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Emotional Intelligence is something that’s talked about more and more in management and professional development courses. It seems like this ability is important — which means that some researchers have tried to see if you can get better at it.

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If you’ve ever watched Star

Trek: The Next Generation, you’ve probably been envious of Deanna Troi’s empathic abilities — always being able to tell what other people are feeling, and how best to react to it. The thing is, you’re not alone. In particular, lots of companies have also started to look for people who aren’t just good at the technical parts of their jobs, but also have high emotional intelligence. From Coca-Cola to the U.

S. Air Force, organizations have claimed that if they start to focus on hiring people who are skilled at dealing with emotions, they can improve sales, productivity, and even employee turnover. But psychologists think about these claims a little more critically.

They’ve wondered if emotional intelligence is really what’s helping these organizations succeed, or if so-called “EI” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. What they’ve found, though, is actually pretty encouraging. "Emotional intelligence" is a relatively new idea — at least, compared to general intelligence. It basically refers to your knowledge about your own emotions and others' emotions, as well as your ability to reason about them.

Like, if someone with high EI notices you’re having a bad day, they’ll probably know not to take your frown as a sign you’re upset with them personally. On the flip side, if that person knows they’re in a sour mood, they can stop minor letdowns from starting them on an angry rampage. Emotional intelligence is something that’s talked about all the time in management and professional development courses.

But proper, peer-reviewed research shows that, if you’re good at this sort of thing, it does actually have a real-world effect on your life. For example, a meta-analysis in 2015 observed that self-reported emotional intelligence was related to job performance, as rated by a supervisor, as well as objective performance — like sales numbers. Researchers who gave EI tests to one hundred eighty-six executives also found that they had higher emotional intelligence than the general population.

Some EI abilities, like empathy, were also related to being more profitable. Even though emotional intelligence seems to help people in all these areas, not all researchers are on board with it. The problem isn't that the research is wrong, though.

Some psychologists just think that "emotional intelligence" isn't the best name for what's being studied. Like, that meta-analysis that found EI was related to job performance? Those researchers noticed that... the relationship basically disappeared once they controlled for things like general intelligence and other personality traits.

And other studies tell a similar story. In a 2004, researchers gave 102 people tests for emotional and general intelligence, along with a test measuring the Big Five personality traits. That’s extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience.

They found they could do a great job predicting someone's EI score by just using their general intelligence, agreeableness, and sex. So it’s not that understanding emotions is bad or unhelpful. It’s just that psychologists are worried about reinventing the wheel.

General intelligence and the Big Five are pretty well-established, reliable, and valid psychological traits, and it looks like EI could just be those things traveling under a different name. Still, the fact that EI is related to general intelligence supports the idea that they’re both based on reasoning and problem-solving. One is just reasoning about emotions in particular.

Regardless of what you call it, though, it seems like this ability is important — which means that some researchers have tried to see if you can get better at it. And their results suggest that you can! Although it’s going to take some time and effort.

For example, one study published in the Journal of Adolescence investigated what would happen if researchers included emotional intelligence training in a regular classroom curriculum. Those classes focused on things like practicing emotional expression and perception using stories, art, and news. Students also practiced identifying the causes and consequences of those emotions, and they did exercises where they discussed challenging classroom situations and how to best cope with them.

Basically, they practiced solving emotional problems. And it really seemed to pay off. At the end of the study, the researchers found that they had been able to improve teenagers' empathic perspective taking, as well as reduce levels of aggression and distress.

This isn’t the only study that’s tested this kind of thing, either. A similar experiment by most of the same researchers found that their students reported fewer clinical symptoms, like anxiety or mood disturbances, six months after finishing a program like this. The thing is, though… those results took twenty four one-hour sessions over the course of two years.

So even if that training sounds like something you did at leadership camp or at a work meeting, it’s not quite the same. Still, psychologists have investigated less time-intensive training options, too, and thankfully for all of us, on-the-job practice does seem to help. For example, a pair of small studies used methods like interviews and focus groups to study healthcare employees, including hospice workers and mental health nurses.

Those people didn’t undergo any special training, but their jobs are great for practicing things like empathy on a day-to-day basis. The scientists found that those groups attributed their personal coping skills to all the on-the-job practice they got — especially if they had supervision or a social network to help them out. So with some practice resolving emotional problems and helping people sort out their feelings, this is probably a skill that you can develop — with time.

And one day, you, too, can be on the bridge of the Enterprise, using your skills to negotiate with alien species, and… well, wait, probably not. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych! We’re really thankful to have such a curious and emotionally intelligent audience — and we’d love to hear what topics you think we should cover next.

If you have an idea for us, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you want to make sure we get your idea, you can submit it to our Patreon inbox over at {♫Outro♫}.