Emotionally intelligent students are more engaged and successful: examining the role of emotional intelligence in higher education

  • Published: 21 January 2020
  • Volume 35 , pages 839–863, ( 2020 )

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  • Karen C. H. Zhoc   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Ronnel B. King 1 ,
  • Tony S. H. Chung 2 &
  • Junjun Chen 3  

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The role of emotions in student engagement has been examined in many studies. However, little is known about how emotional intelligence (EI) is related to engagement and other key learning outcomes in higher education. To fill this gap, this study examined how EI is associated with student engagement and how EI and engagement jointly predict key learning outcomes in higher education, including the students’ GPA, generic outcomes, and satisfaction with the university experience. The study adopted a prospective longitudinal design involving 560 first-year students from 10 faculties of a university in Hong Kong. The data were collected at two-time points, namely before the start and after the end of the students’ first year in the university. Structural equation modeling was employed to test the measurement and hypothesized models. Results indicated that EI positively predicted all dimensions of student engagement and promoted key learning outcomes (including GPA, generic learning outcomes, and students’ satisfaction with the university) via the different dimensions of student engagement. The model also explained 16%, 44%, and 38% of the students’ GPA, generic learning outcomes, and satisfaction with their university experience, respectively. This study provides empirical evidence on the positive effect of EI on the students’ optimal functioning in the higher education context. Implications of the findings are discussed.

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Zhoc, K.C.H., King, R.B., Chung, T.S.H. et al. Emotionally intelligent students are more engaged and successful: examining the role of emotional intelligence in higher education. Eur J Psychol Educ 35 , 839–863 (2020).

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Research Article

The mediating role of emotional intelligence on nursing students’ coping strategies and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Contributed equally to this work with: Dina Masha’al, Mohammad Rababa, Audai Hayajneh, Ghada Shahrour

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Software, Supervision, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

* E-mail: [email protected]

Current address: Faculty of Nursing, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Irbid, Jordan

Affiliation Adult Health Nursing Department, Faculty of Nursing/ WHO Collaborating Center, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Ar Ramath, Irbid, Jordan

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Roles Funding acquisition, Resources, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Software, Validation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Roles Formal analysis, Methodology, Software, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Comunity Health Nursing Department, Faculty of Nursing/ WHO Collaborating Center, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Ar Ramath, Irbid, Jordan

  • Dina Masha’al, 
  • Mohammad Rababa, 
  • Audai Hayajneh, 
  • Ghada Shahrour


  • Published: April 9, 2024
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Table 1

Anxiety among nursing students documented during the COVID-19 pandemic reflected their fear of contracting infections, adhering to the mandatory use of masks in public, engaging in the new experience of distance learning, having financial problems, and so on. The purpose of this study was to examine the mediating role of emotional intelligence (EI) on nursing students’ coping strategies and anxiety during the pandemic. This cross-sectional correlational study was conducted in a university in Jordan. An online survey was used to obtain data from a sample of 282 nursing students who had returned to on-campus learning during the summer semester of 2019/2020. The survey held four parts: (a) questions about sociodemographics, (b) the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) scale, (c) the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-Short Form (TEIQue-SF), and (d) the Brief-Coping Behavior Questionnaire (Brief-COPE). The results showed that EI had a fully mediating role in the relationship between problem-focused coping strategies and anxiety, and it partially mediated the emotion-focused and avoidant/dysfunctional coping strategies and anxiety relationships. Nursing students who used the problem-focused coping strategies had high levels of EI, and with increasing levels of EI, anxiety levels decreased. Promoting the development of EI among nursing students would enable them to manage their emotions effectively and control their anxiety, particularly in new circumstances such as those that occurred during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Citation: Masha’al D, Rababa M, Hayajneh A, Shahrour G (2024) The mediating role of emotional intelligence on nursing students’ coping strategies and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS ONE 19(4): e0300057.

Editor: Elisa Ambrosi, University of Verona, ITALY

Received: August 6, 2022; Accepted: February 21, 2024; Published: April 9, 2024

Copyright: © 2024 Masha’al et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: All relevant data are provided as Supporting Information files.

Funding: The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Introduction and background

After 3 months of a government-mandated lockdown in Jordan resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing students returned to school in the summer semester of 2019/2020 to resume their internships and applied courses in labs, hospitals, and clinics from the previous semester. The students returned to school while the global number of pandemic-related infections and deaths increased dramatically [ 1 ].

Nursing students experience high levels of anxiety in normal circumstances [ 2 ]. However, fear of contracting infections, dealing with financial difficulties, worrying about their academic progress, experiencing the stress of distance learning, and lacking clinical practice in their clinical courses in the spring semester of 2019/2020 were new sources of stress and anxiety among nursing students upon returning to school [ 3 , 4 ]. These anxieties would have a negative influence on the students’ academic performance, progress, and quality of life [ 5 , 6 ].

During the pandemic, rates of anxiety among university students ranged from 25% to more than 87.7% [ 6 – 9 ]. In Jordan, the mean anxiety score of university students on the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) scale during the COVID-19 pandemic was 8.4, which indicated a mild level of anxiety [ 10 ]. Another study conducted in Jordan found that more than 70% ( N = 282) of nursing students who were returning to school after the shutdown experienced mild to severe levels of anxiety [ 4 ]. A study conducted in Israel to assess anxiety levels among nursing students who had agreed to work voluntarily in hospitals and the community during the pandemic found that more than 60% of 224 nursing students experienced moderate to severe anxiety levels [ 6 ]. Given the high prevalence of anxiety among nursing students during the pandemic, it was crucial to identify how nursing students coped with this anxiety.

The ways that people deal with stressful situations can reduce or amplify the effects of these situations. Effective coping strategies are known to buffer stress and anxiety and facilitate the maintenance of psychological health. Coping may be defined as individuals’ behavioral and cognitive efforts to manage stressful situations that exceed their resources [ 11 ]. According to Endler and Parker [ 12 ] and Carver [ 13 ], coping strategies can be categorized as three types: (a) problem-focused coping, which includes active coping, instrumental support, and planning; (b) emotion-focused coping, which includes acceptance, emotional/social support, humor, positive reframing, and religion; and (c) avoidant/dysfunctional coping, which includes behavioral disengagement, denial, self-distraction, self-blaming, substance use, and venting. Problem-focused coping requires taking actions to modify situations or solve problems, emotion-focused coping requires regulating emotions and/or improving stress management skills, and avoidant/dysfunctional coping requires distancing oneself from stressful situations. Problem-focused coping is considered the most effective type of coping and is linked to lower stress levels, whereas emotion-focused coping and avoidant coping strategies are associated with higher stress levels [ 14 – 16 ].

According to Shikai et al. [ 17 ] and Ni et al. [ 18 ], problem-focused coping is the most common type of coping strategy among nursing students. However, during the pandemic, most nursing students failed to use problem-focused coping. According to Masha’al et al. [ 4 ], most nursing students used avoidant/dysfunctional coping strategies to cope with anxiety. Huang et al. [ 19 ] found that during the pandemic, nursing students were less willing than hospital nurses to use problem-focused coping to manage their emotional responses related to COVID-19, which included anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger. Salman et al. [ 20 ] found that most Pakistani university students adopted religious/spiritual and acceptance strategies to cope not only with the effects of the pandemic on their daily lives but also their fear of the rapid spread of the virus. Coping strategies have a relationship with psychological problems and health, and emotional intelligence (EI) also has recently been found to correlate with them.

EI refers to the ability of individuals to read their own emotions and the emotions of others; name the different emotions; and use what they know about these emotions to think, behave, and influence others [ 21 , 22 ]. EI is considered a predictor of critical thinking [ 23 ], academic performance [ 24 – 26 ], and mental health [ 27 – 29 ]. In addition, EI influences people’s ability to cope with new situations and remain optimistic, positive, and self-motivated to achieve goals [ 24 ].

EI is a trait with two main dimensions: stress management and adaptability [ 30 ].It plays a mediatory role between stress and mental health because it helps individuals to cope with environmental conflicts and improve stress management and task performance [ 14 , 31 , 32 ]. Moroń and Biolik-Moroń [ 33 ] found that EI predicted lower levels of intensity of fear, anxiety, and sadness among people in Poland during the first week of COVID-19 lockdowns. Compared to individuals with lower EI, individuals with higher EI were found to be more able to adapt to social pressures and environmental changes [ 34 ].

Nursing students with high EI have been found to complain less about psychological and physical problems [ 14 , 32 , 35 , 36 ]. Individuals with high EI are able to understand and regulate their own emotions and the emotions of others, which enable them to adopt effective coping strategies. Nursing students and nurses with high EI consider stressors less threatening and choose problem-focused coping rather than emotion-focused and/or avoidant coping strategies [ 14 , 15 , 31 , 37 , 38 ].

To our knowledge, few researchers have examined the relationship between EI, anxiety, and coping strategies during COVID 19 pandemic among nursing students. Further, this is the first study to investigate the mediating role of EI on coping and anxiety. We hypothesized a mediating role of EI on coping strategies and anxiety in nursing students during the pandemic.

Design and participant selection

A convenience sample of 400 undergraduate nursing students at Jordan University of Science and Technology was recruited to participate in the study. A total of 282 students completed the survey, leading to a response rate of 70.5%. The 282 questionnaires were returned with no missing data. The remaining 118 questionnaires were incomplete with more than 50% missingness, and thus they were excluded from the analysis. To investigate whether the missing data is completely at random or not, the multivariate diagnostic test was run for this purpose and the analysis revealed that the missing pattern was completely at random (p > .05). The mean of the non-missing items was imputed for the missing scores and all analyses were run with and without the imputed data, showing no significance difference.

All nursing students who were above 18 years old and who had returned to campus in the summer semester of 2019/2020 were included. Students who had taken the summer semester of 2019/2020 off were excluded. Nursing programs in Jordan grant a bachelor’s degree to students attending a total of 134 credit hours, including more than 1800 actual hours in clinical settings divided into 4 academic years.

Data collection

An online survey using Google Forms was used for data collection. After approval was obtained from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Jordan University of Science and Technology, the survey link was sent to students via email. The purpose, procedures, and outcomes of the study were explained on the front page of the survey. The participants also were assured that their identities would remain anonymous, that their participation was voluntary, and that they could quit the survey at any time without consequences. Potential participants were asked to check the “Agree” box if they were willing to participate in the study. This was informed consent to participate in the study. They also were asked to click the “Submit” button at the end of the survey to return it to the researchers. The researchers’ contact information was provided in case of any questions or concerns. Data were collected 2 weeks after the beginning of the summer semester, and the survey link was open for 1 week.

