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Emotional Intelligence

EI Trends & Ideas in Schools

The topic of emotional intelligence (EI) has become an ongoing dialogue in schools, where it’s become apparent that the kids who lack it will struggle to succeed — academically and relationally. The stakes are great, but so are the opportunities.

Psychologists like Daniel Goleman who have researched EI say that, instead of constant crisis intervention or declarations of war on drug abuse or teen pregnancy or violence, enhancing emotional intelligence may be the best preventive medicine.

School principal Roberta Kirshbaum is a shining example, earning high praise for turning Manhattan P.S. 75 into a model of parental involvement and academic innovation that has since been emulated all across the nation. A few years ago, she instituted an “emotional literacy” program, designed to help kids learn to manage anger, frustration, and loneliness. Since then, fights at lunchtime have decreased from two or three per day to almost none.

Empathic children, even those who don’t have high IQs, do better in school and are more popular than their less empathetic peers. Head Start, the U.S. federal preschool program for children living in poverty, found that early academic success was achieved not by intelligence but by factors such as understanding what kind of behavior is expected from you, the ability to rein in the impulse to misbehave, and the abilities to wait your turn and get along with other children (Oden et al, 2000).

Every educator knows that students who are depressed or angry literally cannot learn. Negative social experiences in a child’s early years can set the stage for negative outcomes as they grow older. Children who are emotionally mistreated or feel rejected, whether by parents or by their peers, usually suffer low self-esteem and a sense of low self-worth. They grow up with little ability to understand and manage their emotions, which naturally impairs their ability to understand and manage the emotions of others. Childhood peer relations have in fact been identified as one of the most powerful predictors of mental health problems (Mueller, Silverman, 1989).

These statistics tell the story…

  • Compared to popular children, kids who are bullied or rejected by their classmates are seven times more likely to fail a grade in school and nearly four times more likely to drop out of school before 10th grade (Coie et al, 1990; Ollendick et al, 1992).
  • Children who show behavior problems during the early school years tend to be more rejected and have fewer friends in the later school years, and they report more feelings of being lonely and depressed (Pedersen, Vitaro, Barker, & Borge, 2007).
  • Children who have trouble being accepted by their classmates tend to earn lower grades and are rated by teachers as more anxious, fearful, and depressed (Flook, Repetti, & Ullman, 2005).
  • Rejected children have higher rates of delinquency, arrest, violent behavior and substance abuse (Coie et al, 1990; Ollendick et al., 1992).

Ideas & Trends

Recent studies have demonstrated the impact of emotional intelligence on academic performance and early achievement…

Four aspects of emotional intelligence predict academic strength.

An ongoing study of emotional intelligence in a mixed-age, mixed-gender group of students shows that students who excel at four aspects of emotional intelligence — stress management, time management, motivation and commitment ethic — are the ones who achieve greater academic success, particularly in business courses (Yeo, Carter, 2009).

Self-regulation skills play a greater role than intelligence in early achievement.

While intelligence plays a key role in early academic achievement, a study of 141 3- to 5-year-old Head Start children from low-income homes found that a child’s ability to self-regulate (e.g, attention and impulsivity) was uniquely related to academic abilities (in this case, math and literacy), over and above their intelligence (Blair et al, 2007). They also found that one particular aspect of self-regulation —  inhibitory control required for planning, problem solving, and goal-directed activity — was particularly associated with early ability in math. Researchers concluded that without including education that focuses on promoting self-regulation skills, many children will struggle to keep pace with the academic demands of the early elementary classroom. In particular, self-regulation abilities may be slow to develop in children who are from low-income homes or facing early adversity, increasing the risk for early school failure.

EI educational program improves mental health

A study of schools in Spain examined the effects of a 24-session emotional intelligence educational program on 479 adolescents’ mental health immediately and at 6-month followup. The educational program was designed to develop skills in perceiving, facilitating, understanding, and managing emotions. Researchers found that students who participated in the EI program reported fewer clinical symptoms, compared to students who received no EI education, and that these improvements persisted 6 months later (Ruiz-Aranda, 2012).

Emotional intelligence predicts success in IT/computing studies.

Meeting the challenges of demanding curricula often requires more than intellect or technical skills. A study of 600 undergraduates of more than 20 U.S. schools found that emotional intelligence indirectly contributes to academic success in information systems and computer science studies (Belanger et al, 2005). (EI was defined in this study as the ability to perceive, assess, and positively influence personal and others’ emotions.) Researchers assessed participants’ EI and coping strategies — two intrapersonal variables rarely studied in the computing field — then examined the impact of these abilities on grades. They found that, although emotional intelligence was not directly linked to academic success, those with higher EI were found to have more self-efficacy (self-confidence and knowledge that one can handle challenges effectively), and that having more self-efficacy, in turn, significantly enhanced their academic performance.


Belanger, F. Smith, Carter, L., Harrington, V.K., Kasper, G.. (2005) Coping Strategies and Emotional Intelligence: New Perspectives on IT Students.

Coie, J.D., Dodge, K.A. Kupersmidt, J.B., (1990) Peer group behavior and social status. In S.R. Asher nd J.D., (Eds.), Peer rejection in childhood. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Flook, L., Repetti, R.L., Ullman, J.B.. Classroom social experiences as predictors of academic performance. Dev Psychol. 2005 Mar;41(2):319-27.

Mueller & Silverman. (1989), Peer relations in maltreated children. In D. Ciccheti & V. Carlson (Eds.) Child maltreatment: Theory and research on the causes and consequences of child abuse and neglect (p. 529-578). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Oden S, Schweinhart L, Weikart D: Into Adulthood: A Study of the Effects of Head Start. Ypsilanti, Mich, High Scope Press, 2000.

Ollendick TH, Weist MD, Borden MC, Greene RW. Sociometric status and academic, behavioral, and psychological adjustment: a five-year longitudinal study. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1992 Feb;60(1):80-7.

Pedersen, S., Vitaro, F., Barker, E.D., Borge, A.I. The timing of middle-childhood peer rejection and friendship: linking early behavior to early-adolescent adjustment. Child Dev. 2007 Jul-Aug;78(4):1037-51.

Ruiz-Aranda D, Castillo R, Salguero JM, Cabello R, Fernández-Berrocal P, Balluerka N.  Short- and midterm effects of emotional intelligence training on adolescent mental health. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2012 Nov;51(5):462-7.  Epub 2012 Apr 4.

Yeo, Chu-May Amy, Carter, S. IOnderscience (2011, June 28). Predicting academic strength emotionally.