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The path to success is paved with emotional intelligence

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

By Phil Slade and Gemma Burkett

The three critical areas emotional intelligence develops in school student's social and cognitive development.

There is consistent and voluminous support in the clinical and psychological literature for the critical role emotional development plays in psychological health. From the important role empathy and emotional connection play in secure parent-child attachment, to the way emotionally healthy environments increase the biological immune system and stimulate cognition. Though specific studies looking at emotional intelligence (EI) in the classroom have been less prevalent due to a number of practical limitations, the past 20 years have seen an increase in interest. This is a direct result of new digital tools and broader acceptance of mental health as an important issue that has helped pave the way for a wave of research that continues to broaden our understanding of the relationship between emotional intelligence, cognition and social development.

A common theme cited in the literature is the mediating role an individuals ability to develop vital emotional regulation skills has on countless facets of life. Further to this, it is consistently reported that this skill is something that is developed across the lifespan, with survival lessons learned pre-puberty (prior to what Piaget would consider the formal operational stage) having a large impact on perception and emotional reactivity throughout adult life. This suggests that how children learn to understand and manage emotions in themselves and others has a significant impact on success in life. A finding supported by longitudinal research such as the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.

Specifically, there appears to be three areas that are significantly improved along with the positive development of Emotional Intelligence; peer relations, academic achievement and interpersonal behaviour (increased pro-social and decreased anti-social behaviours). Below we have highlighted a number of what we consider to be key studies in the ever growing cannon of Emotional Intelligence literature. 1. Peer relations in school.

In a study conducted by Petrides and colleagues (2008), the role of children’s emotional intelligence in peer relations was examined. 160 year 6 students categorised their classmates into one of seven behavioural descriptions: cooperative; disruptive; shy; aggressive; dependent; leader; intimidating. The research found that children with high EI scores were more likely to be categorised as “cooperative” or a “leader” as opposed to “aggressive” or “disruptive”. This study suggests that children with higher emotional intelligence are able to create more positive connections with their peers. LEARN MORE 2. Academic achievement

Billings and colleagues (2014) examined over 400 children between the ages of 9 and 13 to explore the relationship between EI and scholastic achievement. Their results suggested a notable relationship between what they labelled understanding and analysing emotions and achievement in literacy and numeracy. These results were found in all ages and genders participating. It was also found the earlier these skills were developed, the higher link they have to academic achievement. LEARN MORE

Further, Qualter and colleagues (2011) explored the influence of both ability and trait EI in children in high school on their academic success in a 5 year longitudinal study. They found that EI positively influences cognitive performance and, as is likely not a surprise, emotional expression. LEARN MORE

A meta-analysis conducted by MacCann and colleagues (2020) found a statistically significant relationship between EI and its ability to predict academic achievement. Notably they found a stronger relationship between ability EI than trait EI. LEARN MORE

3. School behaviour

Mavroveli & Sánchez-Ruiz (2011) examined a sample of 565 children between the ages of 7 and 12 to explore the influence of EI on their behaviour. They specifically explored presocial and antisocial behaviour. They found that children with higher EI scored received higher nominations from their peers for prosocial behaviours. When compared to children with lower EI, their scores on self-reported bullying behaviours were also low. LEARN MORE Kokkinos and Kipristi (2011) recruited 206 primary school aged children to explore the relationship between EI, empathy and bullying. They found that children who partook in bullying showed lower EI and levels of empathy than other students. Specifically they noted that EI and empathy were significant predictors of bullying. They had similar findings surrounding victimisation of other students. LEARN MORE

In another study by Estévez and colleagues (2019), the EI and empathy of victims and aggressors in school violence was examined. This study mainly comprised of high school aged children, with the sample population of 1318 ranging between the ages of 11 and 17. They found that the victims of these incidences scored high in EI while the aggressors consistently scored low in both EI and empathy. LEARN MORE

Increasing the emotional intelligence of students holds significant benefits for the immediate learning environment and across the lifespan of the individual. This research is just a small part of a growing cannon of literature that continues to detail the impact of improving emotional intelligence in children and the ways in which it will influence their lives for the better.


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