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The two faces of Emotional Intelligence

This type of intelligence has been associated most of the time to pro-social behavior, that is to say, to behaviors who seek the benefit of other people and that enhances their well-being. However, there are studies which have linked emotional intelligence with anti-social behaviour. A very interesting article published in the journal Psychological Science seeks to reconcile the different findings on how emotional intelligence relates to both the pro-social behavior as with the antisocial. It is often said that individuals have a personality, that can be described by others mentioning certain traits. But, what is a personality trait? The authors define it as a tendency in an individual to show consistent patterns of thought, feeling, or action.

Some of these traits tend to pay attention to the needs of other people, and to promote actions that help them, so that people with these traits tend to subordinate their interests to the interests of other people. The authors examine one of these traits: identity, morality, defined as the importance that has for the idea that we have of ourselves behaving according to moral principles.

In contrast, other personality traits may lead the individual to prefer their interests to the interests of otherss. The trait investigated is the political opportunism, defined as a distrust in human nature, united to the desire to manipulate others to achieve one’s own goals.

But the objectives tend these personality traits are not always available. According to the authors, the reason is that individuals vary in how well or poorly they can regulate their own emotions to achieve his ends. And is that some emotions we make it easy to achieve our goals, while some other we make it difficult. Thus, individuals must know how to effectively regulate their emotions to achieve goals motivated by their personality traits.

And it is here where the originality of the article. The authors investigated how lto ability to regulate one’s own emotions (a core feature of emotional intelligence) can promote the achievement of both good and bad purposes, strengthening the relationship between certain personality traits and behaviors pro-and anti-social.

To do this they conducted two experiments. In the first experiment, using different standard questionnaires, 131 subjects were evaluated on three dimensions:

  • The extent to which they were able to regulate their emotions
  • The importance of the subjects had identity moral
  • Their tendency to behave in a way that is pro-social in a social dilemma

The statistical analysis of these dimensions showed as expected that emotion regulation is a variable that reinforces the association between the identity and morality and pro-social behavior.

In the second experiment, we used 252 subjects, who again were provided with standardised tests to assess three dimensions:

  • The extent to which they were able to regulate their emotions
  • The degree of political opportunism of the subjects
  • The degree to which individuals showed what is known in English as “interpersonal deviance”, which we can understand as behaviors that violate the moral norms that govern the relations between people

Again, the statistical analysis of these dimensions confirmed the hypothesis of the researchers: emotional regulation reinforces the association between political opportunism and the “interpersonal deviance”.

The results of the two experiments can be expressed in another way, by pointing out two facts relating to the analysis of the data of the two experiments: emotional regulation is not correlated neither with the identity of moral or interpersonal deviance.

In other words: emotional regulation, and by extension emotional intelligence, it can be like a kind of tool that, as expected by the researchers, both can enhance the pro-social behavior as antisocial. Everything depends, therefore, on the personality traits of the subject in question.

I’m going to take the opportunity to mention a reflection that seems to me very appropriate in the context of these results. Recently, the well-known psychologist , Steven Pinker has published a work called The better angels of our nature: the decline of violence in history and is causes.

As shown in the subtitle, Pinker argues that, contrary to popular belief, the levels of violence in our time have fallen with regard to the levels of other historical periods. Pinker asks why. A clear choice could be the reinforcement of empathy, a competition very precious of emotional intelligence. And on this probability, Pinker says:

But empathy may not be the whole story. Contrary to the popular notion that mirror neurons do to the primates reflexively empathetic, empathy is an emotion that is fickle. You shoot with a child is really cute, with the beauty, kinship, friendship, similarity and solidarity. And easily is suspended or becomes the contrary, the schadenfreude (pleasure at the misfortune of others), with the competition, or revenge.

If not is the empathy, what, then, may be the key factor in this decline of violence?According To Pinker:

What else has contributed, psychologically speaking, on the decline of violence in the long term may have been instead the reason: the cognitive faculties, honed by the exchange of ideas through language, allows us to understand the world and negotiate social arrangements. [ … ] Why is the reason leads us to suffer less violence? The key more obvious the captures very well the phrase of the French writer Voltaire who said that ” those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”. Unmask the falsehoods – such as the belief that the gods demand sacrifices, heretics go to hell, jews poison wells, animals do not feel, the Africans are gross and the kings sent by divine right – will undermine many of the reasons to use violence.

I fully agree with Pinker. As we have seen, the study that I have outlined shows clearly that the learning of the skills of emotional intelligence, by itself will not make the citizens be more righteous, or more honest, or, in short, better people. Without a reflection on the purposes and the means that are morally lícitios, emotional intelligence is a double-edged sword. As we say the authors of the study:

Contrary to some previous beliefs (e.g., Goleman, 1995), emotion-regulation knowledge facilitates both prosocial and interpersonally deviant behavior by enhancing the motivational effects of traits. Saints can behave more prosocially in proportion to their knowledge of emotion regulation. Likewise, evil geniuses can perform more interpersonally deviant actions in proportion to the same knowledge.

Credits: Image of lobregs