Emotional Intelligence

Recently, I was interested to come across a podcast by a globally renowned psychologist, claiming that Emotional Intelligence didn’t really exist and further if these traits were present in individuals, then they were less likely to be successful within their specified profession. This was contrary to other emerging schools of thought I had seen, and it didn’t sound too good for a practicing psychologist! As I delved further into the research, I found some fascinating studies.

The Psychology

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s emotions, to discriminate among them and use them to guide thinking and actions. In measuring EI, the following components can be assessed: ‘empathy’; ‘emotion perception’; ‘emotion expression’; ‘relationships’ and ‘adaptability’. Highers scores of EI are thought to be important for navigating through life’s transitions. Emotional ‘self-efficacy’ (our belief that we can manage negative emotional states when faced with adversity or during frustrating events to overcome emotions such as anger as well as believing we are capable to adequately express positive emotions such as joy during pleasant events) is said to predict performance and success. EI is also supportive of better educational achievement and is related to lower mood deterioration, emotional reactivity and perceptions of stressors as less threatening.

Researchers in 2017, examined the effect of outdoor adventure experiences on EI and found higher EI scores seemed to be related with outdoor adventures of longer duration and increasing group size (up to 15). The outdoor adventure programmes encouraged more introspection and self-reflection. Another study found that EI and Nature Relatedness, our ability to connect with nature through our feelings, thoughts and experiences shared a common underlying factor and both are correlated with increased wellbeing. In other words, the more easily we relate and open up to each other, the more we feel empathy for and connection with our natural world and the better we feel overall. These findings support the Biophilia Hypothesis from 1984 (an excellent year 😉) that due to our evolutionary past, humans have an innate need to connect with other life forms.

So, the introspection, self-reflection and mindful states we find ourselves encountering outdoors improve our wellbeing, and this in part may be mediated by improved interpersonal relationships and EI. As we practice non-reactivity and observing by spending time with the natural world, we can bring these traits forward into our own relationships improving life-satisfaction and overall well-being. When we slow down and appreciate the moment outside, so too can we find peace through any challenging or uncomfortable interpersonal dynamics.

Coming back to my recent vlog on the vagus nerve, higher EI also correlates with higher vagal tone, this isn’t surprising given the vagus nerve’s involvement in our social senses and facial expression but gives us reason to improve these faculties when there are knock-on implications for our health.

Back in 2003, researchers examining neuronal damage to a specific network within the brain known as ‘somatic marker circuitry’ found lower EI scores when specific neural circuits were damaged. Specifically, the ventro-medial pre-frontal cortex, when damaged leads to poor judgement in decision-making, disadvantageous choices in personal lives and in relating to others. Also, the amygdala, involved in the processing of emotional memories, when damaged compromises our ability to make decisions via sensing our own body state. The EI competencies that were affected by damage to this neural circuitry were the abilities:

  • To be aware of oneself and one’s emotions