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December 18, 2019
by Elizabeth Pratt

Greater Emotional Intelligence Associated With Higher Grades

December 18, 2019 08:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

Students with a higher level of emotional intelligence perform better in school than their peers with lower emotional intelligence. 

Research published in the Psychological Bulletin found that differences in the emotional intelligence of students is reflected in their results. 

“Differences in students’ emotional intelligence can explain 4 per cent of differences in students’ academic performance. Although this sounds small, differences in students’ intelligence only explain 15 per cent of differences in academic performance,” Carolyn MacCann, PhD, lead author of the study from the University of Sydney told Theravive. 

“Some parts of emotional intelligence are more important than others. For example, emotion understanding skills explain 12 per cent of differences in academic performance, and emotion management skills explain 7 per cent of differences in academic performance.” 

In undertaking her research, MacCann and colleagues examined data from 160 studies of 42 thousand student in 27 countries spanning 1998 to 2019. More than 76 per cent of the students in the studies were from English speaking countries. The students were aged between elementary school and college level. In analyzing the data, the researchers found that students who had higher emotional intelligence also had higher test scores and higher grades. This association existed regardless of age. 

“Emotional intelligence and academic performance are linked. To achieve at school, students need emotional intelligence for three key reasons. First, students with high emotional intelligence can better manage school-related emotions such as disappointment at poor results or feedback, boredom when doing non-preferred tasks needed for skill development, or anxiety over examinations or other evaluations,” MacCann said. 

“Second, students with high emotional intelligence can develop strong relationships with other students and their teachers. This means they will access help and support when they need it. Third, students with higher emotional intelligence can better understand human motivation and emotion, which helps with many humanities-based subjects. They can interpret English literature and understand the social forces that drive historic currents.” 

Emotional intelligence is a reasonably new area of research, that MacCann says has been examined since the 1990s. She argues educators and policy makers can know make choices to foster greater emotional intelligence among students. 

“They know where to focus their efforts, and can respond with compassion and help to students who struggle with achievement even though they are smart and able. I think there is a general push towards considering well-being and emotions in students, but it is often considered as a separate consideration from students’ achievement at school. What our research shows is that emotional intelligence may actually be involved in the processes requires for achievement,” she told Theravive.

Already there is evidence that emotional and social learning programs in school can improve academic performance in students. MacCann advises against testing of students to identify those with lower emotional intelligence as this may stigmatize some pupils. She says instead, teachers should receive training to develop their emotional skills, and in turn improve the emotional skills of students. 

“To develop emotion understanding skills, adults could label and acknowledge emotions and the situations that lead to the emotions. For example, a parent or teacher might say, ‘I can see you tried really hard to win the math game. It looks like you feel disappointed and frustrated that Jane won this round’. Over time, students would then begin to understand the causes of their emotions, and the emotional vocabulary to communicate their feelings to others. This would develop ‘emotion understanding’ skills, which are the most strongly linked to academic performance,” she said.

The level of emotional intelligence in teachers is another area MacCann hopes to explore in the future. 

“Teacher emotional intelligence could be just as important as the students they teach. My current research looks at the strategies that parents and teachers use to help regulate children’s emotions. Extrinsic emotion regulation (regulating the emotions of other people) is a key skill for positive emotional interactions, and may be involved in the development of children’s emotional intelligence. Using effective strategies to regulate children’s’ emotions relates to lower levels of parental burnout.” 

About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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