The survey had four parts. The first part held questions about the sociodemographic characteristics of the participants, including age; gender; academic year; stability of financial status (unstable financial status was used to refer to cases where severe changes to family income had occurred during the pandemic); commitment to infection prevention measures (gloves, masks, hand hygiene, etc.); previous infection with COVID-19; and fear of becoming infected after returning to campus. The second part of the survey consisted of the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) scale [ 39 ], which was used to assess the students’ levels of anxiety in the 2 weeks preceding data collection (data were collected 2 weeks after the students had returned to campus). The GAD-7 scale comprises seven items that describe the core symptoms of anxiety. The items are scored on a 4-point Likert scale with responses of 0 ( not at all ), 1 ( several days ), 2 ( more than half the days ), and 3 ( almost every day ) [ 40 ]. The total possible score ranged from 0 to 21, with a score between 0 and 4 indicating no anxiety, 5 and 9 indicating mild anxiety, 10 and 14 indicating moderate anxiety, and greater than 15 indicating severe anxiety. In the study conducted by Spitzer et al. [ 39 ], the scale had good internal inconsistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .92). The third part of the survey held the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-Short Form (TEIQue-SF), which was used to measure global trait EI. The questionnaire has two items from each of the 15 subscales of the original TEIQue, with a total of 30 items. Each item is scored on a 7-point Likert scale of responses ranging from 1 ( completely disagree ) to 7 ( completely agree ). The total possible score average of global trait EI ranges from 1 to 7. Higher scores indicate a higher level of trait EI. The instrument assesses four trait EI factors: Well-being (six items), Self-control (six items), Emotionality (eight items), and Sociability (six items). A Cronbach’s alpha of 0.767 has been reported for the questionnaire [ 41 ]. The fourth part of the survey held the Brief-Coping Behavior Questionnaire (Brief-COPE), which was used to assess the nursing students’ coping skills. This questionnaire is an abbreviated version of the COPE inventory developed by Carver et al. [ 42 ]. The Brief-COPE has 28 items divided between 14 factors of two items each. The items are scored on a 4-point Likert scale of responses ranging from 1 ( I haven’t been doing this at all ) to 4 ( I’ve been doing this a lot ). An internal consistency of 0.83 has been reported for the questionnaire [ 13 ]. Coping strategies in the Brief-COPE are divided into problem-focused, emotion-focused, and avoidant/dysfunctional coping strategies. Problem-focused coping includes active coping, instrumental support, and planning, and emotion-focused coping includes acceptance, emotional/social support, humor, positive reframing, and religion. Finally, avoidant/dysfunctional coping includes behavioral disengagement, denial, self-distraction, self-blaming, substance use, and venting [ 13 ]. Higher scores indicate respondents’ ways of coping with stressors. The survey was administered in English, the language of instruction in nursing schools in Jordan.

Data analysis

Data were analyzed using SPSS v.26. Descriptive statistics were used to describe the study sample, anxiety levels, EI levels, and coping strategies. A person’s correlation was computed to identify the relationship between the study main variables. A mediation analysis using PROCESS Macro v.4.2 was carried out to test whether the relationship between coping strategies and anxiety was meditated by EI. The type of coping strategy was treated as the independent variable, with anxiety being the dependent variable and EI the mediator. Variables were tested for multicollinearity, linearity of the residuals, independence, homoscedasticity, and normality. All assumptions were satisfactory.

The descriptive statistics

The mean age of the participating nursing students was 20.08 years ( SD = 1.08). Most of the participants were female students (74.1%), 39.4% were in their second academic year, and 77.3% had a stable financial status. Most of the students had not been infected with COVID-19 (98.9%) and were not afraid of becoming infected (69.1%). The mean score for anxiety was 8.06(5.49) indicating mild level of anxiety. The average EI score among the students was 4.59 ( SD = 0.74). Problem focused coping showed the highest mean score of the coping mechanism 5.77(1.18). Table 1 illustrates the descriptive statistics of the students’ sociodemographic characteristics, total EI scores, EI factor scores, coping strategies and anxiety.


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Correlation between study variables

Before running the mediation analysis, we first examined whether there is a significant relationship between the study main variables using Pearson correlations. The strength of the correlation was interpreted using Cohen’s categorization as the following: “small = .1- .3”; “medium = .3-.5”; and “large = .5–1.0.” The emotion-focused coping and avoidant/dysfunctional coping strategies were correlated positively with anxiety ( p < .01) and negatively with EI. On the other hand, problem focused coping correlated positively with EI (r = .20, p < .01), but the relationship was not significant with anxiety (r = -.01, p > 05). Table 2 shows the correlation matrix.


Mediating role of EI on the relationship between coping and anxiety

Three mediational analyses were conducted for each subscale of coping (i.e., problem focused, emotional focused, and avoidance coping). The results revealed a significant indirect effect of problem focused coping on anxiety levels through emotional intelligence (B = -.45, 95% Cl = -.78, -.16, p < .001). The total and direct effect of problem focused on anxiety were both insignificant (B = -.04, t = -.148, p = .88) and (B = .41, t = 1.44, p = .10), respectively. These results showed that EI exerted a full mediational role on the relationship between problem-focused coping and anxiety.

In regard to emotional-focused coping, the total effect of emotional-focused coping was significantly and positively related to students’ anxiety (B = .87, t = 2.88, p < .01); however, the direct effect between these two variables in the presence of EI as a mediator was insignificant (B = .29, t = 1.06, p = .29), and EI partially mediated the relationship between emotion-focused coping and students’ anxiety (B = .57, Cl = .32, .87). In summary, EI partially reduced the effect of emotion-focused coping on anxiety score. Similarly, EI partially mediated the relationship between avoidance coping and anxiety. The results showed that the total effect of avoidance coping on anxiety was significant (B = .83, t = 3.07, p < .01); however, the direct effect revealed insignificant results between avoidance coping and anxiety score in the presence of EI (B = .01, t = .05, p = .95) with 95% CI of (LL = .57, UL = 1.10). The coefficients among the variables are illustrated in Table 3 .


Literature up to date have discussed the relationship between EI, anxiety, and coping mechanisms. However, little is known about the mediating role of EI on the relationship between adopted coping strategies and anxiety. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to discuss this mediating role among nursing students during a crisis such as COVID-19 pandemic. We hypothesized that the relationship between coping strategies and anxiety will be mediated by EI.

The results of the study demonstrated a positive relationship between anxiety and emotion focused and avoidant/dysfunctional coping strategies. This is an indication that both coping strategies are maladaptive and increase levels of anxiety. Farnia et al. [ 43 ] results reported a negative correlation between test anxiety and problem focused and a positive correlation between test anxiety and emotion focused coping. Zhu et al. [ 44 ] demonstrated that positive coping correlated negatively with anxiety during COVID 9 among 165 physician and nurse in China. Savitsky et al. [ 6 ] found that during COVID 19, nursing students’ anxiety was linked negatively to their self-esteem and positively with mental disengagement. Reducing maladaptive coping behaviours has been shown to reduce anxiety among college students [ 45 ]. The nonsignificant negative correlation between problem focused coping and anxiety may be attributed to the full mediation of EI on the relationship between these two variables (i.e., problem-focused coping and anxiety).

Results showed a full mediation of EI on the relationship between focused -problem coping and anxiety, and partial mediation on the relationship between emotion- focused coping and avoidant/dysfunctional coping and anxiety. These results confirm the role of EI as a key factor to reduce levels of anxiety via coping during the pandemic. According to Por et al. [ 14 ], nursing students with higher EI are more capable of managing their emotions and experiencing less stress. In the study by Aghajani Inche Kikanloo et al. [ 27 ], higher levels of EI were found to have a positive influence on students’ physiological, emotional, and behavioural responses to stress and stressors. Moroń and Biolik-Moroń [ 33 ] found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, trait EI played a protective role against the intensity of some emotional states, including anxiety, fear, and sadness.

It is well documented that high levels of EI are associated with the use of Problem- focused coping [ 15 , 38 ] and this is consistent with our findings which also revealed that. Higher level of EI might also reduce the chance to use emotion-focused coping and avoidant/dysfunctional coping by students (r = -.25, r = -.34, p < .05 respectively).However, some studies contradicted our findings as they reported appositive link between EI and dysfunctional coping. For example, Noorbakhsh et al. [ 46 ] conducted a study with a sample of 413 nursing students and found a positive relationship between EI and emotion-focused coping. Further, Yousif Ali et al. [ 47 ] found that college nursing others’ emotion appraisal and emotion utilization, which are categories of EI in the Brief Emotional Intelligence Scale, were predictors for self-blame. It has been argued that it is difficult to disentangle problem-focused and emotion-focused coping as they typically co-occur and are intertwined. Emotion-focused coping enhances problem-focused coping by removing emotional distress, which facilitates better problem solving. Meanwhile, problem-focused coping enhances emotion-focused coping by resolving the threat of stress, which reduces distressing emotions [ 48 ]. It seems the relationship between EI and the use of adaptive and maladaptive coping is complex as other factors besides EI, such as sociodemographic characteristics, personality factors, environmental factors, and types of stressful situations, are involved in the process of adopting coping strategies [ 48 , 49 ] including dysfunctional coping strategies. Since this is the first study to examine the mediating role of EI on nursing students’ anxiety via their use of coping, it is crucial to further investigate this process taking into account the aforementioned factors and using different mediational methods such structural equation modeling.


The findings of this study highlighted the important role emotional intelligence plays in the reduction of nursing students’ anxiety via the coping strategies employed by them amid COVID-19 pandemic. Favorable coping strategies, namely problem-focused coping was fully mediated and emotion-focused and avoidant/dysfunctional coping were partially mediated by students’ EI to reduce their anxiety. This is very important in times of crises such as COVID-19 pandemic where anxiety is heightened by the fear of getting infected by the virus and inflicting loved ones. Prior research emphasized the need for developing interventions to promote individuals’ well-being during the pandemic (e.g., Wang et al., 2020) [ 50 ] and some highlighted the protective role of EI on individual’s psychological health amidst COVID-19 (e.g., Sanchez-Ruiz et al., 2021) [ 51 ]. Our study also emphasizes the importance of adopting interventions that increase trait EI in the face of crisis as the findings pointed out to the reduction of students’ anxiety through students’ coping strategies. The current study adds to the increasing body of literature the benefits of EI element in alleviating nursing students’ anxiety in times of adversity as this has not been investigated previously. Although COVID-19 is a transitory infectious disease similar to previous infections such as N1H1 flue and Ebola, future evolving epidemics may occur, and thus fortifying our student’s wellbeing against these pandemics is required and one approach to achieve this goal is through improving their emotional intelligence.


The study had some limitations that need to be taken into consideration in the interpretation of the results. The results were based on self-reported data, which may not have reflected the actual levels of anxiety and EI among the participating nursing students. The cross-sectional design of this study also limited the interpretation of the causes and effects of using certain coping strategies. Recruiting participants from only one university in one geographical area limited the generalizability of the study results. The students also might have influenced each other’s responses because no strategies were considered to avoid communication among the students as they completed the online survey. Although excluding students who did not enroll in the summer semester reduced confounding variability in the studied variables, however, future studies need to ensure their inclusion and see whether differences exist between them and those who are enrolled in the academic setting. Our question of students’ frequency of usage of COVID-19 preventative measure did not specify the context of preventative measures application (i.e., whether the usage was in hospital or daily life context). As a result, the findings related to this question should be interpreted cautiously and future research needs to provide contextual information regarding this item. One crucial limitation of this study lies in the utilization of regression analysis to test the mediation model. Mediation analysis using regression does not draw a cause-effect relationship between the study variables as other co-founding variables may play a role in such case. Re-examining the mediation role of EI on the relationship between coping strategies and anxiety using stronger analysis such as structural equation modeling is called for.

