Apr 15, 2017

Neurobiological underpinning of trait emotional intelligence

The neurobiological underpinning of ability EI was discussed in our previous blog.  Here we present research about the trait EI –  brain relationship. The research is grounded in theoretical assumptions on emotional processes, their influence on decision-making and brain areas involved in their normal and pathological functioning. Central to this are two assumptions: (i) the role of hemispheric lateralization in emotions and (ii) the somatic marker hypothesis.

The role of hemispheric lateralization in emotions has been the subject of interest for several decades (Harmon-Jones et al., 2010). The asymmetric involvement of prefrontal cortical regions in positive affect (or approach motivation) and negative affect (or withdrawal motivation) was suggested over 70 years ago based on lesion studies of individuals who had suffered damage to the right or left anterior cortex. The findings were later supported by research, which mainly employed the Wada test. The test involves injecting amytal into one of the internal carotid arteries and suppressing the activity of one hemisphere. Injections in the left side produced depressed affect, whereas injections in the right side produced euphoria. These findings have been also confirmed in non-human animals, ranging from great apes and reptiles to chicks, amphibians and even spiders. Summarizing the research on frontal lateralization, Harmon-Jones et al. (2010) concluded that there is robust evidence for the claim that greater left as compared to right frontal activity is associated with approach motivational processes, whereas the reverse hypothesis (withdrawal-right-frontal-region) in the motivational direction model was not as extensively investigated.

Support for a frontal asymmetry in relation to the level of trait emotional intelligence comes from the study by Mikolajczak et al. (2010). They showed that higher trait EI scores were associated with a greater relative left-sided frontal activation determined with EEG during a resting eyes open/closed condition. The effect size for the global score was 0.82, which is considered to be a large effect according to Cohen’s norms for social sciences. The strongest relationships were obtained with the factors ‘‘sociability” and ‘‘self-control”. Mikolajczak et al. (2010, p. 179) concluded: “[…] it seems that the construct of trait emotional intelligence might be particularly well-suited to capture the socio-emotional dispositions affected by frontal EEG asymmetries”.

The second theory that shaped research into the trait EI-brain relationship was the somatic marker hypothesis which suggests that several brain structures and operations are required for the normal function of decision-making (Damasio, 1999). Central in this process is the amygdala triggering somatic states activated by primary[1] and secondary[2] inducers. Representations of these states can be sub-conscious (brainstem) or perceived as a feeling when brought to the level of insular (SI, SII) and posterior cingulate cortices. All of these somatic states, which can be either positive or negative, are then summed into one overall somatic state providing a substrate for biasing our decision-making. When this process is carried out in the striatum, the person acts without a conscious decision to do so. In contrast, decision-making is under volitional control when this process takes place at (i) the level of the lateral orbitofrontal cortex - the person favors a plan of action and (ii) at the anterior cingulate - the person executes a plan of action. Thus, the conceptual nexus between the somatic marker hypothesis and emotional intelligence is mainly in the way the latter is defined – an array of interrelated emotional, personal and social competencies determining the ability to actively and effectively cope with daily demands.

Support for the somatic marker hypothesis comes from lesion studies. Bar-On et al. (2003) showed that only patients with lesions in the somatic marker circuitry revealed low emotional intelligence and poor judgment in decision-making as well as disturbances in social functioning, in spite of normal levels of cognitive intelligence  and the absence of psychopathology. Further support was provided by neuroimaging studies employing different methods such as EEG (Craig et al., 2009) and fMRI - showing also activity in support of the neural efficiency hypothesis (Killgore and Yurgelund-Todd, 2007). Voxel-based morphometry correlations between the level of the EI interpersonal factor and regional gray matter density were reported for an anatomical cluster that included the right anterior insula and the medial prefrontal cortex (Takeuchi et al, 2011). Similar brain areas in relation to trait EI were also observed in studies using resting-state functional connectivity (Takeuchi et al., 2013a) and diffusion tensor imaging (Takeuchi et al., 2013b).

In a recent review paper by Hogeveen et al. (2016), a miniature meta-analysis was conducted to determine whether any brain regions have been ‘reliably’ associated with EI. Regions-of-interest were manually constructed based on the relevant neuroimaging tables reported in the reviewed papers, and these regions-of-interest were placed on a glass brain for visualization. The resulting figure revealed a striking level of inconsistency in brain regions that have been associated with EI using traditional measures. To overcome these problems, the authors tried to map different emotional intelligence factors with findings obtained in lesion studies. The table below summarizes the obtained findings.

