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Why emotional intelligence is on the decline

Published: 20th Dec, 2021


New research appearing in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality by Khan and colleagues (2021) presents a meta-analysis showing declining levels of emotional intelligence in Western college-student samples in studies that were completed between 2001 and 2019.


  • The lead author of the present study searched for previous research using the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire, which was conducted between 2001 and 2019.
  • The researchers also limited inclusion in the meta-analysis to those studies involving college student samples from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
  • The present research included 70 studies with nearly 17,000 participants.
  • The researchers then conducted a “cross-temporal meta-analysis” to examine changes in emotional intelligence over time, controlling for the age of the cohorts.
  • They sought to determine “whether societal-level changes have coincided with changes in trait EI (emotional intelligence) in young adults.”


What is Emotional Intelligence?

  • Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capability of a person to assess, manage and control one’s own emotions as well as emotions of others.
  • It is critical to manage our behaviour and decision making.
  • It has 5 components-
    • self awareness
    • self regulation
    • motivation
    • empathy
    • social skills
  • These 5 components are important to develop emotional intelligence among people.

How can emotional intelligence be developed in people?

  • The skills that make up emotional intelligence can be learned at any time. The key skills for building emotional intelligence can be built by:
    • Self-awareness: Self-awareness ability allows an individual to know his/her strengths and weaknesses. This helps in managing emotions through using his/her strengths and working upon weaknesses.
    • Developing Empathy: Having empathy is critical to understand and manage emotions of other people. Ability to recognize others’ emotions help individuals to act accordingly. It helps them to understand their colleagues’ feelings and perspectives, which enables them to communicate and collaborate more effectively with their peers.
    • Stress management: It’s important that one must learn how to manage stress first, so that he can feel more comfortable reconnecting to strong or unpleasant emotions and changing how you experience and respond to your feelings. A person can develop your emotional awareness by practicing mindfulness meditation.
    • Effective Communication: An effective communication can help people to develop better strategies and increase their efficiency by synchronising their efforts.By motivating others to communicate how they feel, can help them to know themselves better.
    • Training to adapt: People should be able to adapt to changing circumstances. This can be achieved by training to manage different situations. Ability to understand and manage their emotions and of those around them help emotionally intelligent leaders to navigate through difficult circumstances.
    • Taking responsibility: Taking responsibility for one’s actions is a part of emotional intelligence. One must develop courage to accept his/her deeds. This enables a person to better accept his/her faults and work upon them ultimately leading to emotional intelligence.
    • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and without judgment. The cultivation of mindfulness can be achieved by yoga or meditation technique. Mindfulness helps shift ones’ preoccupation with thought toward an appreciation of the moment, physical and emotional sensations, and brings a larger perspective on life.

How does it help an individual in making ethical decisions?

  • Informed decision making: Emotions help inform decisions by allowing the decision maker to anticipate the positive and negative emotional consequences of a particular decision on the decision maker and on others. The ability to read others’ emotions is critical in responding to others’ feelings.
  • Empathy: More empathic individuals make more ethical decisions because they take into consideration the reactions and feelings of those impacted by the decision. The tendency to feel another’s pain helps the decision maker to make ethical decisions.
  • Moral decisions: Ability to regulate emotion helps a decision maker monitor his/her own emotional state, and serves to inform whether a particular decision feels good or bad. This ability could be used to regulate emotions productively toward more situations.
  • Conflict resolution: Emotional Intelligence helps individuals in resolving conflict effectively. It enables a person to visualise the effect of his decisions on him and others and help him to manage negative emotions like greed and anger.
  • Objective Decision making: Emotionally Intelligent people make objective decisions based on accumulated wisdom and understanding with time. A person who manages his or her emotions will take quick and strong decisions without emotions being involved after proper cost-benefit analysis.

Findings of the current study

  • The researchers found (when controlling for gender as well as the country where the study was conducted) that with time three facets of emotional intelligence: well-being, self-control, and emotionality, significantly decreased.
  • Furthermore, the declines in emotional intelligence were “stronger as the proportion of females in the sample decreased.”
  • The authors also conducted supplementary analyses showing that access to technology in each of the countries was “associated with lower levels of well-being and self-control.”

Speculations from the Study

  • The authors speculate that the rapid rise in young adults’ use of social media might be responsible for some of the declines in emotional intelligence. “In-person social interaction provides greater opportunity for emotional closeness and bonding compared to online communication, which is problematic if individuals are replacing in-person social interactions with online communication.”
  • Changes in society over the past two decades may also be responsible for “generational decreases in empathy and increases in depression and anxiety symptoms” as well as “increases in mood disorders, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts.”


Emotional intelligence is critical for effective decision making. It plays an important role in driving an organisation together towards a goal and helping in conflict resolution. Promoting Emotional Intelligence in children helps them to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills. It also helps them to develop self-confidence, high self-esteem and a healthy emotional outlook on life. Thus, steps should be taken to support the building of Emotional intelligence at every stage from early childhood to old age.

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