Nursing students who adopted problem-focused coping strategies have had higher levels of EI and lower levels of anxiety. The analysis revealed a mediating role for EI on the relationship between problem-focused coping strategies and anxiety. The results of the study highlighted the importance of EI in the ability of nursing students to deal with stressful situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Because EI traits can be acquired, it is proposed that training courses to strengthen and increase the levels of EI among nursing students be developed and implemented. Further, to our knowledge, no studies have been conducted on the mediating role of EI on coping strategies and anxiety, so we recommend that more research to be conducted to find the causal relationship between and among the variables using stronger mediational analysis such as SEM. A longitudinal study evaluating the effect of EI levels on the coping strategies and anxiety of nursing students, especially during a very stressful situation, is recommended.

Supporting information


We would like to acknowledge Jordan University of Science and Technology for facilitating the study.

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Emotional intelligence and its relationship with stress coping style

This study investigated the relationship between emotional intelligence and stress coping style in a group of 265 students, using Goleman’s Theory of Emotional Intelligence. Findings indicated highest mean value of emotional intelligence for motivation and empathy. Majority students showed active problem and emotional coping behavior; however, a strong, positive correlation between emotional intelligence and stress coping style was found for the domains associated with Active Emotional and Problem Coping (α ⩽ 0.05). It revealed that students are efficient in utilizing stress coping strategies and recommended that professors should provide guidance to students regarding emotional intelligence and stress coping styles.


The understanding of the concept of emotional intelligence and methods of coping with psychological stress is very important, since both of them are highly influential in the success growth and development of an individual. The relationship was first identified by Salovey and Sluyter (1997) , who indicated that emotional intelligence enables a person to understand his feelings and emotions resulting in directing his actions ( Cherniss, 2000 ; Jones and Hutchins, 2004 ). For Goleman and Cherniss (2000) , emotional intelligence is the individual’s ability to curb negative emotions of anger, low self-esteem, and anxiety and replacing them with positive emotions such as confidence, empathy and friendship ( Gayathri and Vimala, 2015 ).

Individuals with weak emotional intelligence face several difficulties in managing stress-related issues. This fact is endorsed from different studies which suggest a strong association between stress and emotional intelligence ( Sharma and Kumar, 2016 ). An uncontrolled stress is often associated with physical and mental disorders that ultimately lead to psychological issues including conflicts, aggressive behavior and poor compatibility. Stressed individuals are unable to adopt the appropriate positive methods and techniques needed to minimize the negative effects of stress on physical and mental health ( Yousuf, 2007 ).

An effective response to stress often involves using coping strategies which develop important behavioral patterns that are highly favorable in such situations ( Kovaþeviü et al., 2018 ). An individual uses several ways to cope up with stress in the state of severe tension ( Gayathri and Vimala, 2015 ). Several studies examined the methods used by individuals to cope with stress ( Kulkarni et al., 2016 ; Sharma and Kumar, 2016 ). Al-Yamani and Zu’bi (2011) studied the strategies adapted by undergraduate students to cope with stress and showed medium to high level variation in the application of stress coping strategies. Similarly, Pierceall and Keim (2007) recruited a sample of university students in Bangalore, India and showed that 76% students had an average level of stress management strategies, whereas, 16% showed a high level of stress management strategies.

Bar-On (2010) showed that emotional intelligence exercises a significant impact on an individual’s capacity of positive social interaction. However, an individual’s ability to cope up in a stressful situation depends on different factors such as; emotional competence, empathy, self-monitoring, and intensity and duration of distress among individuals ( Brink, 2009 ). Kovaþeviü et al. (2018) indicated that stress coping strategies are either adaptive or maladaptive. In adaptive behavior, a person successfully deals with the stressful situations to minimize any danger, whereas, in maladaptive behavior, results may not be significantly beneficial as it makes even more difficult for a person to survive in his surroundings. Adaptive strategies contribute toward an individual’s overall wellbeing in health, productivity, personal satisfaction, and growth. Wang et al. (2016) identified a direct influence of self-leadership with active coping style. Another study indicated that emotional intelligence and stress-coping strategies significantly affect individual’s self-efficacy ( Morales-Rodríguez and Pérez-Mármol, 2019 ).

Since the concept of emotional intelligence and coping strategies is essential for an individual’s wellbeing, investigations regarding the level of stress and emotional intelligence faced by students is critical. Therefore, the current study aimed to identify the nature of relationship between emotional intelligence and methods of coping with stress faced by the students. This study contributes significantly in the domain of student psychology as it analyzed psychological variables necessary for a student’s effective academic performance and wellbeing. This study is also important as it has used students as a study sample, who, as per researcher’s knowledge, have not been studied before on the basis of variables included in this study: gender, specialization, study level, and marital status. Considering this, the present study attempts to answer the following research questions:

  • What is the level of emotional intelligence in students?
  • What is the level of methods of coping with psychological stress in students?
  • Is there a correlation between the degree of emotional intelligence and degree of methods of coping with stress?
  • Is there a significant difference in the level of emotional intelligence in students on the basis of gender (male, female), specialization (Arts and Sciences, Business, Law), and marital status (single, married)?

Hypothesis development

Considering the aim of this study, following hypothesis were tested.

  • H0 = There is a strong correlation between the degree of emotional intelligence and methods of coping with stress in students.
  • H1 = There is a weak correlation between the degree of emotional intelligence and methods of coping with stress in students.
  • H2 = Differences in the level of emotional intelligence in students are related to gender, specialization and marital status.
  • H3 = Differences in the level of emotional intelligence in students are not related to gender, specialization, and marital status.

Theoretical background

Emotional intelligence is related to the individual’s ability to deal with stress. People face different challenges in: (a) defining and meeting their goals and needs, (b) achieving personal and social harmony, and (c) developing interaction with the environment. A continuous process of alignment between individual’s personal characteristics and external conditions is essential. This type of alignment is achieved and maintained via activating an individual’s potential of utilizing stress coping strategies through which he seeks to create balance between himself and his external circumstances. He does this by modulating the external factors such as mobilization of energies, modification of objectives, aspirations, and change in the environment itself ( Albesher and Alsaeed, 2015 ).

According to Epstein (1998) , emotionally intelligent children are healthier, happier and are more adaptable and these traits lead them to desired academic achievements. Goleman (1995) noted that in certain cases, low emotional intelligence skills are characterized by an increased in rate of violent crime and teenage suicide as well as episodes of anxiety, depression, high aggression ratio, social problems, school dropouts, and disinterest in religion. Understanding of an individual’s personal competence mainly self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation is critical as it determines how an individual manages his affairs.

According to Belanger et al. (2005) methods of coping may include ideas or actions that are used in highly stressful situations. Some of these strategies are positive, such as trying to solve the problem effectively. In other cases, however, methods used by an individual to cope with stress may become spontaneous reaction during a stressful position. However, routine coping strategies become ineffective during severe stressful situations. Consequently, the individual becomes emotionally and psychologically exhausted until new methods are devised and practiced for positive outcomes ( Seaward, 1999 ).

Effective coping strategies such as meditation, sports, good nutrition, relaxation, humor, and fun-filled activities help in reducing the effects of stress ( Ugoji, 2012 ). The methods of coping with stress vary according to different variables which include personality, emotional stance during exposure to the stressful situation and an individual’s interpretation of the situation ( Borys et al., 2003 ). Several methods were identified by Cohen (1994) to cope with stress which are listed below:

  • Rational thinking: an individual’s attempt to think logically about the sources and causes of stress.
  • Individual imagination: an attempt to think about future prospects and consequences of current situation.
  • Humor: stimulation of positive emotions during confrontation.

Other three methods pointed out by Higgins and Endler (1995) are related to orientations including emotions, avoidance, and performing interactive task. Emotional coping acts as the emotional response that an individual perceives and reflects on while dealing with the problems like feelings of distress, tension, anxiety, annoyance, anger, and despair. Coping strategies based on avoidance include individual’s attempts to avoid direct confrontation with the positions of stress by withdrawing from the situation. On the other hand, task-oriented coping strategies include the active behavioral attempts to directly deal with the problem in a realistic manner. This includes knowing the causes of the problem, taking advantage of the experience in previous situations, suggesting alternatives to cope with the problem and selecting the best immediate plan to address the ongoing situation.

Empirical review

Baqutayan and Mai (2012) indicated coping strategies as cognitive and behavioral efforts to control, reduce and sustain requirements, being imposed from outside (family, friends, work, or university) or from inside (emotional conflict, setting standards or high expectations). These strategies are helpful to mitigate the burden of these demands. Moradi et al. (2011) confirmed that the level of EI helps in predicting useful coping strategies with stress. Kim and Han (2015) , on the other hand, identified that increased emotional control and efficiency help students to adapt and practice the effective strategies when coping with stress.

Understanding of the correlation that exists between emotional intelligence and health and well-being of individuals has gained much interest. Better interactions with health professionals lead to interpersonal emotional intelligence that increases an individual’s tendency to seek for help and follow the advice. An emotion-focused coping strategy regulates emotions by changing the meaning of stressful situations cognitively without changing the stress-producing situation. Shah and Thingujam (2008) and Matthew and Zeidner (2001) suggested that successful coping with stress is the foundation of good mental and physical health and a successful coping strategy helps in providing a balanced emotional response in highly stressful situations.

Albesher and Alsaeed (2015) pointed that contributions of EI dimensions are instrumental in predicting methods of coping with stressful events. Marinaki et al. (2017) outlined the relationship between coping strategies and the characteristics of EI in the academic staff of public universities in Greece. The findings showed different emotional characteristics among respondents associated with the use of diverse coping strategies. Besides, a significant correlation was found between characteristics of emotional intelligence and coping strategies which ranged between high and low scores ( Marinaki et al., 2017 ). Wang et al. (2016) studied the effects of emotional intelligence and self-leadership on coping with stress on a sample of 575 students from two Chinese universities and showed a significant relationship between emotional intelligence and active methods to cope with stress. The results further indicated a direct and positive impact of self-leadership on stress management techniques.

Marinaki et al. (2017) examined the association between trait, emotional intelligence and coping strategies in the academic staff employed at the public universities. Coping Scale such as the occupational stress indicator (OSI) was used and trait emotional intelligence was measured through trait emotional questionnaire. Findings of the study indicated high level of emotional stress with a considerable diversity in stress coping strategies used by teachers. Another study was conducted by Ran and Jeong to understand the relationship between emotional intelligence and stress management skills in a sample of 219 nursing students at Konyang University in Korea. Findings indicated that emotional intelligence was positively associated with two key factors: problem solving skills and skills required for getting social support. In addition to that, it was found that effective control and emotional efficiency helped students in adopting useful strategies when coping with stress. Similarly, Vein studied the relationship between emotional intelligence and stress coping methods in the students of the University of Delta in Nigeria and results showed a positive correlation between emotional intelligence and methods of coping with stress. The research further highlighted that that people with higher intelligence had greater ability to withstand stress.

