Exploring Emotional Intelligence: Part 1

Costanza Scarpa | 22 July 2014

I have always found the subject of facial expressions interesting – from a young age, we are told to talk and act a certain way, but our facial expressions can give away how we actually feel, through a smirk or a grimace.

Until now, the detection of microexpressions was the field of expertise of those who had trained for years before being able to pick up these subtle clues – or really good poker players. But since we are only human, we do vary a great amount in how accurate we are in detecting facial expressions. Not only that, but we also differ hugely in the way we understand and use emotional content in general. This difference in aptitudes has come to be known as emotional intelligence

When I first heard about Realeyes at an advertising conference in London, I was fascinated by this advanced technology. But it also got me thinking – in the same way different reactions can be grouped by gender and age, do people differ in the intensity and frequency of their emotional expressions by how emotionally intelligent they are? It would seem logical, but although it’s been speculated upon, no actual research had been done to look directly into this. So, with the kind support of the Realeyes team, I decided to attempt to answer this question as part of my undergraduate dissertation. Two hundred and forty three people volunteered to carry out a questionnaire which tested their emotional intelligence, and then watched both a compilation of funny Vine videos, and an altogether more gruesome video of Bear Grylls eating larvae. 

In the results I looked at the differences between people with high and low emotional intelligence in their overall expressivity (as in the frequency of their emotional expressions) and their accuracy in expressing the emotion that each video was intended to induce (known as ‘sending accuracy’). Those with high emotional intelligence were more expressive overall in both videos. It is not surprising that expressivity and emotional intelligence should be linked – after all, studies show that those who are more expressive make positive first impressions, have more friends and may even be healthier overall. Yet this is news to the psychology world, which generally uses sending accuracy of a contextually-appropriate emotion as a measure of expressivity.

Now, one would expect that the “appropriate” emotions for this experiment would be happiness in the case of the funny video, and disgust at Bear Grylls’ eating habits respectively. Those with high emotional intelligence showed more expressions of happiness during the former, while those with low emotional intelligence showed more expressions of disgust whilst watching the latter. More interesting however, was that both high and low emotional intelligence groups displayed higher levels of happiness than disgust whilst watching Grylls scoffing insects. Maybe this is a coping mechanism in the face of splattering larva interiors, or people’s obscure sense of humour. In any case, for a long time studies of emotional intelligence have been focusing on people’s accuracy in identifying the appropriate emotion, whilst all along ignoring the question of whether there is such a thing as an appropriate emotion in the first place. Emotions are subjective, dependent on culture, upbringing and personality – there is no wrong or right.

I hope my study has brought light to how the concept of emotional intelligence still needs more research to be better understood, and the role of expressivity rather than sending accuracy as an important ability.

Amanda Vincent, BSc Psychology (York)

For more on the theories Amanda has been exploring, see 'Exploring Emotional Intelligence: Part 2'!
Costanza Scarpa
Marketing Communications Executive