Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

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Emotional Intelligence: Learning To Roll With The Punches

It’s a hot-buzz topic that covers everything from improving workplace performance and successfully climbing the corporate ladder to building the happiest of marriages to ending school bullying. But what exactly is Emotional Intelligence (EI)? If we lack it, can we learn it? And how do we know if our EI is high or low? Is it only high if we’re really, really nice?

Three scholarly researchers – including University of Cincinnati Psychology Professor Gerry Matthews – delved into the science of EI and published “What We Know About Emotional Intelligence: How it Affects Learning, Work, Relationships, and Our Mental Health.”

Published by MIT Press (2009), the book was recently awarded the American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence – the PROSE Awards – in the biological and life sciences category of biomedicine and neuroscience. The book, co-authored by Matthews, Moshe Zeidner (University of Haifa) and Richard D. Roberts (Center for New Constructs, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J.), was also on display at the UC Libraries’ Authors, Editors and Composers Reception and Program from 3:30-5 p.m., Thursday, April 22, in the Russell C. Myers Alumni Center.

MIT Press promotions describe EI as the “ability to perceive, regulate and communicate emotions – to understand emotions in ourselves and others.” Workplaces want to test for it to find the most EI-talented employees, and consultants are touting training and EI tests to improve productivity. “In the popular writings, EI tends to be defined very broadly and one can’t proceed with scientific research with such a vague and broad definition,” Matthews says.

Matthews’ research interests have explored how stress, mood and coping ability can affect performance on tests, in the workplace and on the highway. He adds that amid the grim economy, even the people who have jobs are feeling high levels of stress in the workplace and are feeling more challenged by workplace demands and concerns about job security. In general terms, those who can roll with the punches – with a shrug and a smile – may have higher Emotional Intelligence.

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Then again, “The intimate association of personality and emotion sets a trap for researchers interested in Emotional Intelligence,” writes Matthews. “It might seem that happy, calm states of mind should be seen as the person imbued with high Emotional Intelligence. However, such emotional tendencies may be no more than a consequence of biases in brain functioning or information-processing routines operating without insight or ‘intelligence.’ Some individuals – in part because of their DNA – are simply fortunate in being prone to pleasant moods, so it follows that emotional states do not alone provide an index of Emotional Intelligence,” Matthews states in the book.

In fact, Matthews says he’s skeptical that people who are better at managing stress hold higher Emotional Intelligence, but as the researchers found as they tried to narrow down the science of Emotional Intelligence, more research is needed. For instance, is someone with higher EI in the workplace more productive, or are they just better at self-promotion and forming positive relationships with co-workers? Matthews says he believes EI appears to be very modestly related to workplace performance, and could turn out to be nothing more than a business fad.

He adds the researchers are also skeptical about all of those EI tests, particularly those self-assessments. After all, people could be rating themselves the way they see themselves or the way they would like to be seen, and not like they actually are.

Currently, authors Matthews and Roberts are researching the testing of EI through video scenarios. The situation judgment test involves watching the videos unfold a challenging situation, and then the video comes to a stop and offers different options for resolving the problem. Matthews is building on his earlier research which explored whether negative moods affected good decision making abilities. “Through the video project, the idea is to see if emotionally intelligent people are better able to make rational decisions under stress,” he says.

The researchers are also examining the link between EI and school social and emotional learning programs.

Source:
Dawn Fuller
University of Cincinnati

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May 2, 2010 - Posted by | anxiety, Books, Cognition, Health Psychology, Identity, Positive Psychology, research, Resilience | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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