Moradi et al. (2011) analyzed the impact of relationship between emotional intelligence and stress management skills on a sample of 200 students from Razi University in Iran. Results revealed a statistically significant and positive correlation between emotional intelligence and all the five components of coping responses inventory (CPI). Moreover, the emotional intelligence was found to be an effective predictor for each dimension of strategies of coping with stress. Al-Astal (2010) determined the relationship between emotional intelligence and psychological stress skills among students at Gaza University. Results indicated a statistically significant correlation between the level of general emotional intelligence and the overall score of stress coping skills. The study also found a significant correlation between statistical skills of coping with stress and the level of emotional intelligence. Geng (2018) indicated a positive association between emotional intelligence, gratitude and subjective wellbeing of the undergraduate students. He identified that family is another important factor that stimulates the emotional intelligence trait among youth ( Alavi et al., 2017 ).

The above discussion clearly indicates a gap in similar previous researches and reveals that, none of the previous studies have focused on studying the students’ level of emotional intelligence and coping strategies on the basis of variables included in this study.

Study design and population

This study followed a cross sectional design. Population of this study included 4965 undergraduate students enrolled in the academic year 2016–2017. From the overall population, 265 students were recruited as a study sample. In accordance with the inclusion criteria, currently enrolled students of Arts, Business and Law were included in the study sample while the postgraduate students and students who belonged to other fields of studies were excluded from the group. Table 1 shows the distribution of sample participants according to their demographics.

Distribution of participants according to demographic variables.

Study instruments

Emotional intelligence scale.

Emotional intelligence (EI) scale was used in this study. Participants’ emotional intelligence was measured on the basis of Goleman’s Theory of Emotional Intelligence. The identification and determination of the level of emotional intelligence in the study sample was carried out according to the following procedure:

  • Dimensions of emotional intelligence that included self-awareness, self-organization, motivation, empathy, and social skills were identified.
  • Several items were developed for each dimension which corresponded to the age at which the scale was applied.

In particular, 34 items were formulated and listed under the relevant dimensions as given: 7 items for self-awareness, 6 items for motivation, 6 items for self-regulation, 8 items for empathy, and 7 items for social skills.

Validity of the instrument and its appropriateness for data collection was checked through content and construct validity. To increase the readability and understanding, the questionnaire was translated from English to Arabic. The constructed scale was then presented to eight experts of educational psychology and counselling to verify the clarity of items along with their extent of relevance to the dimension to which it was listed. The wording of some items was modified as per experts’ suggestions to retain the real meaning. About 80% experts indicated high relevancy of scale to measure emotional intelligence and its dimensions.

A pilot testing was also conducted in which scale was applied to a random sample of 40 individuals that fall in the inclusion criteria other than the original sample population. This was done to extract the indicators of construct validity of the emotional intelligence scale. Table 2 shows the correlation coefficients between each item and the domain to which it belonged. Correlation coefficients between each of the emotional intelligence scale items and their dimension ranged between 0.493 and 0.821 are further presented.

Values of correlation coefficients for emotional intelligence scales between each item and the scale as a whole.

The reliability coefficient of the scale was computed using the internal consistency coefficient provided through Cronbach-Alpha and a reliability coefficient of 0.90 was obtained. Following are the reliability coefficients of all the domains: self-awareness (0.74), self-regulation (0.81), motivation (0.79), empathy (0.85), and social skills (0.87). A sample of 50 students that did not belong to the study sample was selected to extract the coefficient of reliability in a retest method. The scale was applied twice in the time interval of 3 weeks. Pearson correlation coefficient was computed between the two applications to extract the stability of the return of scale. Following were the reliability coefficient for other domains: self-awareness (0.73), self-regulation (0.80), motivation (0.81), empathy (0.86), and social skills (0.88).

Stress Coping Style Inventory

Stress Coping Style Inventory to the UAE environment was also adopted in which 28 items were divided into four dimensions ( Lin and Chen, 2010 ):

  • Active Problem Coping consisted of 8 items and referred to the method of dealing with stress by analyzing the root cause of the problem, examining the main reason of stress, following a calm and optimistic approach through ongoing planning and, if required, attaining help from external sources such as teachers or friends.
  • Active Emotional Coping included 6 items. This dimension referred to the method in which different strategies were adopted during stress. The strategies included positive feelings of thinking and self-promotion, developing emotional balance by diverting attention, changing emotion, searching for external resources to help in gaining emotional control and seeking ways to get rid of tension.
  • Passive Problem Coping included 8 items. It referred to the method where individuals reflected an emotional detachment, escape avoidance (to have wishful thinking to avoid the problem), distancing and self-control behavior to escape problem.
  • Passive Emotional Coping included 6 items and it is related to the negative attitude of an individual that he shows when facing stress and includes emotional panic such as restricted emotions, self-blame or blame on God and others and loss of emotional control such as irritability.

The instrument was presented to eight experts in educational psychology for verification of wording, translation of the items and the extent to which its items are linked with the dimension to which it was developed. About 80% of the experts indicated that the scale is good for measuring stress coping style. Consequently, the scale was applied to a survey sample of 40 participants to extract the indicators of validity for all the measures of style of coping with stress.

Table 3 shows the correlation coefficients between each item of the style of coping with stress ranged from 0.476 to 0.801. The correlation coefficients between each stress and scale measures ranged from 0.405 to 0.781, which were acceptable and relevant correlation coefficients for this study.

The correlation coefficients between each item.

The instrument reliability was verified by Internal Consistency using the Cronbach-Alpha method. The value of the coefficient of stability was 0.7 for the scale. The dimensions were as follows: active emotional coping (0.72), passive emotional coping (0.84), active problem coping (0.73) passive problem coping (0.75).

Ethical consideration

The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board. An informed consent was obtained from the study participants before commencing their participation in the study sample. Purpose and objective of the study were also explained to the participants. They were also given the right to withdraw themselves from the study any time during their participation. Confidentiality of the participants’ information was strictly maintained and data were stored in a password protected folder.

The mean and standard deviation values were computed for each domain of “emotional intelligence” and the scale. Table 4 shows the scores calculated for the level of emotional intelligence. Highest mean value (M = 4.31) was achieved for “motivation,” whereas, smallest mean value (M = 4.01) was attained by the second domain, that is, “self-regulation.” Therefore, the overall mean value of emotional intelligence was M = 4.16.

Means and standard deviations of “emotional intelligence” scale domain, and the scale ( n  = 265).

Mean and standard deviation values were computed for each of the “methods of coping with stress” and the scale. Table 5 shows the mean values calculated for “stress coping style,” where the highest value, that is, M = 3.94 was for “active problem coping” and the lowest value was for “passive emotional coping” that is, M = 2.51. Finally, the overall mean value for “style of coping with stress” was M = 3.31 at medium degree.

Means and standard deviations of the “methods of coping with stress” domain and the scale ( n  = 265).

Correlation coefficients between emotional intelligence and stress coping style were computed in the participants. Table 6 shows that all correlation coefficients calculated for the domain of emotional intelligence scale and stress coping style of active emotional coping and active problem coping were positive. Whereas, the correlation coefficients between the domains of emotional intelligence scale and the stress of coping style of passive emotional and problem coping were negative. These results indicated the validity of H0 according to which, there is a strong correlation between the degree of emotional intelligence and methods of coping with stress in students.

The results of correlation coefficients between emotional intelligence domains and the stress coping style.

The 4-Way ANOVA was applied to detect differences between the emotional intelligence according to the gender, specialization, educational level, and marital status. Table 7 showed no statistically significant differences at (α ⩽ 0.05) in emotional intelligence for gender, specialization, educational, and marital status variables.

Results of (4-Way ANOVA) to detect differences in emotional intelligence according to the variables.

The 4-Way ANOVA was applied to detect differences between mean values of stress coping styles according to the gender, specialization, educational level and marital status. Table 8 shows no statistically significant differences at (α ⩽ 0.05) in the stress coping styles according to the variables which include gender and marital status. These findings resulted in the validity of H2 according to which, differences in the level of emotional intelligence among students were related to gender, specialization, and marital status.

The results of (4-Way ANOVA) to detect differences in stress coping style according to the variables.

The present study showed that the majority students had high level of emotional intelligence. The age group focused in this study was characterized by instability and emotional imbalance in the beginning, which lead to the stage of awareness and emotional maturity as they exceed the stage of adolescence. It is also linked with the interest of university in demonstrating ways for identifying their level of emotional intelligence through various methodological activities associated with the curriculum. Findings indicated a positive correlation between the emotional intelligence and active and passive problem coping. Besides, an inverse relationship between emotional intelligence and passive emotional coping and passive problem coping was observed. These results are consistent with the study of Albesher and Alsaeed (2015) as they suggested that increase in emotional intelligence increases the use of positive coping methods. These results are also in line with those proposed in the study of Moradi et al. (2011) , and Noorbakhsh et al. (2010) .

According to the current study, there were no statistically significant differences in the methods of coping with psychological stress and the level of emotional intelligence among participants based on their gender and marital status. Noorbakhsh et al. (2010) showed that there were no significant differences in emotional intelligence and coping skills with respect to the gender variable. The results were also consistent with the study of Al-Freihat and Momani, which showed that gender does not have a significant role in determining the level of psychological compatibility and skills in case of facing stress.

The university students are generally exposed to different types of psychological stress caused by multiple underlying sources such as financial problems, academic incompetence, peer evaluation, and strained relationship with the supervisor. The transfer of students from schools to the institutes of higher education may lead to multiple psychological, academic, and social changes on account of changed environments. Thawabieh and Qaisy (2012) added that students encounter new methods of teaching and experience a new pattern of student-teacher relationship and that change leads to the academic stress. Kai-Wen (2009) supported similar idea, according to him, university stage is critical as it molds youngsters into well-behaved individuals of the society. These young people not only need to adapt themselves in the new environment but also to learn about new people and event. Therefore, it is important to get information about the methods, the university students used to cope with stress during their academic tenure.

The current study is significant since it identifies the existing conditions of students regarding their level of stress and emotional intelligence. To propose valuable conditions, certain limitations were taken into account in the study. First, a small size of the study sample may reduce the probabilities of generalization of the results for a much a larger group. Secondly, the study sample comprised students of only three fields of studies, and this condition suggests the possibility that the conditions of emotional intelligence and stresses could be different for students of other departments. The results were further limited as this cross-sectional study failed to acknowledge the prevailing mood and motivation level of students to participate in the process of data collection. Moreover, self-administered questionnaire was used that demanded individuals to imagine a hypothetical situation and present their reactions to that situation.

The relationship between emotional intelligence and stress is a well-established fact. However, keeping in view the growing concern in this field of interest, the present study examined the relationship between emotional intelligence and the style of coping stress in university students. Findings of the study indicated no significant difference between the stress coping styles with respect to the variables such as gender and marital status. However, a statistically significant difference was found in the stress coping styles depending upon education and specialization constructs. On the basis of the study findings and above-mentioned discussion, it can be concluded that students were capable of efficiently utilizing stress controlling strategies. It is, however, strongly suggested that researchers should conduct a more comprehensive study by using a much larger study sample that should include students of different fields of studies and of different universities.

