Oh Behave! Increasing Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Better Outcomes

Can getting in touch with your feelings lead to better behavior at school? Some researchers think so. In their article, “The Role of Knowledge and Skills for Managing Emotions in Adaptation to School: Social Behavior and Misconduct in the Classroom,” Lopes, Mestre, Guil, Pickard Kremenitzer, and Salovey find that students with a strong ability to correctly identify appropriate emotional responses on situational tests showed lower levels of disruptive behavior at school than their peers who scored poorly on situational tests. Lopes et al. conducted three separate studies, two in Spanish high schools and one in an American university. Across all three studies they found a negative correlation between the number of appropriate responses students gave on written evaluations of emotional situations and the frequency of inappropriate behavior. In all three studies the negative relationship remained after controlling for gender, age, IQ, and personality.

The authors argue that a student’s ability to regulate their emotions plays a large role at school – both for student success and teacher satisfaction. Although the authors did not find a statistically significant correlation between a student’s ability to manage emotions and academic success, after controlling for IQ, they cite previous research that supports this hypothesis, pointing out that emotional regulation plays an important role in performing under stress, setting goals, and tackling difficult material.

Lopes et al. diverge from previous research by focusing on the relationship between knowledge that can be taught and observed classroom behavior. The findings, that emotional knowledge is correlated to observed behavior, is potentially good news for teachers who are eager to improve their classroom atmosphere.

These results may be fairly intuitive — emotional intelligence makes it easier for students to adapt to school — but the author’s findings are part of a larger body of research that emphasizes non-cognitive skills, like self-control and persistence, in the role of education. With a heavy reliance over the past decade on standardized tests to evaluate schools, increased emphasis has been placed on the development of cognitive skills (reading, writing, arithmetic), at increasingly earlier ages, a move that some experts believe may not help children in the long run. Lopes et al. don’t call for sweeping policy change, but based on their research they do suggest that equipping teachers with tools to help students develop emotional intelligence may be a path to better classroom management and greater student success.

Feature photo: cc/SeeBeeW

Abigail Mackenzie Kerl
Abigail Mackenzie Kerl is a 2013 MPP graduate of the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in urban policy, social enterprise and corporate social responsibility.

One Response to “Oh Behave! Increasing Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Better Outcomes

  • skdickson@uchicago.edu'
    Sarah Dickson
    ago5 years

    Do the authors have suggestions for the kinds of tools that teachers could be provided to help students develop emotional intelligence? As the body of research regarding non-cognitive skills grows, I wonder if any curriculum is being developed at colleges and universities that train teachers – how can we teach teachers to teach emotional intelligence? Thanks for a great analysis!