvement.
"Overall these results are promising," the researchers said, "as they suggest that, with a proper methodology relying on the latest scientific knowledge ... some facets of EI can be enhanced but not all."
Nelis and her colleagues said their findings could have potential application in health, educational and organisational settings but they acknowledged their study had a number of major limitations. These include the fact that the control group undertook no special activity, so any effects observed for the EI training could be caused by non-specific factors, such as the simple benefit that can come from taking part in group activities.
Nelis, D., Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible? Personality and Individual Differences, 47 (1), 36-41 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.01.046
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.