Emotional Intelligence Skills - Backed By Science

Emotional Intelligence has been studied in depth since the 1960s. The work of both Psychologists and Neuroscientists have tied together the observable behaviours of people and the internal structures and workings of the brain with improved performance.

The proof is in the science -
Training Your Emotional Intelligence Drives Better Performance

Image showing that by building Emotional Intelligence you can improve wellbeing that in turn delivers a better performance

Emotional Intelligence Is Core To Performance

90% of elite performers pin their success to Emotional Intelligence

Research from TalentSmartEQ, republished by Goleman, found that "90% of high performing people in the workplace have high EQ (emotional quotient), while 80% of low performing people have low EQ". As a result of this claim there has been a lot of research into the advantage enhanced Emotional Intelligence gives to performance. A systematic literature search was conducted in June 2018 by Alexandra Kopp and colleagues (Kopp et al., 2018). They identified 21 studies targeting Emotional Intelligence and sports performance in competitive sports. The meta-analysis of 22 effect sizes on the response of 3,431 participants discovered a significant relationship between Emotional Intelligence and sports performance. The positive correlation between sports performance and Emotional Intelligence has continued through many more studies, and across many sports. For example, Georgia Gatsis et al. (2021) investigated the impact of Emotional Intelligence on Taekwondo athletes. They showed that high emotional intelligence scores are associated with more effective sports performance".

In recent years the development of tools for advanced brain imaging has allowed neuroscience to catch up with psychology in understanding Emotional Intelligence. Research studies such as that by William Killgore et al.(2007) are showing that better training in Emotional Intelligence can be seen in positive improvements in how the brain processes events, "higher EQ correlated negatively with activity in the somatic marker circuitry and other paralimbic regions", that is, more likely to respond to events with rational behaviour and positivity, leading to better outcomes.

Emotional Intelligence and Wellbeing

Does stronger Emotional Intelligence lead to better wellbeing?

Research has shown that strong Emotional Intelligence results in better wellbeing, that is, the overall quality of a person's life and includes physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects.

A meta-analysis study by Schutte et al. (2007), comprising 44 effect sizes and 7,898 participants, indicated that a significant relationship exists between Emotional Intelligence and mental health, psychosomatic health, and physical health. Specifically, Schutte and colleagues found that three separate, well-validated measures of Emotional Intelligence were significantly correlated with mental health, which leads to the comprehensive conclusion that higher emotional intelligence is associated with better mental health.

These findings have since been replicated by studies such as Carmeli et. al. (2009) who found support for the positive association between emotional intelligence and psychological wellbeing components – self‐esteem, life satisfaction, and self‐acceptance.

Reuven Bar-On further compared studies on Emotional Intelligence, physical and subjective wellbeing in his paper published in a collection entitled "Emotional Intelligence - New Perspectives and Applications". He summarised that "strongest EI predictors of physical health are self-regard, self-actualisation, stress tolerance, optimism and happiness. The findings suggest that individuals who have good self-awareness and understand their weaknesses as well as their strengths, pursue activities that actualise their potential, manage emotions well and who are typically optimistic, positive and content are healthier individuals."

Malinauskas and colleagues (2018) published a study in the Journal of Human Kinetics that indicated a significant relationship between Emotional Intelligence and psychological wellbeing in 398 male athletes. Specifically, they found that athletes with high Emotional Intelligence are likely able to build quality relationships with people in their support network and in turn, report higher levels of wellbeing.

Emotional Intelligence and Athletic Performance

Does Emotional Intelligence improve performance?

Since late 1990s there has been significant research in the links between Emotional Intelligence and performance. The weight of research enabled Kopp and Jekauc (2018) to conduct a meta-analysis examining the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and sports performance in competitive sports. They identified 21 studies and the meta-analysis comprising 3,431 participants found a significant relationship between Emotional Intelligence and performance. Overall, the result demonstrates the value of Emotional Intelligence as a predictor of sports performance.

In the same year Rubaltelli and colleagues (2018) investigated how runners' Emotional Intelligence influences their performance. They demonstrated that runners' Emotional Intelligence was the main predictor of their finishing times. Specifically, their levels of Emotional Intelligence emerged as the variable with the highest power to predict finishing times over and above training. Overall, these results are consistent with the explanation that being skilled at understanding and managing emotions reduces the impact of fatigue and leads to better performance.

Finally, an interesting research project by Rubén Trigueros et al. (2019) concluded that "emotional intelligence exerts a positive influence on positive emotions, and a negative influence on negative emotions. Furthermore, positive emotions exert a positive influence on resilience and self-motivation. In contrast, negative emotions exert a negative influence on self-motivation and resilience, although the latter is not statistically significant. Finally, resilience exerts a positive influence on self-motivation, and motivation has a positive influence on academic performance and the adoption of physical activity habits".

Wellbeing and Athletic Performance

How does good wellbeing improves performance?

The evidence is clear - science supports the claim that improving Emotional Intelligence enhances Wellbeing.  We have also shown how improving Emotional Intelligence positively impacts athletic performance. Further, science has demonstrated that improving one’s wellbeing influences their performance. Let’s take a closer look at this relationship.

A key pillar of psychological wellbeing is positive relationships. Price et al. (2010) found that time spent with family and friends enhanced and promoted long-term sustainability of wellbeing, which facilitated athletic performance through maintaining and restoring motivation levels for the sport. To put this simply, by focusing on a key element of Emotional Intelligence, that of building quality relationships, athletes were successful in improving their performances.

Another common factor recognised as contributing to the relationship between wellbeing and sport performance is the balance an athlete has in their life. Living a balanced life between football and other activities such as hobbies, social events and pursuit of other careers, was considered conducive for the wellbeing of Australian Football League (AFL) players, which was then linked to performance benefits (Pink et al., 2015).

The Science Behind Emotional Intelligence Skill Development

Why developing skills improves performance

The concept of Emotional intelligence was pioneered by two American psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey. They introduced the idea that "The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions". The idea of skills that managed emotions has received much focus. One major question is how Emotional Intelligence skills improve performance. James Hess et al. (2011) researched this question, and "concluded that consistent with Simon’s (1967, 1971) notion that emotion and rationality are inextricably linked, emotional intelligence can serve as the necessary bridge between the two. Moreover, the behaviours most often identified with emotional intelligence may be learned and applied in a practical manner to improve the overall quality of decisions and decision-making processes."

A quantitative meta-analysis of the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and academic performance by Nicolás Sánchez-Álvarez et al. (2020) compared 44  articles and a cumulative sample size of 19,861 participants. They found an association between Emotional Intelligence and academic performance.

The summary from these and other research papers show that improving one’s Emotional Intelligence skills gives better control over one’s emotions, and allows for a stronger integration between the rational and emotional decision making areas of the brain. To put this into a sporting analogy, a soccer player with well-developed skills will have greater ability to communicate, evaluate and execute a progressive and creative play because their logical and emotional decision making abilities are aligned.

The Science Behind Habits

Why good habits improve performance

Habits are a key concept in behaviour maintenance (Rothman, 2009). A habit is activated automatically when we encounter a trigger situation. This is known as situation-behaviour associations (Gardner, 2015). Habitual behaviour is triggered relatively effortlessly and rapidly by nonconscious processes that can operate without awareness or intention (Orbell & Verplanken, 2010). In simplest terms, we don't need to engage our conscious or emotional intelligence to activate a habit, we just do it. In the HeadCoach model, where we view actions as a result of how we manage our emotional experience, a habit effectively attenuates our emotions, making the outcome more predictable, robust and accurate.

There are many papers that correlate bad habits with low emotional intelligence. HeadCoach was far more interested in whether positive habits can contribute to elevating Emotional Intelligence. This was supported by research from Gabriel González-Valero et al. (2019). They found that "a positive relationship with medium strength was found between emotional intelligence and task-oriented climate, showing a low association between emotional intelligence and ego-oriented climate". To paraphrase, people who focussed on building good habits as part of their daily lives had a greater ability to grow and improve their Emotional Intelligence in comparison to those people who purely focused on performance outcomes.

The Science Behind Reflection

Why daily journaling works

Journaling requires a person to focus on a specific topic, exploring their feelings, reflecting on their actions and understanding the outcomes. Research by Lieberman et al. (2007) demonstrated that journaling directly impacts the structure and behaviour of the brain, "The results indicated that affect labelling, relative to other forms of encoding, diminished the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions to negative emotional images. Additionally, affect labelling produced increased activity in a single brain region, right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC)." In an interview with UCLA Newsroom, Lieberman describe this change -

"When you put feelings into words, you're activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala," he said. "In the same way you hit the brake when you're driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses."

Does journaling promote better Emotional Intelligence? The psychological research firmly supports the positive impact of journaling and reflection. Research by Paula Harrison et al. (2010) investigated journaling in nurses, concluding that  "progressive journal prompts are useful tools for introducing and stimulating reflection on emotional intelligence competencies in nursing students".  Dr R. Deepa et al. (2022) went further, showing that reflective journaling moved learning from surface-learning, where a person can parrot back facts, to deep-learning, where a person is able to apply what they have learned to their actions in a variety of situations.

How you journal is also important. Research by Philip Ullrich et al.(2002) found that journaling about emotions wasn't enough. "Writers focusing on cognitions and emotions developed greater awareness of the positive benefits of the stressful event than the other two groups. This effect was apparently mediated by greater cognitive processing during writing.” When journaling one should focus on recalling the events in detail as well as how those events made one feel. This puts the events and emotions into a tight relationship, helping the brain develop awareness of the what, how and why of the emotional expression.