Recognizing Emotional States in the Self and Others
Emotional Awareness
Anterior Insula (AI)
Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC)
Emotion Recognition
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC)
Using Emotions to Facilitate Thought and Behavior
Empathy and Prosocial Behavior
Ventrolateral Prefrontal
Cortex (vlPFC)

Emotional Memory
Medial temporal lobes that encompass the amygdala, hippocampus, and perirhinal cortex
Understanding How Emotions Shape One's Own Behavior and the Behavior of Others
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC)
Emotion Regulation
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC)

These neurobiological findings have been used as evidence to distinguish EI abilities from cognitive intelligence. According to Hogeveen et al. (2016), such a separation seems untenable since the latest advances in psychology and neuroscience have reliably suggested that emotion and cognition are very much integrated in the brain and together they shape goal-directed behavior. In this direction points a recent study by Yao et al. (2017, published online) utilizing voxel-based morphometry  to investigate the neural structures underlying critical thinking disposition in relation to the level of emotional intelligence. The central finding was that: “Specifically, critical thinking disposition was associated with decreased GMV of the temporal pole for individuals who have relatively higher emotional intelligence rather than lower emotional intelligence. The results of the present study indicate that people who have higher emotional intelligence exhibit more effective and automatic processing of emotional information and tend to be strong critical thinkers.”


Bar-On, R. (2003). Exploring the neurological substrate of emotional and social intelligence. Brain, 126(8), 1790–1800. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awg177

Craig, A., Tran, Y., Hermens, G., Williams, L. M., Kemp, A., Morris, C., & Gordon, E. (2009). Psychological and neural correlates of emotional intelligence in a large sample of adult males and females. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(2), 111–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2008.09.011

Damasio, A.R. (1999) The feeling of what happens: body and emotion in the making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Harmon-Jones, E., Gable, P. A., & Peterson, C. K. (2010). The role of asymmetric frontal cortical activity in emotion-related phenomena: A review and update. Biological Psychology, 84(3), 451–462. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2009.08.010

Hogeveen, J., Salvi, C., & Grafman, J. (2016). “Emotional Intelligence”: Lessons from Lesions. Trends in Neurosciences, 39(10), 694–705. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2016.08.007

Killgore, W. D., & Yurgelun-Todd, D. A. (2007). Neural correlates of emotional intelligence in adolescent children. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 140–151.

Mikolajczak, M., Bodarwé, K., Laloyaux, O., Hansenne, M., & Nelis, D. (2010). Association between frontal EEG asymmetries and emotional intelligence among adults. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(2), 177–181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2009.10.001

Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Nouchi, R., Sekiguchi, A., Hashizume, H., Sassa, Y., … Kawashima, R. (12/2013a). Resting state functional connectivity associated with trait emotional intelligence. NeuroImage, 83, 318–328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.06.044

Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Sassa, Y., Hashizume, H., Sekiguchi, A., Fukushima, A., & Kawashima, R. (2011). Regional gray matter density associated with emotional intelligence: Evidence from voxel-based morphometry. Human Brain Mapping, 32(9), 1497–1510. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.21122

Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Sassa, Y., Hashizume, H., Sekiguchi, A., Nagase, T., … Kawashima, R. 
(05/2013b). White matter structures associated with emotional intelligence: Evidence from diffusion tensor imaging. Human Brain Mapping, 34(5), 1025–1034. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.21492

Yao, X., Yuan, S., Yang, W., Chen, Q., Wei, D., Hou, Y., … Yang, D. (2017). Emotional intelligence moderates the relationship between regional gray matter volume in the bilateral temporal pole and critical thinking disposition. Brain Imaging and Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-017-9701-3

[1] Primary inducers are unconditioned stimuli that are innately set as pleasurable or aversive, or conditioned stimuli. When conditioned stimuli are present in the immediate environment, a somatic response is automatically generated.
[2] Secondary inducers are units generated by recall or by thought, eliciting a somatic response when brought to memory.

Apr 8, 2017

Neurobiological underpinning of ability emotional intelligence

Research from our lab

At our lab in Maribor, the first research trying to relate performance on the MSCEIT (at that time still an experimental version) with brain activity determined with the electroencephalogram (EEG) was conducted (Jaušovec et al., 2001). The results showed that high emotional intelligent individuals displayed less desynchronization in the upper alpha band, as well as more left hemispheric theta desynchronization. A finding that is similar to the one observed for the verbal and performance components of general intelligence supporting the neural efficiency hypothesis. 

A follow up study confirmed these findings (Jaušovec & Jaušovec 2005a). The analysis of EEG in relation to the level of emotional intelligence revealed a clear cut difference in brain oscillations between the induced upper alpha and gamma band. This difference was only present for the emotional intelligence task of identifying emotions in pictures. The pattern of event related synchronization/ desynchronization (ERD/ERS) in the induced upper alpha band was in line with the neural efficiency theory—high EI performers (HEIQ) displayed a time-related decrease in ERD, whereas average performers (AEIQ) displayed increased ERD (see Figure 1). On the other hand, the pattern of ERD/ERS in the induced gamma band was contrary to what would be predicted by the neural efficiency theory—the HEIQ group displayed induced gamma band ERS, while the AEIQ group displayed induced gamma band ERD. The difference increased from stimulus onset till 4000 ms. A possible explanation could be that the HEIQ individuals solved the EI task by relying more on figural and less on semantic information provided by the displayed pictures. This would explain the increased ERS in the induced gamma band and the decreased ERD in the induced upper alpha band shown by the HEIQ group. A reverse strategy–more semantic and less figural orientation–could be hypothesized for the AEIQ group of individuals. 

Figure 1 Mean percentages of ERD/ERS of induced upper alpha band activity of AEIQ and HEIQ individuals while identifying emotions in pictures (IDEM).

The focus in our next studies was on sex differences in EI and their relation to brain activity. In the first one (Jaušovec & Jaušovec 2005b), we investigated gender differences in resting EEG (in three individually determined narrow alpha frequency bands) related to the level of general and emotional intelligence. The main finding of the study was that males and females differed in resting brain activity related to their level of general intelligence. Brain activity in males decreased with the level of intelligence, whereas an opposite pattern of brain activity was observed in females. A finding already discussed in our previous blogs on sex differences. The differences between males and females in resting EEG related to emotional intelligence were much less pronounced than for general intelligence. In males, the correlations between log-transformed alpha power and experiential EI had a reverse pattern than the correlations with IQ, whereas strategic EI correlated negatively with log-transformed alpha power similarly as fluid intelligence did.

The same pattern of correlations between coherence in the parieto-occipital areas and the Experiential EI area score could be also observed in the lower-1 alpha band (see Figure 2). For females significant correlations between Strategic EI and decoupling in frontal brain areas and between Experiential EI and parieto-occipital coupling of brain areas were obtained. The reverse tendency in correlations for the area scores Experiential and Strategic EI is expected, because experiential EI refers to more intuitive components of EI, whereas strategic EI involves more ‘‘logic’’, indicating the respondents' ability to understand and manage emotions.

Figure 2 The bar charts represent correlation coefficients (y-axes) between Z-coherence measures (collapsed with respect to distances and location into frontal, parieto-occipital, and long distance) in three alpha sub-bands and general and emotional intelligence. * = p < .05,  ** = p < .01.

In yet another study, gender and ability (performance and emotional intelligence)-related differences in brain activity, assessed with EEG methodology, were investigated while respondents solved spatial rotation tasks and a task in which they identified emotions in faces (IDEM) (Jaušovec & Jaušovec, 2008). The most robust gender-related difference in brain activity was observed in the lower-2 alpha band. As expected, males and females displayed an inverse IQ-activation relationship in the domain in which they usually perform better: females in the emotional intelligence domain, and males in the visuospatial ability domain. This difference was also present when the relationships between gender and the levels of PIQ and EIQ were investigated.  Because activity in the lower-2 alpha band is related to attentional processes it can be assumed that especially females increased their level of attention when solving the rotation task. Males on the other hand solved both problems with a similar level of activity, which was higher than that of females while solving the IDEM task. A similar pattern of brain activity was also observed for the male/female respondents with different levels of PIQ and EIQ. The observed brain activity in the lower and upper alpha bands suggests that high PIQ females solved the problems with an overall increased level of activity. High EI males solved the problems also with increased brain activity—mainly in the frontal brain areas. One could speculate that high ability representatives of both genders to some extent compensate for their inferior problem solving skills (males in emotional tasks and females in spatial rotation tasks) by increasing their level of attention. The more frontal brain activity in men could point to an intense attentional control of working memory, whereas the more diffuse activity in females (HPIQ) could point to a general increased level of attention.

Other research

In an event related (ERP) study by Raz et al. (2013), the neural efficiency hypothesis put forward in our research was further elucidated. It was shown that participants with high EI exhibited significantly greater amplitudes of the early P2 and later P3 ERP components in response to emotional pictures, which was evident at posterior-parietal as well as at frontal scalp locations. The results suggest that visual emotional stimuli elicit greater mobilization of attention resources and subsequently more elaborative emotional information processing in individuals with high EI compared with those with low EI.

The studies employing different MRI techniques were mainly interested in the topography of brain areas involved in components of EI. Timoshanko et al. (2014) using methodology for neurometabolite quantification reported a positive correlation between EI and Choline (Cho) levels in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the left amygdala. Concentrations between Cho levels in the left DLPFC showed positive correlations with MSCEIT Managing Emotions together with a significant association between left amygdala Cho concentration and MSCEIT Understanding Emotions. Similar findings employing MRI methodology were reported by Killgore et al. (2013). The authors found that the strategic emotional intelligence subscale correlated positively with gray matter volume in the left ventromedial prefrontal and insular cortex. Moreover, the study by Krueger et al. (2009) revealed that  key competencies underlying EI depend on distinct neural substrates in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). First, ventromedial PFC damage diminishes strategic EI,  hindering the understanding and managing of emotional information. Second, dorsolateral PFC damage diminishes experiential EI, decreasing the efficient perception and integration of emotional information.

