The Science of Happiness. Register Today
   
 

You’re Never Too Old to Build Emotional Intelligence

By Andrew Yee | April 24, 2012 | 3 comments

A recent study suggests we can learn to regulate and manage our emotions even after we’re reached adulthood.

You might be competent with spreadsheets, in the kitchen, or behind the wheel of a car. But are you competent with your emotions?

“Emotional competence” is the ability to comprehend, manage, and express one’s feelings and the feelings of others. It may come as no surprise to learn that emotional competency is linked to better health and more satisfying relationships. That’s great for the emotionally competent folks, but what about the rest of us—can we improve our emotional competency, even after we’ve reached adulthood?

Alexey Alexandrovich Sokolovsky

A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests we can, at least after a little bit of practice. What’s more, these gains in emotional competency stick for at least a year.

A group of Belgian researchers randomly assigned 132 adults (with an average age of 38) to one of two groups. Participants in the first group went through a two-and-a-half-day program designed to help them deal with emotionally difficult and stressful situations. The other group did not participate in that program until after the study was over.

The emotion training involved group discussion, role-playing exercises, and other activities. Drawing upon prior research on emotion, the program first taught participants to recognize how certain situations can trigger particular emotions within themselves, then taught them various strategies to regulate and express these emotions in a constructive way.

After participants learned the basics of emotional competency through the training, they received two emails a week for a month, encouraging them to apply what they learned. For instance, one email instructed them to watch out for the next emotionally fraught situation they encountered, and to be mindful of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior in that situation.

When the researchers followed-up with the participants four weeks after the entire program ended and then again one year later, they found that the people who’d received the emotional competency training experienced major benefits as a result. Compared to how they felt before the training, these people reported significantly less stress and fewer symptoms of illness or physical discomfort, and significant improvements in their life satisfaction and in their relationships with their family, romantic partners, and friends.Specifically, their life satisfaction increased by 12 percent and their perceived level of stress decreased by 24 percent. The people in the other group didn’t show the same improvements in these areas.

The researchers cite various research findings suggesting that higher life satisfaction is associated with lower rates of depression; lower stress, they note, is associated with stronger immunity against infections, including the common cold.

Many prior studies have found that emotional competence can be taught to kids, bringing them both physical and mental rewards. But this study is the first to suggest that emotional competence can be increased among adults.

“From a practical point of view,” write the researchers, the results “show that it is possible to influence crucial aspects of people’s lives: psychological well-being, subjective physical health, and relationship quality, among others.”

One important caveat: In order to take part in the program, participants had to write a letter describing their interest in it. The authors point out that this prerequisite weeded out people who weren’t motivated to change. Still, the results offer hope to anyone who has the desire to improve his or her emotional skills but doesn’t yet know how.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 
About The Author

Andrew Yee is a Greater Good Science Center research fellow.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 

This is so encouraging!
Are you able to share more of the strategies
etc. provided to the participants regarding
emotional competency or can you point us to
other resources for educating ourselves?
Thanks so much.

brenda | 5:42 am, May 2, 2012 | Link

 

I’m with Brenda - I’m just on the last few chapters of “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and am very keen to take this further. Lot’s of interesting stuff in this book, Brenda, well worth a read. Thanks for the article, Andrew, it came just at the right time for me. smile

Jane | 8:13 am, May 3, 2012 | Link

 

Ditto Brenda’s comments above. I so would like the tools to
help me change and lower my instances of stress/mild
depression and to help improve my romantic relationships.

Josie | 10:51 am, May 3, 2012 | Link

 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  • When Does Power Hurt Romance?

    October 2, 2014

    Four new studies reveal how having power affects your willingness to walk in your partner's shoes.

  • The Right Way to Get Angry

    October 20, 2014

    Anger is a tool that helps us read and respond to upsetting social situations. But how can you stop it from getting out of hand?

  • The Battle Between Success and Compassion

    October 17, 2014

    If adults want to raise caring kids, research suggests they might need to start by examining the mixed messages they’re sending to kids.

  

Greater Good Events

Self-Compassion & the Cultivation of Happiness with Kristin Neff
International House, UC Berkeley campus
November 7, 2014


Self-Compassion & the Cultivation of Happiness with Kristin Neff

This day-long seminar led by self-compassion pioneer Kristin Neff, will offer strategies for cultivating self-compassion, boosting happiness, and reducing stress in yourself and others.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

Whistling Vivaldi By Claude M. Steele Steele offers studies and stories that show how stereotypes can affect group members' lives in subtle but powerful ways, especially when it comes to academic performance.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.

Sponsors

The Quality of Life Foundation logo Special thanks to

The Quality of Life Foundation for its support of the Greater Good Science Center

 
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement