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The unique interplay between emotional intelligence and academic success

Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is not a fixed trait. Source: Shutterstock

Want better grades? According to a recent study, students with higher levels of emotional intelligence (EI) tend to get better grades than their less EI-competent peers.

EI refers to the ability to understand and control one’s emotions and having an awareness of the emotions of others.

The authors of the research, which was published by the American Psychological Association, suggested three reasons why EI may predict academic performance: 

  • Students with higher EI may be more able to regulate the negative emotions (eg. anxiety, boredom, disappointment) involved in academic performance. If this is true, emotion management would be responsible for the effects. 
  • Students with higher EI may be better able to manage the social world around them, forming better relationships with teachers, peers and family. 
  • EI competencies may overlap with the academic competencies required for subjects like history and language arts (eg. understanding human motivations and emotions). In this case, understanding – the knowledge base of EI – would show the strongest effect and the effect would be bigger for humanities than sciences.

“Based on the significant moderations, there is some support for each of these effects, with slightly different results for different streams of EI,” said authors.

Strategies for developing EI

emotional intelligence

There are many ways to improve students’ emotional intelligence. Source: Shutterstock

Numerous studies support the role of EI in academic success, but what can students do to enhance their EI competencies?

Studies note that EI is not a fixed trait and can increase with age. Some methods for improving EI among students include:

Psychological workshops

Psychological workshops that teach students an assortment of skills. 

In one study, students were taught to read non-verbal messages, distinguish between assertive, submissive or aggressive behaviours, and recognise their own coping strategies to conflict, to name a few. Participants demonstrated increased EI at the end of the study. 

Apply metacognitive strategies

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. Its effect can be seen in school and university.

Studies have found that students who overestimated their ability on tests were likely to be those who had done poorly, while the reverse was true for high performing students.

However, metacognitive strategies – a method to help people to think about thinking – can help students understand the way they learn, including how they could have done things differently to improve their test outcome.

Request for feedback

On Harvard Extension School, Margaret Andrews wrote that developing EI is an ongoing process, but individuals can improve their skill in the area by asking others, such as their friends and family on how they would rate their EI. 

“For example, ask them about how you respond to difficult situations, how adaptable or empathetic you are, and/or how well you handle conflict. It may not always be what you want to hear, but it will often be what you need to hear,” said Andrews.

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