The current study investigated the relationship of emotional intelligence and the style of coping with psychological stress in university students. The study highlighted that stress coping styles are important adaptable skills which should be an integral part of the personality of students of all levels. It has mainly focused on the changes in student’s academic and social environment. The study also recommended that the university professors should be well aware of the concept of emotional intelligence, stress coping styles and its dimensions and their importance so that they can give comprehensive guidance to students about ways of dealing with stress.

Therefore, future studies need to address the concepts of emotional intelligence and stress with respect to other samples and environments while linking them to different study variables. Moreover, it is also suggested that educational seminars and awareness campaigns should be conducted on regular basis to strengthen social bonds in different university students and introduce the concept of emotional intelligence and its dimensions to them.


The author is highly thankful for all the associated personnel who contributed in the completion of the study.

Declaration of conflicting interests: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The author declares that the study is self-funded.

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How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Students

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Students

Table of Contents


As we navigate the 21st-century education landscape, a growing body of research underscores the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in student development. EQ—identifying, understanding, and managing emotions—is pivotal in academic success and future employability. This article provides insightful strategies for fostering EQ in students and provides information on How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Students.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

EQ is a strong predictor of academic success. Students with high emotional intelligence demonstrate increased concentration, better problem-solving skills, and improved interpersonal relationships. Their enhanced self-awareness and self-regulation translate into more adaptive responses to stressors and better conflict-resolution skills.

Techniques to Develop Emotional Intelligence

  • Mindfulness Training : Encouraging students to engage in mindfulness exercises can significantly impact their EQ. Mindfulness helps students stay present and attentive, increasing their awareness of emotions and how they respond to them.
  • Modeling Emotional Intelligence: EQ is often learned through observation. Educators and parents who openly express their emotions, talk about feelings and demonstrate appropriate responses pave the way for students to develop emotional intelligence.
  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Curriculum : Implementing an SEL curriculum helps students understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Role of Educators in Emotional Intelligence Development

research on emotional intelligence of students

Educators play a critical role in nurturing students’ emotional intelligence. They are tasked with imparting academic knowledge and fostering an environment encouraging empathy, emotional expression, and understanding. By modeling emotional intelligence and incorporating it into the curriculum, educators can help students develop these vital skills.

Parental Involvement in Emotional Intelligence Development

Parents, too, have a significant role in shaping their child’s emotional intelligence. Parental involvement in EQ development involves expressing and discussing emotions openly, modeling appropriate emotional responses, and promoting empathy and understanding. A home environment that fosters EQ can substantially contribute to a child’s emotional and social development.

Impact of Emotional Intelligence on Future Success

Building emotional intelligence in students has long-term implications for their success. High EQ levels are associated with better job prospects, workplace performance, and overall life satisfaction. Therefore, prioritizing EQ development in our educational systems is in our best interest.

  • Improved Academic Performance: Students with higher EQ are more likely to succeed academically because of their enhanced self-awareness, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills.
  • Better Interpersonal Relationships: EQ helps students to develop empathy, leading to stronger relationships with their peers, teachers, and family members.
  • Increased Self-Awareness: EQ allows students to recognize and understand their emotions, enabling them to manage stress and conflict more effectively.
  • Future Success: High levels of EQ have been associated with better job prospects, superior workplace performance, and higher life satisfaction.
  • Implementation Challenges: Incorporating EQ development into the curriculum may face resistance due to a heavy academic focus in many education systems.
  • Time and Resource Intensive: Training teachers and parents to foster EQ development alongside academic education may require significant time and resources.
  • Measuring Success: Unlike academic success, EQ development success may be harder to measure and quantify, potentially leading to difficulty in assessing program efficacy.
  • Individual Differences: Not all students develop emotional intelligence simultaneously, which might result in discrepancies and the need for individualized attention.

Emotional intelligence is a key factor in students’ academic and future success. By adopting mindfulness practices, implementing SEL curriculum, and fostering an environment that values emotional awareness, we can significantly enhance EQ in students. Both educators and parents play vital roles in this process, paving the way for well-rounded, emotionally intelligent future leaders.

Developing emotional intelligence in students is an investment that yields lifelong returns—educational attainment, career success, and overall well-being. Let’s pledge to make EQ a central part of our education systems and in the process, nurture students who are not just academically brilliant but also emotionally smart.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional Intelligence, often called EQ, is the ability to understand, use, and manage our emotions positively to relieve stress , communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

How does Emotional Intelligence affect students’ academic performance?

Research shows that students with higher EQ tend to have better academic performance. They demonstrate increased concentration, improved problem-solving skills, and stronger interpersonal relationships.

How can parents help develop Emotional Intelligence in their children?

Parents can help develop EQ in their children by modeling emotional intelligence, discussing emotions openly, and promoting empathy and understanding at home.

Can Emotional Intelligence be taught in schools?

Yes, Emotional Intelligence can be taught in schools. Incorporating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum, mindfulness exercises, and providing an environment that encourages emotional expression can foster EQ in students.

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Psychology: Research and Review

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  • Published: 27 May 2022

Emotional intelligence and academic motivation in primary school students

  • Julia Arias 1 ,
  • Jorge G. Soto-Carballo 1 &
  • Margarita R. Pino-Juste   ORCID: 1  

Psicologia: Reflexão e Crítica volume  35 , Article number:  14 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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The role of emotions in the educational context is one of the lines of research that has generated most interest in recent years. This study explores the level of emotional intelligence (EI) and motivation towards studying of primary school (PS) students, as well as the relationship between both variables. For this, a quasi-experimental design has been used with an accidental sample of 541 students from public centers in the province of Pontevedra (Spain). The instruments used were a School Motivation Scale and an EI questionnaire for primary school students, based on the five areas of Goleman EI. The results maintain a mid to high level of EI in all of the factors (self-conscience, self-control, emotional use, empathy and social skills) and a good level of academic motivation. Therefore, they show a positive and significant correlation of both variables. Girls have a higher emotional intelligence index and there is no difference in academic motivation in terms of gender. Based on these results, it is suggested to implement programs that consolidate emotional competences given their importance in the psychoevolutionary development of students and their relationship with academic motivation.

Theoretical framework

Education in Spain, and therefore the primary education (PE) stage, has been exposed to numerous legislative and structural reforms in recent decades. Currently, this stage is focused on the acquisition of competency development, which includes the learning of personal, intellectual, social, and emotional skills. The ultimate goal is that students can learn and develop these skills and abilities that allow them to face their future and adapt to the changing situations of the knowledge society (Codero & Manchón, 2014 ; Merchán et al., 2014 ; Asensio et al., 2015 ). In this sense, more and more voices are emerging that question the exclusivity of rational intelligence as the most influential factor in achieving academic and personal success, understanding that there are other variables that should also be taken into account, such as emotional intelligence (EI) and motivation (Ferrándiz et al., 2012 ; Filella et al., 2014 ; Bisquerra et al., 2015 ; Pulido & Herrera, 2017 ; Rebollo & de la Peña, 2017 ; Puertas et al., 2020 ).

The key lies in the harmony between thoughts and emotions, and education is the main instrument to achieve this harmony, to achieve an integral development of people, not only at a cognitive level, but also in the social and emotional aspect. New times demand a change in academic slogans, bringing emotional education closer to formal education (Aguadez & Pantoja, 2015 ; Valdés & Gutiérrez, 2018 ; Solé, 2020 ). Hence, one of the most preeminent purposes of education should be to train emotionally intelligent students, understanding emotional intelligence as “the ability to access and generate feelings that facilitate thoughts” (Mayer & Salovey, 1997 , 10).

Historically, in Western culture, human beings have always been considered rational, leaving the emotional world in the background. But this way of understanding the human being is incomplete, since emotions are present in all the acts and moments of our life. As biologist Maturana ( 2001 ) points out, we live in a culture that devalues emotions in favour of reason. By defining the human being as a rational being, we do not realize that there is no human action without an emotion that grounds it as such and makes it possible as an act.

One of the most forceful critics of the traditional model of conceiving intelligence was Gardner ( 1983 ). In his work Frames of Mind he questions the famous “IQ”, or “intellectual quotient”, invented by Binet in 1905, since it measures only two of the eight intelligences we possess, linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and reformulates the concept of intelligence through the theory of multiple intelligences, which establishes that we possess different types of intelligence and each one is relatively independent of the others.

For Gardner ( 1983 ), intelligence is a genetic potential that has to be developed by education and that manifests itself in eight different fields: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic-bodily, musical, natural-ecological, intrapersonal, interpersonal. Intrapersonal refers to the emotional life of each person, the knowledge of their feelings, the management of their emotions, and the ability to direct their own behavior. The interpersonal is built on the ability to establish good relationships between people, to understand others, to understand their moods, temperaments, intentions, etc.

The first publications that appeared on emotions and the importance of learning to know and regulate them, made many statements about the positive influence of EI in the classroom. The only drawback was that all these assertions were not supported by empirical data showing that EI skills and competencies had real and positive repercussions in the school and personal life of students (Extremera & Fernández-Berrocal, 2004 ).

Since the 1990s, numerous studies have shown that our feelings and emotions influence our thoughts. Both in the field of psychology (Mayer & Salovey, 1990 ; Goleman, 1996 ; Fernández-Berrocal et al., 2004 ; Bar-On, 2006 ; Mayer et al., 2008 ; Filella et al., 2014 ) as well as important biologically based works (Hamann et al., 2020 ; Sánchez & Román, 2004 ), developed with the help of new technologies (functional magnetic resonance imaging or positron emission tomography-PET), made possible great scientific advances in the field of affective neuroscience and more specifically in the field of EI (Trujillo & Rivas, 2005 ; Punset, 2010 ). Therefore, the concept of EI is acquiring, over the years, a solid scientific basis. In this sense, a short excerpt from Goleman ( 1996 , 67) states that:

“The existing connections between the amygdala (and the limbic structures related to it) and the neocortex constitute the center of gravity of the existing struggles and cooperation treaties between the heart and the head, between thoughts and feelings. This neural pathway would explain why emotion is so fundamental to effective thinking, both to make intelligent decisions and to enable us to think clearly”.

We have to clarify here the contradictions between the explanations of neuroscientists and educators or social scientists. For the former in general, emotions appear caused by needs of the organism triggered internally or by external events. Therefore, the social and environmental environment is only an external trigger of emotion. To understand it, it is not necessary to analyze the external triggers but rather what happens in the brain (Damasio, 2018 ).

From the field of social sciences, there are currently two main models of EI, the “skills model” (Mayer & Salovey, 1990 , 1997 ), which bases the EI construct on emotional information processing skills, and the “mixed model” (Goleman, 1996 ), which combines emotional skills with personality traits such as self-esteem, persistence, optimism, frustration tolerance or self-motivation (García-Fernández & Giménez-Mas, 2010 ; Fernández-Berrocal et al., 2012 ). In our country, the latter is the most widespread model due to the publishing success of Goleman’s bestseller (Fernández-Berrocal & Extremera, 2005 ).