In yet another study employing diffusion tensor imaging, Pisner et al. (2016) demonstrated that white matter integrity was positively correlated with the strategic area branches of the MSCEIT (understanding emotions and managing emotions), but not the experiential branches (perceiving and facilitating emotions). Specifically, the Understanding emotions branch was associated with greater fractional anisotropy (FA) within somatosensory and sensory-motor fiber bundles, particularly those of the left superior longitudinal fasciculus and corticospinal tract.

The results obtained in our lab as well as other studies employing methodology based on cardiovascular principles demonstrated that brain activity observed in relation to EI performance is similar to the one observed in relation to fluid intelligence (e.g. neural efficiency, white matter integrity), although to some extent different  -  greater activity is often observed in the amygdala, which is assumed to be associated with emotional processing.


Jaušovec, N.,  Jaušovec, K. & Gerlič, I. (2001). Differences in event related and induced EEG patterns in the theta and alpha frequency bands related to human emotional intelligence. Neuroscience Letters, 311, 93-96.

Jaušovec, N. & Jaušovec, K. (2005a). Differences in induced gamma and upper alpha oscillations in the human brain related to verbal/performance and emotional intelligence. International Journal of Psychophysiology.

Jaušovec, N., & Jaušovec, K, (2005b). Sex differences in brain activity related to general and emotional intelligence. Brain and  Cognition 59, 277-286.

Jaušovec, N., & Jaušovec, K. (2008). Spatial-rotation and recognizing emotions: Gender related differences in brain activity, Intelligence, 36, 383-393.

Killgore, W. D. S., Weber, M., Schwab, Z. J., DelDonno, S. R., Kipman, M., Weiner, M. R., & Rauch, S. L. (2012). Gray matter correlates of Trait and Ability models of emotional intelligence: NeuroReport, 23(9), 551–555. https://doi.org/10.1097/WNR.0b013e32835446f7

Krueger, F., Barbey, A. K., McCabe, K., Strenziok, M., Zamboni, G., Solomon, J., … Grafman, J. (2009). The neural bases of key competencies of emotional intelligence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(52), 22486–22491. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0912568106

Pisner, D. A., Smith, R., Alkozei, A., Klimova, A., & Killgore, W. D. S. (2016). Highways of the emotional intellect: white matter microstructural correlates of an ability-based measure of emotional intelligence. Social Neuroscience, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2016.1176600

Raz, S., Dan, O., Arad, H., & Zysberg, L. (2013). Behavioral and neural correlates of emotional intelligence: An Event-Related Potentials (ERP) study. Brain Research, 1526, 44–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2013.05.048

Timoshanko, A., Desmond, P., Camfield, D. A., Downey, L. A., & Stough, C. (2014). A magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) investigation into brain metabolite correlates of ability emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 65, 69–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.022

Apr 4, 2017

Does emotional intelligence make you a better leader, soldier, athlete?

The suggestion that 85% of successful leadership performance can be explained by EI (Goleman, 1995), is probably a gross exaggeration, however it has attracted the training industry. Despite the popularity that surrounds EI training interventions, empirical studies on EI development are limited in number. Furthermore, most information on this issue is anecdotal and widely dispersed across a host of academic books, professional websites, consulting literature, and trade magazines (Groves, et al., 2008). The majority of EI training programs were designed for managers, few for athletes and coaches, and the idea to use EI training for the fighting force is only now being discussed.

Developing EI in project managers, international governmental and nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders

Studies that investigate the influence of EI training on manager performance are rare, even rarer are those that employ adequate methodology (e.g., random sampling, an active control group). Clarke (2010) in a pre/posttest quasi-experimental design investigated the influence of a two-day training program that was designed to improve a number of emotional abilities and empathy among UK project managers. Because project management attempts to get the best input from a wide range of technical specialists and experts, it was assumed that EI training could increase their performance. Especially as it is estimated that almost 80% of project success depends on the ability of project managers to effectively manage relationships between all of the parties involved. The results showed positive effects in a 6 months follow up on the EI factor of understanding emotions as well as on two project manager competences – teamwork and managing conflict.

The study by Nafukho et al. (2016) investigated the influence of an EI training program on 38 NGO leaders coming from 30 countries. The 5-day EI training workshop focused on self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship-management skills. The sessions allowed participants to (i) review the results of their EI test scores, (ii) discuss the challenges that they faced, (iii) receive personal feedback based on the coach’s observations of their behaviors during the workshop, and (iv) develop individual strategies to improve their emotional intelligence skills with the assistance of the instructor. The results showed that after the training there was growth in all five EI dimensions as well as in the total EI score. The highest growth occurred in the interpersonal dimension followed by general mood, adaptability and total EI. The smallest growth was observed for stress management and intrapersonal dimensions.

