faceBeing able to control one’s emotions is a skill many value or even covet. New research summarized by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center suggests that emotional intelligence, people’s ability to recognize what they’re feeling and control it, can have two faces — both good and bad.

Of the two experiments given, both had a survey which assessed how well participants could exhibit “emotion regulation,” which is (pretty much just what it sounds like) how well can you control your emotions in certain situations.

The first experiment established the participants’ “moral identity” — the degree to which a person wanted to see themselves as a decent, loving, moral human being. It then challenged their morality by appealing to the participants’ sense of self-interest.

Participants could take a certain number of points from a communal lottery pool. The more they took, the more chance they had of winning. Yet if everyone took the maximum amount of points, there would be no lottery and no one would win.

The stronger the moral identity, the more the person thought about the common good than themselves. If the person was also good at emotion regulation, then they were notably more thoughtful of others.

For experiment two, the questionnaire aimed to determine how strongly people desired to exploit others for their own self-advancement, which was called “Machiavellianism.” Those who were more Machiavellian were also more cruel to others, as they also shared how often they mistreated co-workers. Those who were better at regulating their emotions were more likely to be mean to others.

The author of the study, Stephane Cote, states that emotion regulation can have two such opposite outcomes because it helps people achieve their goals. And different people have very different goals.

Image Source: Artifex creation under Creative Commons
The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence [Greater Good]


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