The other variable that we are going to analyze in this study is motivation, we can define it as a multidimensional process (formed by biological, cultural, social, learning and cognitive aspects), which is based on the existence of a motive or reason that drives a subject to initiate, develop, and complete a behavior (Burón, 2006 ). However, it should be borne in mind that, faced with the same situation, each person does not respond or motivate in the same way, which leads us to deduce that there are different types of motivation. Ryan and Deci’s model ( 2000 ) distinguishes between intrinsic motivation, where the subject considers the action interesting and satisfying in itself; extrinsic motivation, external to the individual, where the reason for acting is some consequence (gaining a reward or avoiding punishment); and demotivation or a state of absence of motivation.

Intrinsic motivation constitutes one of the psychoeducational factors most involved in school learning and can be considered as the key piece of deep and lasting learning (Barrientos, 2011 ; Camacho-Miñano & Del Campo, 2015 ; Morilla-García & García-Jurado, 2019 ). If students are motivated, if they are interested in understanding what they are studying and acquiring the knowledge and skills, they concentrate more on what they are doing, persist in the search for solutions to the problems they encounter and devote more time and effort than students who lack adequate motivation.

Currently, motivation for task performance continues to be one of the most researched variables linked to the student body (González et al., 2009 ; Barca et al., 2011 ; Barrientos, 2011 ; García-Señorán et al., 2015 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ; Barreto-Trujillo & Álvarez-Bermúdez, 2020 ).

These studies attempt to explore the reasons why primary and secondary school students are involved in academic tasks or, on the contrary, show a lack of interest in them. Most of the studies agree that extrinsic motivations are the most prevalent (a better job in the future, grades, rewards, avoidance of punishment, or encouragement from significant people). While intrinsic motivations (learning new things and enjoying activities) occur to a lesser extent. We must bear in mind that motivation is affected by learning experiences and is not a fixed quality of the individual (Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012 ). In addition, a strong and positive relationship has been established between emotional intelligence and motivation especially if this extrinsic motivation and amotivation (Sontakke, 2016 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ); although studies in the context of Primary Education are scarce (Ferrándiz et al., 2012 ; Clarke et al., 2014 ). Most of them have been conducted with samples of middle school and university students (Durán et al., 2006 ; Domínguez-Alonso et al., 2016 ; Lomelí-Parga et al., 2016 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ). There are also some related to specific fields such as music, language teaching or physical education (López, 2013 ; Conde & Almagro, 2013 ; Cera et al., 2015 ; González-Peiteado et al., 2016 ; Fierro Suero et al., 2019 ).

Regarding the differences in emotional intelligence by gender and age, there is still an important controversy since in some studies women manage emotions better (Extremera et al., 2006 ; Billings et al., 2014 ; Rebollo & de la Peña, 2017 ), while other studies have shown that children seem to have a higher EI in some constructs (Filella et al., 2014 ; Petrides, 2016 ). Regarding age, it seems that as the individual gets older, their emotional control improves (Karma & Maliha, 2005 ; Pulido & Herrera, 2017 ; Rebollo & de la Peña, 2017 ).

There is also controversy regarding the differences in academic motivation by gender and age. Girls tend to have higher academic motivation than boys and there are no differences with respect to age (Marumo et al., 2019 ). But there are multiple differences according to the motivational factors (intrinsic or extrinsic) that are evaluated (Cerezo & Casanova, 2004 ; Torrano & Soria, 2017 ; Pino-Juste et al., 2021 ). Women obtain higher scores in educational aspirations, expectations and goals (Delgado et al., 2010 ; Ramudo et al., 2017 ). However, boys often attribute successes to internal causes while failure is attributed to external causes (Smith et al., 2002 ). In addition, the age groups where the studies are carried out tend to have a small range and are concentrated in a specific population (childhood, adolescence, university student).

This research used a quasi-experimental design from an interpretive approach (Hernández et al., 2006 ). It is not, therefore, a random selection of participants, but rather we work with groups already accidentally constituted. Moreover, there is no manipulation of variables and there are no control groups. This approach uses data analysis to answer research questions and test previously established hypotheses, and relies on numerical measurement and statistics to establish patterns of behavior in a population.

The objectives of this research focus on (a) identifying the level of school motivation and EI of PE students; (b) analyzing the correlation between the constructs EI and motivation to study and task performance of PE students; and (c) establishing the association between these constructs and the independent variables (gender, grade, and age).

Based on these objectives, the following hypotheses were proposed: (a) PE students have a good level of EI and a high degree of school motivation; (b) there is a high relationship between EI and school motivation; (c) the level of EI is higher in girls; (d) girls have greater school motivation; (e) 6th grade students have a higher level of motivation than 5th grade students; and (f) EI and school motivation levels increase as age increases.


The sample is made up of 541 students in 5th and 6th grades of Primary Education, belonging to several public schools in the province of Pontevedra (Spain), aged between 10 and 12 years, of whom 270 are boys and 271 girls, 51.2% in 5th grade and 48.8% in 6th grade; therefore, it is a very homogeneous sample in terms of gender and grade.


Taking into account that this is a study with a quantitative methodology, we used standardized questionnaires for data collection. A scale to measure the level of EI by Chiriboga and Franco ( 2001 ), based on Goleman’s ( 1996 ) five areas of EI: self-awareness, self-control, self-motivation or emotional achievement, empathy, and social skill and the school motivation scale by Barrientos ( 2011 ) to quantify motivation towards study and the execution of school tasks.

To test the reliability of the questionnaires used in this study, the internal consistency of each of them was calculated by means of Cronbach’s Alpha. The coefficient obtained in the Chiriboga and Franco ( 2001 ) test, which consists of 60 items, is .871 and in the School Motivation Scale of Barrientos ( 2011 ) (SMS), which consists of 18 items, is .806. Thus, according to the recommendations of George and Mallery ( 2003 ), the reliability of these scales is very high (> .8).

To initiate the data collection procedure, the management team and the guidance department were contacted in order to explain the purpose and scope of this research and to request their collaboration and participation. After their consent, the families were informed of the research study by means of a circular letter from the center, in which they were asked for permission to apply the questionnaires. All the questionnaires were completed by the same researcher in the presence of the teacher of each classroom. The explanatory instructions for completing the questionnaires were the same in all classrooms. We also provided information about our research work and clarified doubts so that they could complete the instrument without difficulty. We insisted on the anonymity of the answers and that they should be answered as rigorously and seriously as possible, reading all the items carefully.

It is worth mentioning the receptiveness of all students, teachers, and families who were asked to collaborate. Confidentiality was scrupulously respected. The questionnaires were anonymous, so the identity of the students was always protected. The only personal data requested were age, grade and sex. Regarding the ethical aspects of the research, it was carried out following the deontological standards recognized by the Declaration of Helsinki (review Fortaleza-Brazil, October 2013) and in accordance with the EEC Good Clinical Practice Recommendations (document 111/3976/88 of July 1990) and the current legal regulations governing research.

Data analysis

In order to decide on the statistics to be used in the data analysis, normality tests were calculated for the SMS and the EI test. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov contrast statistic for the School Motivation variable takes the value of .054, so it does not allow us to reject the null hypothesis of normality for significance levels below .195. The same occurs with the variable EI; in this case, the value of the contrast statistic is .035, for significance levels below .162, which also represents an indication of normality of the population (Table 1 ).

Therefore, the descriptive statistics of central tendency (mean) and dispersion (standard deviation) of each of the study variables are used for data analysis. Bivariate correlations are also analyzed using Pearson’s correlation coefficient between the study variables (EI and school motivation). In the case of EI, we take into account the different components or factors that make it up, to see which have a higher correlation with each other, how each factor correlates with total EI and which has a higher correlation with school motivation. In addition, Student’s t -means difference and ANOVA statistics were used to establish the association between the independent and dependent variables.

The SPSS statistical analysis software, version 26.0, was used for data analysis. We used a significance level of .05.

The descriptive statistics that we obtained for each of the variables in the sample are shown in Table 2 . According to these data we can say that the mean of school motivation is 1.5, with a minimum value of 0.39 and a maximum value of 2.00. The mean of total EI is 132.22, the minimum value of this variable is 51.00 and the maximum value is 178.00. We can also extract that the EI factor with the highest mean value is social ability ( \(\overline{\mathrm{x}}\) = 28.02), followed by emotional achievement ( \(\overline{\mathrm{x}}\) = 27.54), empathy ( \(\overline{\mathrm{x}}\) = 26.56), and self-awareness ( \(\overline{\mathrm{x}}\) = 26.40); the EI factor with the lowest mean value is self-control ( \(\overline{\mathrm{x}}\) = 23.73). The minimum value of each of the EI components or factors is 6 and the maximum is 36.

According to the correlation table (Table 3 ), we can see that all are significant (less than .05) and positive, i.e., direct (as one increases, so does the other). Moreover, in general, we can affirm that there are medium–high correlations between the variables studied. Among the EI components, the highest correlation is between “empathy” and “social skills” ( r = .835). In contrast, the lowest correlations are between “self-control” and “empathy” and between “self-control” and “social skills”; ( r = .492) and ( r = .564), respectively. If we look at the correlations between the different components of EI with “total EI”, we observe that they present a really high magnitude. The highest of these is the one found between “total EI” and “emotional achievement” or “self-motivation” ( r = .854), if we are talking about intrapersonal EI; and the correlation between “total EI” and “social ability” ( r = .818), if we are referring to interpersonal EI. But closely followed by the other factors that make up EI, “self-awareness” ( r = .823); “self-control” ( r = .783), and “empathy” ( r = .806). Finally, we observe that the correlation between “school motivation” and “total EI” is ( r = .857), which is a high correlation between the two main variables of the research.

With regard to the association between the gender variable and school motivation, there are no significant differences between boys and girls ( t = − 1.029, p = .304 > .05).

However, we can observe differences with respect to the EI variable (Table 4 ). If we look at “total EI”, we see that there are significant differences between the means, being higher for girls ( t = − 2.980, p = .003 < .05). If we analyze the results by EI components, we can confirm that in “self-control” there are no significant differences in terms of gender ( t = − 1.752; p = .08 > .05). The other EI components “self-awareness”, “self-motivation”, “empathy”, and “social skills” show significant differences in favor of girls. In this table we can see that the greatest differences occur in “empathy” and in “emotional achievement or self-motivation”.

As for the relationship between the EI variable and the course variable, there are no significant differences between the 5th and 6th grades ( t = .102, p = .919 > .05). The same occurs with respect to the association between the course variable and school motivation ( t = .326, p = .745 > .05).

To complete the previous results, we analyzed the interaction of the variables EI and school motivation with age as a nominal variable. In Table 5 , we observe that there are significant inter-group differences between students in group 1 (10 years) and group 3 (12 years), ( p = .012 < .05) and between students in group 2 (11 years) and group 3 (12 years), ( p = .035 < .05), with the level of motivation being higher in younger children.