Two studies by Kathryn Thory (2013; 2016), investigated the influence of different EI training programs on the ability to regulate emotions and develop meaningfulness at work. Her analysis was based on data collected from participant observations and interviews with trainers and managers of ‘popular’ EI training courses. In her first study eight emotion regulation strategies that were classified as attention deployment, cognitive change and response modulation were analyzed. Data were collected from 40 hours of participant observation on three EI training courses (Bar-On, Goleman and hybrid courses) and 30 in-depth interviews. Training participants worked in a range of industry sectors as well as local government, police and education. After training the participants most often used the stop[1] and mindfulness[2] strategy, as well as the pencil[3] method, but were less inclined to use cognitive change strategies such as the ABCD method which requires participants to examine thoughts, emotions and beliefs arising from an event, exploring the consequences of these processes and then disputing them. In comparison with the more popular methods, the ABCD technique is most complex and time consuming which is probably the reason for the low popularity given the time constraints managers face in their everyday work.

Her second study (Thory, 2016) followed a similar design as the first one. The obtained qualitative data were analyzed with the Lips-Wiersma and Morris’s (2009) model of meaningful work. Meaningfulness at work was defined as the value of a work goal, judged in relation to individuals’ ideals and standards. The Lips-Wiersma and Morris model identifies four sources of meaningfulness (self versus others, and doing versus being): Developing the inner self (self/being), expressing full potential (self/doing), unity with others (others/being) and serving others (others/doing). The interviews with the participants revealed that all of the interviewed managers engaged in developing the inner self, half of them drew on a drive towards achievement and tried to make their work more meaningful by expressing one’s potential. In addition, two-thirds of the respondents adopted increased practices in unity with others or serving others at work as a consequence of attending the EI training course.

EI training in sports

In a systematic review of 36 studies on the influence of EI on sport performance, Laborde et al. (2016) found that EI relates to emotions, physiological stress responses, successful psychological skill usage, and more successful athletic performance, positive attitudes toward physical activity and to effective leadership and function of athlete coaches. From this perspective, EI training in sports would be beneficial to all individuals involved in sport. However, few studies were conducted to address this question. Crombie et al. (2011) investigated the influence of EI training on 24 cricketers who were randomly assigned to either a control or experimental group. The experimental group received 10 3-h EI training sessions that targeted the four branches of Mayer and Salovey’s EI model – namely emotion perception, facilitation, understanding, and managing. The study found that EI training was associated with greater increases in ability EI than a control condition.

In the second study, 20 netballers were randomly assigned to either a control or experimental group (Barlow & Banks, 2014). The participants of the experimental group attended a 30-min one-to-one coaching session that consisted of feedback and discussion of EI scores. The study found that trained netballers had greater increases in self-efficacy and greater decreases in anxiety than those assigned to the control condition. Campo et al. (2016) investigated the effectiveness of an EI training intervention on 67 rugby players. The intervention consisted of four face-to-face sessions over a 5-month period. The results showed that the intervention was effective in regard to increasing specific aspects of trait EI (i.e., social competence, emotion perception, and emotion management) but not global trait EI. In addition, when using age as a covariate, it decreased the effect size and as a result no significant improvements could be found on the individual EI subscales and EI factors.

I am in the army now

The usefulness of EI training for the fighting force is still only being discussed. It is most often believed that as a high-risk profession, the military should prioritize technical ability and training (Daffey-Moore, 2015). However in most missions, the boundaries between conflict and humanitarian assistance are often blurred, forcing the soldiers to make unprepared decisions. “It was suggested that if the military were to introduce EI into the training programme, it should be commenced on entry to the military and then continued all the way through with the support of the leaders from the top” (Daffey-Moore, 2015, p. 16). A similar conclusion was also put forward by Lackey (2011). Army leaders facing the Long War[4] should be emotionally intelligent.

EI training holds promise for improving the emotional experience of leaders, athletes, coaches, officials, spectators, regular exercisers and the fighting force - yet when analyzing the empirical data one could conclude: much ado about nothing.


Barlow A, Banks AP. Using emotional intelligence in coaching high-performance athletes: a randomised controlled trial. Coaching 2014: 1–8: 132–139.

Campo, M., Laborde, S., & Mosley, E. (2016). Emotional Intelligence Training in Team Sports: The Influence of a Season Long Intervention Program on Trait Emotional Intelligence. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(3), 152–158. https://doi.org/10.1027/1614-0001/a000201

Clarke, N. (2010). The impact of a training programme designed to target the emotional intelligence abilities of project managers. International Journal of Project Management, 28(5), 461–468. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijproman.2009.08.004

Crombie D, Lombard C, Noakes TD. (2011) Increasing emotional intelligence in cricketers: an intervention study. Int J Sports Sci Coach 6: 69–86.

