Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, think about and respond to emotions in both yourself and in other people . If, for example, your friend is feeling sad and refuses a social invitation an emotionally intelligent person will recognise their sadness and correctly reason that this is why their friend does not want to socialise. Someone who is less emotionally intelligent may instead feel angry at their friend for refusing the invitation and then find themselves taking their own anger out on someone else. They are not able to reason rationally about their friend’s emotion – sadness – or to recognise their own emotion – anger – and how it is going to affect their behaviour.
Emotions play a large part in the decisions we make in life which can be a good or a bad thing. If you have a bad morning and decide to send a rude email to your work colleague this would be a decision poorly ruled by emotion. On the other hand, if you are offered a new job and you feel sad about leaving your current job you would want to consider why you are feeling sad and whether it is, in fact, a relevant factor in your decision.
Emotional intelligence plays a big role in decision making abilities. One group of researchers tested this by measuring emotional intelligence in a group of volunteers . They then made half of the volunteers anxious (by asking them to give a presentation) before they completed an unrelated gambling task in which they could choose a high-risk option for a high reward or a safe option for a low reward. Those who were low in emotional intelligence and who were made anxious were much more likely to go for the safe option than those who were high in emotional intelligence. This is because they were unable to attribute their anxious feeling to the presentation they had just given and instead attributed it to the task at hand meaning they went for the safe option. However, when the researchers told the volunteers that they may be feeling anxious because of the presentations they were no more or less likely to choose the safe option than other participants.
Of course, the safe option may sometimes be the best one but at other times we have to take risks to reap the rewards. The importance of this study is not that it made people more or less risky but that it shows how an unrelated emotional experience can affect the decisions we make if we are not aware of how they are affecting us.
1. Salovey, P. & Mayer, J.D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9(3), 185-211.
2. Yip, J. A., & Côté, S. (2012). The Emotionally Intelligent Decision Maker Emotion-Understanding Ability Reduces the Effect of Incidental Anxiety on Risk Taking. Psychological Science, 24(1), 48-55.