In the same way, we analyzed the variable EI as a function of age. We observed that there are indeed significant differences between the group of children in group 1 (10 years) and group 3 (12 years), since p = .017 < .05; and between the students in group 2 (11 years) and group 3 (12 years), whose bilateral significance is p = .024 < .05.

Discussion and conclusions

According to the results obtained, we can consider that PE students have a good motivational level and a medium-high level of EI.

As for the EI components, they present higher mean in those referring to social skills, emotional achievement, empathy and self-awareness, and slightly lower in the self-control factor.

In view of the results obtained, we can also affirm that there is a high degree of correlation between the main variables of the EI study and school motivation. Therefore, these results support our main working hypothesis and we can confirm that students with high levels of EI are more motivated to study and perform school tasks. There is not abundant scientific evidence on this relationship in primary school children. However, in some works (Ferrándiz et al., 2012 ; Conde & Almagro, 2013 ; López, 2013 ; Cera et al., 2015 ; Domínguez-Alonso et al., 2016 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ), carried out with samples of Secondary School or Conservatory of Music students, it can be seen that the correlation between EI and school motivation is significant, although in a more modest way than in our study.

We can also say that the results obtained verify positive and high correlations between the factors that make up EI, as well as between each of them and total EI. So they coincide with the studies of other authors (Ferrándiz et al., 2012 ; López, 2013 ; Lomelí-Parga et al., 2016 ; Domínguez-Alonso et al., 2016 ; Pulido & Herrera, 2017 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ; Broc, 2019 ), who interpret EI as a management process of multiple factors that act together complementing and converging in the same direction. That is, students with greater EI capacity are more skilled in emotional perception, understanding and regulation, which allows them to put into practice emotional harnessing, empathy, and social skills.

Regarding the interaction of the gender variable with school motivation, we have to say that there are no significant differences between the means of boys and girls, so our research hypothesis, which considered girls to have a higher level of academic motivation than boys, is not fulfilled. However, in the case of EI, we can observe statistically significant differences between the male and female genders in favor of the latter. Therefore, we can conclude that, according to this study, PD girls show a better management of emotional competencies than boys, thus fulfilling our hypothesis.

The gender differences evidenced in this work are also observed in other research conducted in child, pre-adolescent or adolescent populations (Ogundokun & Adeyemo, 2010 ; DiPrete & Jennings, 2012 ; Billings et al., 2014 ; Pulido & Herrera, 2017 ; Rebollo & de la Peña, 2017 ). However, in other studies consulted, differences are found in favor of women, in the so-called social competencies or interpersonal intelligence, while men present better results in intrapersonal intelligence (Soriano & Osorio, 2008 ; Ferrándiz et al., 2012 ; Filella et al., 2014 ). In this sense, most authors agree that other variables such as age and personal circumstances should be examined before concluding that gender is a determinant in people’s EI.

With respect to grade level, the results show that there are no significant differences in the levels of motivation and EI between students in the 5th and 6th grades. Therefore, our research hypothesis, which predicted better results in the last year of PD, is not fulfilled.

However, if we take into account the interaction of age on the EI and school motivation variables, we observe a lower mean of school motivation and EI in 12-year-old students compared to 10- and 11-year-old students (who have very similar means). In our case, it is necessary to take into account that these differences may be due to the fact that these are repeating students who have lower mean levels of motivation and EI. In order to obtain conclusive information on the influence of age, we should have a sufficient age range to allow us to make comparisons. Therefore, it would be interesting to extend the age range of the participants in future research, such as the first years of secondary school, which would allow us to consolidate these results.

Although it is true that in some studies it is observed that as the age of the participant’s increases, the results show a significant decrease in the scores on the EI scale (Karma & Maliha, 2005 ; Ferrando, 2006 ). According to Ferrándiz et al. ( 2012 ), it can be interpreted as meaning that the younger ones do not have as much need to apply their abilities or skills in the emotional and social area, since they are linked to the family context, which normally protects and regulates them. It is as they grow up and discover new contexts that they go through a period of tension that produces feelings of confusion and low levels of self-confidence that can lead to low levels of EI. Other studies, however, coincide in stating that a progressive increase is observed in the EI levels as age and cognitive development advance (Aguadez & Pantoja, 2015 ; Pulido & Herrera, 2017 ; Rebollo & de la Peña, 2017 ).

Therefore, we can conclude that emotional intelligence influences motivation towards school tasks and both in the academic performance of the student body (Ogundokun & Adeyemo, 2010 ; Mavroveli & Sánchez-Ruiz, 2011 ; Qualter et al., 2012 ; Fernandez et al., 2012 ; Kumar et al., 2013 ; Essays, 2013 ; Lomelí-Parga et al., 2016 ; Sontakke, 2016 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ; Broc, 2019 ). Spain is one of the EU countries with the highest number of early school leavers and our school performance rates in international tests are not too satisfactory in terms of the resources allocated to education (OECD, 2019 ). We consider, based on the results of this research, that establishing EI programs at early ages in schools can contribute to the improvement of social and personal skills that allow students to know themselves better, regulate their emotions and abilities, as well as maintain motivation towards school work. We should, therefore, be committed to the curricular integration of EI in the PE stage. The treatment of EI from the Tutorial Action Plans or from the different areas of knowledge should serve us as a starting point for this integration (Rebollo & de la Peña, 2017 ; Usán & Salavera, 2018 ; Broc, 2019 ).

We have to take into account that cognition and emotion act in the same area of the brain, therefore, teaching how to manage emotions means that girls and boys will be more motivated to learn. The objective is to favor the development of emotional competencies, through their explicit integration into the didactic program. In other words, educating for life, bringing the school closer to daily life. Emotional competences are not acquired if they are not worked directly in the classroom through the key competences and the different tasks and activities. If we propose tasks that awaken the interest and curiosity of students, that allow them to develop creativity and critical and reflective thinking, that challenge them, that are carried out in a cooperative way and with the support of information and communication technologies, we are getting students emotionally involved in learning. This model of education contributes to the integral formation of students, allowing them to acquire the necessary skills and tools to face the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Limitations of the study

There are reasons to be cautious about generalizing the results obtained in this study. Although the sample is sufficiently large, the use of a cross-sectional and quantitative design may bias the results obtained. It is necessary to continue conducting future research that will allow us to endorse these results in different cultural contexts and, as we have already suggested, broadening the age range. In addition, it would be important to design longitudinal studies to determine the evolution of EI and school motivation, as well as the possible interaction of the variables studied with repercussions on the school and personal life of students, and qualitative studies to establish consolidated scientific evidence on this topic. Nevertheless, we consider that the results of this research work may be indicative of the tendency of PE students’ thinking and perception of EI and motivation to study and perform school tasks.

Availability of data and materials

Data sharing is not applicable to this article.

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The authors thank Mr. Pedro Jorge for his help in the translation and correction of the English version. To our colleagues in RED-IS (Red Educativa Docente-Innovar en Sociedad) for their critical comments to this study and support.

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Julia Arias, Jorge G. Soto-Carballo & Margarita R. Pino-Juste

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J.A., J.S, and M.P. conceived and designed the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

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Julia Arias Rodríguez is a primary school teacher. BA Degree in Elementary Education, University of Vigo, 2017.

Dr. Jorge Soto holds a PhD in Educational Sciences and Professor at the University of Vigo. PhD at the University of Santiago de Compostela, 2003. Senior Lecturer at Vigo University since 1999. Her publications and research interests focus on the education in values and technologies of the education.

Dr. Margarita Pino Juste holds a PhD in Educational Sciences and Professor at the University of Vigo. Ph D. at the University of Santiago de Compostela, 1996. Headmaster of a Special Education School, 1989. Vice-Director of a Crafts School Workshop, 1992. Her publications and research interests focus on the fields of social education, needs analysis and teacher training.

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Meeting Students’ Needs for Emotional Support

A new survey finds that a large percentage of students don’t feel that they have an adult to turn to at school when they’re troubled.

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Only 55 percent of elementary school students (grades three through five), 42 percent of middle school students, and 40 percent of high school students in the United States have an adult at school they can talk to when they feel upset or stressed , according to a survey of more than 200,000 students across 20 different states. At every age, students benefit from a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.

Emotional support seeking is a call for help with regulating one’s emotions. Think about 9-year-old Elena, who asks for a hug to feel less sad after falling down during recess. Or 15-year-old Erik, who emails his teacher about his anxiety before a test. Emotional support seeking is helpful when sources of support are reliable and useful. It provides care, encouragement, reassurance, companionship, and information.

Emotional support seeking can be unhelpful, however, when others are unwilling, unavailable, or not skilled enough to support . Imagine Elena, who does not receive a hug because her teacher is busy managing her class. Or Erik, who does not receive any reply or, worse, receives a response that says, “Just get over it.” As an educator, what can you do when your students seek emotional support?

Bolstering students’ mental Health

Research on emotional support recommends listening to your students without judgment and acknowledging their emotions (“This is tough. It makes total sense that you feel hurt and upset”). By not ignoring (“You’ll feel better tomorrow”), dismissing (“It’s not a big deal”), or criticizing (“You’re overreacting”) students, you validate and normalize their experiences and emotions, which in turn builds empathy and rapport.

Research on empathy shows that telling your students that you know exactly what they are going through frequently backfires. This is because walking a mile in the shoes of another is just not possible, and it shifts the focus from the student to yourself. It’s more helpful to say, “It is hard for me to totally understand what you are going through, but I can see that it’s upsetting you.”

You can also discuss options (like using different emotion regulation strategies ) and next steps, which may include seeking appropriate professional help from counselors, psychologists, or social workers at school or in the community. Research finds that providing unsolicited advice (“What you should do is…”) is often not helpful to or appreciated by students and makes it less likely that they will seek support from you in the future.

However, many students, particularly those with less social support and poorer mental health, are reluctant to seek emotional support from an adult at school. This may be due to mental health stigma (“I will be judged by others”), cultural beliefs/norms about mental health (“I just need to toughen up”), or lack of relationships (“I’m not close to anyone”). So what can you do to increase emotional support seeking among students?

Encouraging Students to Open Up

Studies reveal that encouraging students to explore and express their feelings is key for many of them who have learned to bottle up or mask their emotions in a society where we pretend to be OK even when we are not . You can be a role model by sharing how your own emotions affect the way you think or act (modeling recognition of emotions) and what strategies you use to manage your emotions (modeling response to emotions). This normalizes sharing and talking about one’s emotions and reduces stigma surrounding mental health.

And, if you sense that your students are struggling with their emotions, you can offer support by expressing your care and concern (“I’ve noticed a change in your appearance (or behavior or mood). Do you want to talk about it?”) or desire and availability to help (“I would like to support you. I’m here anytime you need me”). As opening up and talking about emotions often make one feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, students may not open up until they are sure that you genuinely care .

You can see if your students are ready and willing to talk to any adult, whether it be at home, at school, or in the community, by asking these questions:

  • “Have you talked to anyone about what’s bothering you?”
  • “Do you want to talk to somebody about this?”
  • “Whom can you talk to about this?”
  • “When do you plan to talk to them about this?”

Asking these questions helps ensure that an action plan can be put in place.