Daffey-Moore, E. K. (2015). Is emotional intelligence relevant to a fighting force? Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 161(Suppl 1), i14–i16. https://doi.org/10.1136/jramc-2015-000548

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Groves, K. S., Pat McEnrue, M., & Shen, W. (2008). Developing and measuring the emotional intelligence of leaders. Journal of Management Development, 27(2), 225–250. https://doi.org/10.1108/02621710810849353

Laborde, S., Dosseville, F., & Allen, M. S. (2016). Emotional intelligence in sport and exercise: A systematic review: Emotional intelligence. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 26(8), 862–874. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12510

Lackey RB. Emotional Intelligence Training: a missing element in our army? Fires 2011. http://www.thefreelibrary.com//print/printArticle.aspx?id=265575071

Lips-Wiersma, M. and Morris, L. (2009), ‘Discriminating between “meaningful work” and the “management of meaning”, Journal of Business Ethics, 88, 3, 491–511.

Nafukho, F. M., Muyia, M. H., Farnia, F., Kacirek, K., & Lynham, S. A. (2016). Developing Emotional Intelligence Skills among Practicing Leaders: Reality or Myth? Performance Improvement Quarterly, 29(1), 71–87. https://doi.org/10.1002/piq.21215

Thory, K. (2013). Teaching managers to regulate their emotions better: insights from emotional intelligence training and work-based application. Human Resource Development International, 16(1), 4–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13678868.2012.738473

Thory, K. (2016). Developing meaningfulness at work through emotional intelligence training: Developing meaningfulness at work. International Journal of Training and Development, 20(1), 58–77. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12069

[1] Participants were asked to shout the word ‘STOP’ in their mind whenever an anxious or a troublesome thought appeared.
[2] Fostering present moment awareness in guiding attention away from worrying about things beyond one’s control.
[3] Managers were asked to stand up and hold a pen tightly in front of them in an outstretched hand repeating: “Could you let this feeling go?”
[4] "Long War", a name proposed in 2006 by U.S. military leaders for the war on terror.

Mar 31, 2017

Misbehavior and aggression

Aggressive behavior and interpersonal conflicts among children and youth continue to be common problems in educational systems across the globe. Therefore, many emotional training programs have been developed in the school context with the aim of improving social and emotional learning in children and adolescents. Although these programs cannot be regarded as pure EI training, they target some of the components of the EI construct. A recent meta-analysis by Durlak et al. (2011) on social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, consisting of 213 studies involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students, revealed significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance. The overall effect size was = 0.30, highest for social skills 0.57, and lower for the components more close to the EI ability construct (0.22 – 0.24). Trained students demonstrated enhanced SEL skills, attitudes, and positive social behaviors and also demonstrated fewer conduct problems and had lower levels of emotional distress. The effect sizes remained significant also at follow-up.

The number of studies designed within the EI theoretical framework is less prominent (e.g., Bagheri et al., 2016;  Castillio et al., 2013; Hojjat et al., 2017;  Ruiz-Aranda et al., 2012). Most often used was the INTEMO project (Castillio et al., 2013; Ruiz-Aranda et al., 2012). It consists of four groups of interventions with core training procedures and supplementation activities:
  1. Perception, appraisal and expression of emotion. Students are asked to work in groups to identify the emotions shown in specific pictures and deducing some emotional clues in hypothetical scenarios, according to theoretical evidences.
  2. Emotional facilitation of thinking. Induced are different types of emotions through music, poems, stories, etc. The classroom then continues to work in two teams in which they debate and brainstorm the meaning of several uncertain questions or abstract designs. The responses are evaluated with respect to their usefulness.
  3. Understanding and analyzing emotions and employing emotional knowledge. In this activity the trainer displays a great amount of emotional vocabulary according to seven emotional types (e.g., happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise and shame). Students must match every emotional word according to its meaning into the appropriate emotional category.
  4. Reflective regulation of emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth. Debated are effective and ineffective regulation strategies. Students are assigned an emotion and they are asked to think about situations that have made them feel well and note what strategies have been used to reduce, avoid or increase such emotions. Then, they are asked to fit the regulation strategies into four quadrants (Coping  versus Avoidance and Thought versus Behavior)
The program has been carried out in two Spanish samples: (1) 147 (69 control group) randomly selected and distributed students attending secondary school (mean age = 14 years) (Ruiz-Aranda et al., 2012), and (2) 590 (229 control group) adolescents (mean age = 14 years) (Castillio et al., 2013). Both studies revealed that students who participated in the INTEMO program reported better psychosocial adjustment (e.g., lower levels of depression and anxiety, less atypicality, somatization, and social stress, and higher self-esteem) compared to students in the control group. The study by Castillio et al. (2013) additionally showed that the EI program was particularly effective for males’ empathic abilities.

In the Bagheri et al. (2016) study, the sample consisted of undergraduate students of law, mechanical engineering, computer and civil engineering from a university in Iran. There were 60 participants in the training group and 30 in the control group. The EI training course was based on the ability EI theoretical framework similar to the INTEMO. The training involved six sessions of two and half hours spread over six weeks. The results indicated that the experimental group had a significant increase in emotion regulation, utilization, the appraisal of emotions and emotional intelligence scores between pre- and post-test.

The EI training by Nelis et al. (2011) targeted emotional competencies in adult individuals. Conducted were two studies – the first evaluated the effectiveness of the training by relying on tests measuring near transfer effects, while in the second study also far transfer effects (e.g., mental disorders, somatic complaints, happiness, life satisfaction, global social functioning and employability) were analyzed. The training was designed to enhance specific emotional competences, such as understanding emotions, identifying one’s own emotions, identifying others’ emotions, regulating one’s own emotions, regulating others’ emotions, and using positive emotions to foster well-being. These competences were introduced to participants in short lectures, role-playing games, group discussions, and work in dyads. The results of both studies showed that participants in the EI training group reported a significant improvement of their physical health, mental health, happiness, life satisfaction, and global social functioning. Likewise, employability also increased following the EI intervention, as a diverse panel of human resource professionals were more likely to hire participants after the training.

EI training interventions have also been designed to target specific vulnerable subgroups. Hojjat et al. (2017) analyzed the effectiveness of emotional intelligence group training on anger in adolescents with substance-abusing fathers. The sample consisted of 60 high school boys in the city of Bojnurd in northeastern Iran. The training consisted of 7 sessions providing information on emotions, understanding their meaning, the effects of extreme emotions on behavior, reviewing the necessity of managing emotions and developing emotion control skills. The results of this study indicated that training for emotional intelligence skills was effective in reducing anger in adolescents with substance-abusing fathers. The training was effective in all four areas of trait anger, state anger, anger control-in, and anger control-out.

This brief review indicates that ability EI-based interventions, as well as the more broadly designed training of social and emotional learning, show substantial positive effects on aggressive behavior and reduce misbehavior in the classroom.


Bagheri, Z., Kosnin, A. M., & Besharat, M. A. (2016). Improving Emotion Regulation skills through an Emotional Intelligence Training Course. Retrieved from http://dspace.khazar.org/jspui/handle/123456789/3466

Castillo, R., Salguero, J. M., Fernández-Berrocal, P., & Balluerka, N. (2013). Effects of an emotional intelligence intervention on aggression and empathy among adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 36(5), 883–892. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.07.001

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2010). To appear in Child Development (In press). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joseph_Durlak/publication/49807966_The_impact_of_enhancing_students’_social_and_emotional_learning_a_meta-analysis_of_school-based_universal_interventions/links/09e4150edd42ebba38000000.pdf

Hojjat, S. K., Rezaei, M., Namadian, G., Hatami, S. E., & Norozi Khalili, M. (2017). Effectiveness of Emotional Intelligence Group Training on Anger in Adolescents With Substance-Abusing Fathers. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 26(1), 24–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/1067828X.2016.1178614

Nelis, D., Kotsou, I., Quoidbach, J., Hansenne, M., Weytens, F., Dupuis, P., & Mikolajczak, M. (2011). Increasing emotional competence improves psychological and physical well-being, social relationships, and employability. Emotion, 11(2), 354–366. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021554

Ruiz-Aranda, D., Salguero, J. M., Cabello, R., Palomera, R., & -Berrocal, P. F. (2012). Can an Emotional Intelligence Program Improve Adolescents’ Psychosocial Adjustment? Results from the Intemo Project. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 40(8), 1373–1379. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2012.40.8.1373

Mar 27, 2017

How to get rid of stress and burnout?

The idea that higher levels of emotional intelligence (EI) are beneficial in preventing occupational stress and burnout can be to some extent deduced from the theoretical models explaining them. According to the transactional model, a person experiences stress when the perceived demands of the environment are greater than their ability to cope with them (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). As shown in Figure 1, individuals differ in their stress response. The appraisal of the same situation will for some persons be threatening, whereas to others it will appear harmless. In other words, individuals can either think that it is possible to deal with the problem (prepare to take some action towards handling the situation), or have the feeling that one cannot cope with the situation that causes stress – feeling a sense of helplessness in relation to managing the situation. 

Figure 1: The Stress appraisal and coping model (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Burnout and depression represent two major public health concerns affecting not only employed adults but also students (Tement et al., 2016). While depression tends to be context-free, burnout is a work-related mental health impairment comprising three dimensions: emotional exhaustion (state of reduced emotions), depersonalization (negative approach to people) and reduced personal accomplishment (low self-efficacy) (Awa et al., 2010). Most often it results from stress in asymmetrical professional relationships between a helper (being under stress) and the help recipient. This is usually the case with professionals like physicians, nurses, teachers or social workers, to name just the most common ones. Hence, most EI training programs have been designed to address the needs of these professionals.

The Swinburne Stress Management Program (SSMP) was designed to teach employees to manage occupational stress through the development of EI (Hansen et al., 2007). The program, although from its theoretical framework designed to meet the needs of a broader group of professionals, was mainly used with teachers (e.g., Veseley et al., 2014). In a three level classification of approaches to manage occupational stress, SSMP addresses the secondary level including activities designed to change an individual’s reaction to stressors [1].  The program consists of three components: (i) conceptual information about the nature of stress, its relationship to the emotional intelligence construct and the value of developing emotional intelligence in the workplace; (ii) self-assessments as tools to build awareness of individual EI strengths and deficiencies; (iii) skills training to develop personal strategies to improve emotional intelligence and to manage work stressors (e.g., developing a more expansive emotional vocabulary to improve interpersonal communication; identifying and practicing skills underpinning active listening, practicing emotional reasoning skills; learning emotional management strategies, and rehearsing better ways to control strong emotions when experiencing stress).

The efficiency of the SSMP was first assessed on a sample of 79 primary and secondary school teachers. The results indicated that the program was successful in improving the participants’ EI, reducing their occupational stress and improving their psychological and physical well-being, which was maintained at a five-week follow-up interval (Hansen et al., 2007). In a more recent study by Veseley et al. (2014), a modified version of the SSMP was administered to pre-service teachers (n = 49) over a five-week period. The results indicated that the trained group had higher self-report scores on just one EI scale (WLEIS). WLEIS is a self-report EI measure with four ability dimensions based on the appraisal, understanding, expression, and management of emotion in the self and others.

The study by Patil et al. (2016) assessed the effect of EI training in physiotherapy interns to help them understand their patients better and enhance their self-awareness while patients' perceived change in care was examined. Included were 8 physiotherapy interns who were trained on EI via lectures, case vignettes and discussion. The training program encompassed 6 modules including (i) general information about EI, (ii) the relevance of EI in day to day life, hospital and doctor-patient settings, (iii) discussions with examples using EI in managing anger, fear, guilt and resentment with a focused awareness of self and relationship management; (iv) EI at the workplace with friends and colleagues, social skills training and relaxation techniques, (v) case examples and discussions on EI in physiotherapy settings; in career growth; in dealing with difficult patients, and in end of life care; (vi) revision of all modules; feedback and reflective writing. The analysis of scores on the retrospective questionnaire revealed a significant change in self-awareness and personal emotional attitudes in the interns. Furthermore, patients under the care of the trained group perceived a significant increase in therapist consultation and relational empathy.

The study by Biggart et al. (2016) evaluated the effect of EI training on stress and burnout in 209 child and family social workers in the UK. A 2-day EI training course was offered that included information on EI, the function of emotions, identifying and understanding them along with managing them and interpreting EI individual feedback profiles. Each participant received an EI profile and feedback from the MSCEIT. The study also employed an active control group. The results showed no statistically significant effects of EI training on psychological or physiological strain or on emotional exhaustion.

This brief review of EI training approaches has revealed several methodological shortcomings of the studies, such as small sample size, lack of a control group or the use of passive control groups. However, when a more conservative methodology was applied (e.g., Biggart et al., 2016), no training effects could be observed - a conclusion which is in line with the shortcomings in EI training already discussed in our previous blog on general characteristics of EI training approaches.


Awa, W. L., Plaumann, M., & Walter, U. (2010). Burnout prevention: A review of intervention programs. Patient Education and Counseling, 78(2), 184–190. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2009.04.008

Biggart, L., Ward, E.,  Cook, L., Stride, C., Schofield, G., Corr, P., Fletcher,C., Bowler, J., Jordan, P and Baile, S. (2016). Emotional Intelligence and Burnout in Child and Family Social Work: Implications for policy and practice. Centre for Research on Children and Families, University of East Anglia.

Hansen, K., Gardner, L., & Stough, C. (2007). Improving occupational stress through emotional intelligence development. Organizations and People, 14, 70-75.
Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Patil, V., Naik, R., & De Sousa, A. (2016). A Study of the Impact of Emotional Intelligence Training in Physiotherapy Interns a Pilot Study. International Journal of Physiotherapy, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.15621/ijphy/2016/v3i2/94874

Tement, S., Pahor, A., & Jaušovec, N. (2016). EEG alpha frequency correlates of burnout and depression: The role of gender. Biological Psychology, 114, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2015.11.005

Vesely, A. K., Saklofske, D. H., & Nordstokke, D. W. (2014). EI training and pre-service teacher wellbeing. Personality and Individual Differences, 65, 81–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.052

[1] Primary interventions include strategies that aim to prevent the occurrence of work stress; tertiary interventions are those that are used to treat the symptoms of stress.