Quality Over Quantity

Research demonstrates that emotional-support-network size is usually small (about two to 10 people). So what matters for students is to know that there are one or two adults at school who care about them and whom they can turn to. Schools can create a mentorship program that pairs staff (such as teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, resource officers) with students. This enables students to know that there is an adult at school whom they can turn to and who would like to see them.

Studies show that students who participate in school-based mentoring programs see improvements in academic , emotional , and psychosocial outcomes, particularly when staff employ targeted approaches matched to the needs of their students.

By better understanding and supporting their emotions, students will feel more connected to school , and this can have enduring protective effects on their learning and well-being that persist into adulthood.

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You are here, new books by penn gse faculty tackle burnout immunity, fostering community-based research.

Headshots of Kandi Wiens and Gerald Campano

Kandi Wiens (left) and Gerald Campano

Kandi Wiens

Burnout Immunity: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Build Resilience and Heal Your Relationship with Work

When it came time to publish her first book, Penn GSE Senior Fellow Kandi Wiens looked inward for inspiration. After a health scare, Wiens reevaluated a stressful consulting career and pivoted to research and coaching on emotional intelligence, burnout, and resiliency. She created a framework to help herself and others reduce stress and improve coping skills.

To help others avoid burnout and promote a healthy relationship with work, Wiens developed her ARMOR strategy, which is short for awareness, regulation, meaningful connections, outlook, and three Rs: recover, reconnect, and reimagine. That laid the foundation for her new book, Burnout Immunity: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Build Resilience and Heal Your Relationship with Work , set to publish April 23.

The book guides readers through Wiens’ research, stories from her participants, and her personal experiences with emotional intelligence (EI) and burnout. Each chapter offers resources to help individuals build their skills.

“I wanted to offer rich, impactful questions and exercises,” said Wiens.

Pioneered by psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman, Wiens explains that EI is recognizing your feelings and those of others, as well as self-motivation and coping skills for your emotions and relationships.

Research indicates people with high EI can process and respond to stressful situations and combat burnout. Wiens said readers could build their EI through awareness, work, and reflection.

Wiens recommends professionals regularly evaluate their work-life balance and prioritize physical, mental, and emotional wellness to avoid burnout. She encourages professionals to practice “frequent recovery,” such as a daily walk, weekends away, or vacations.

“It’s important to be mindful that something is good for you and make it part of your habits,” she said.

Wiens said that building EI is an ongoing process, and she continues honing her skills.

“I use every element of ARMOR every time I think of navigating a stressful situation,” Wiens said. “It’s like a muscle you’re constantly trying to develop. It’s lifelong work.”

Gerald Campano

Methods for Community-Based Research: Advancing Educational Justice and Epistemic Rights

After more than a decade of working with Philadelphia community members on collaborative research, Penn GSE Professor Gerald Campano and co-author Maria Paula Ghiso , a Penn GSE alum, want to help fellow researchers, academics, and community leaders grow the practice.

In their new book, Methods for Community-Based Research: Advancing Educational Justice and Epistemic Rights , publishing April 23 by Taylor & Francis, Campano and Ghiso advocate for university researchers to partner with local leaders, families, activists, and other stakeholders to design and conduct research on matters that impact their communities, including educational access and equity.

The goal “is about raising methodological issues for people to grapple with in their form of scholarship and practice,” Campano said.

The publication is inspired by Penn GSE’s Communities Advancing Research in Education (CARE) Initiative, led by Campano and Ghiso, a professor of literacy education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The program works to create partnerships between Penn researchers, doctoral students, and local community members.

CARE started 12 years ago when Campano and Ghiso joined members of a South Philadelphia Catholic parish that includes families of Latino, Indonesian, and Mexican descent to tackle issues on race and education. Through collaborative research, they’ve investigated critical educational topics, including the high school admissions process, inequitable school funding, and school closures, as well as asbestos and lead in schools.

Campano said the CARE initiative is a model for effective partnerships between universities and their surrounding communities. He plans to include the book in his syllabus for upcoming seminars and lectures.

“Community-based research is about doing research alongside folks — not about research on people or studying them, but supporting them in studying research on issues that impact their families and communities,” he said.

In the new book, Campano and Ghiso share examples from the CARE Initiative and doctoral graduates who have launched similar programs, including at the University of Connecticut and the University of California, Davis. By sharing experiences and methodology, the authors hope to spark new research to practice efforts with multiple stakeholders and deepen ties between schools and their communities.

“Our CARE work may look very different for someone else depending on their background and approach, but I hope it will be relevant for anyone interested in these more collaborative forms of research and democratizing scholarships and inquiry,” said Campano.

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The role of emotional intelligence, the teacher-student relationship, and flourishing on academic performance in adolescents: a moderated mediation study.

María Teresa Chamizo-Nieto

  • 1 Department of Personality, Assessment and Psychological Treatment, Faculty of Psychology, University of Malaga, Málaga, Spain
  • 2 Department of Social Psychology, Social Work, Social Anthropology and East Asian Studies, Faculty of Psychology, University of Malaga, Málaga, Spain

Educational context has an important influence on adolescents’ development and well-being, which also affects their academic performance. Previous empirical studies highlight the importance of levels of emotional intelligence for students’ academic performance. Despite several studies having analyzed the association and underlying mechanisms linking emotional intelligence and academic performance, further research, including both personal and contextual dimensions, is necessary to better understand this relation. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to deepen the understanding of the effect of emotional intelligence has on academic performance, examining the possible mediating role of flourishing and the moderating role of the teacher-student relationship. A convenience sample of 283 adolescents (49.8% female), aged 12–18 years ( M = 14.42, SD = 1.12), participated in a cross-sectional study by completing self-report questionnaires measuring emotional intelligence (Wong and Law Emotional Intelligence Scale), flourishing (Flourishing Scale), and teacher-student relationship (Inventory of Teacher-Student Relationships) and reported their grades of the previous term on four mandatory subjects in the Spanish education curriculum. Results indicated that flourishing completely mediated the path from emotional intelligence to academic performance and that teacher-student relationship was a significant moderator in this model. Thus, in adolescents with worse teacher-student relationship, the association of emotional intelligence and flourishing was stronger than in adolescents with better teacher-student relationship. In turn, flourishing was positively associated with academic performance. These results suggest that it is crucial to foster better teacher-student relationship, especially in adolescents with low emotional intelligence, and to positively impact their well-being and their academic performance.


During adolescence, development and well-being are influenced by changes in the social, biological, and personal spheres (e.g., familial, educational, or cultural). The educational context is one of the most influential, in which adolescents spend a great amount of time learning new skills and establishing social relationships ( Alford, 2017 ). In this context, the academic performance of students is one of the most essential criteria in evaluating them. Prior research has analyzed how academic performance is predicted by a number of personal and other environmental dimensions ( Deighton et al., 2018 ; Carmona-Halty et al., 2019 ; Hayat et al., 2020 ; Zhou et al., 2020 ). Research shows that emotional intelligence, flourishing, and teacher-student relationships are among the positive resources that promote well-being, psychological adjustment, and academic performance (e.g., Datu, 2018 ; Lan and Moscardino, 2019 ; Rey et al., 2019 ; MacCann et al., 2020 ).

Emotional Intelligence and Academic Performance

In the current study, emotional intelligence is conceptualized from the ability model developed by Mayer et al. (2016) and is defined as a mental ability for perceiving, understanding, using, and regulating one’s own and other people’s emotions. Research literature suggests that emotionally intelligent people report better psychological adjustment (e.g., self-esteem, happiness, optimism, social support, and less depression; Lopez-Zafra et al., 2019 ; Tejada-Gallardo et al., 2020 ) as well as higher levels of life satisfaction, well-being, and flourishing ( Sánchez-Álvarez et al., 2016 ; Callea et al., 2019 ; Lopez-Zafra et al., 2019 ; Salavera et al., 2020 ). In educational context, previous findings suggest that developing emotional competences may be a useful resource to increase the levels of flourishing and improve psychological adjustment and interpersonal relationships in adolescent population ( Rey et al., 2019 ; Trigueros et al., 2019 ; Martínez-Martínez et al., 2020 ). Furthermore, evidence shows that emotional intelligence is moderately associated with students’ academic performance ( MacCann et al., 2020 ; Sánchez-Álvarez et al., 2020 ). A plausible explanation for this significant link is that emotional intelligent people are better able to manage emotions associated with educational settings (e.g., stress, frustration, or exam anxiety), and this set of abilities also helps by improving the relationships with peers and teachers ( MacCann et al., 2020 ). Thus, recent studies have explored various underlying mechanisms, such as positive emotions, emotional management, or self-directed learning (e.g., Zhoc et al., 2018 ; Trigueros et al., 2019 ; MacCann et al., 2020 ), that might also explain the link between emotional intelligence and academic performance. Moreover, MacCann et al. (2020) have suggested that some key noncognitive qualities, such as emotional intelligence, might impact on academic performance due to the current changes in education (e.g., an increased in group activities or teamwork), which require learning to manage possible peer conflicts, making decisions, or solving problems in a group. Nonetheless, further studies are necessary to deepen the understanding of emotional intelligence-academic performance linkage. In this study, we propose analyzing the possible mediating role of flourishing and the moderating role of teacher-student relationship in the relation between emotional intelligence and academic performance.

Flourishing as Mediator

Flourishing can be defined as a way “to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience” ( Fredrickson and Losada, 2005 , p. 678). Moreover, it has been proposed as an indicator of well-being encompassing the experience of feeling joy, contentment, or happiness in life (i.e., hedonic well-being) as well as having an effective psychological functioning (i.e., eudaemonic well-being; Huppert and So, 2013 ). In fact, flourishing is related to less burnout and higher levels of health, life satisfaction, and work engagement ( Garzón-Umerenkova et al., 2018 ; Younes and Alzahrani, 2018 ; Freire et al., 2020 ; Imran et al., 2020 ). Although this variable has not been extensively studied in adolescents ( Witten et al., 2019 ), and even less in relation to academic performance, some studies suggest that higher levels of flourishing may contribute to a better academic performance and a greater likelihood of prioritizing academic chores ( Datu, 2018 ; Datu et al., 2020 ). Moreover, this variable has been proposed as a significant mediator in the relation between several personal resources such as emotional intelligence and psychological adjustment indicators (e.g., suicide risk; Rey et al., 2019 ). In line with the aforementioned empirical studies and prior research linking emotional intelligence and academic performance (e.g., Datu, 2018 ; Callea et al., 2019 ; Rey et al., 2019 ; Datu et al., 2020 ), in the present study, we aimed to examine the potential role of flourishing as mediator in the emotional intelligence-academic performance link.

Teacher-Student Relationship as Moderator

The quality of the teacher-student relationship constitutes an important aspect in adolescents’ development and mental health ( Lippard et al., 2018 ; Wang et al., 2018 , 2020 ). Previous studies have found that a positive and close teacher-student relationship may increase enjoyment in learning and social adjustment, leading to higher satisfaction of psychological needs and increased peer relationships at school, as well perhaps decreasing academic stress and school burnout in students ( Bakadorova and Raufelder, 2018 ; Lan and Moscardino, 2019 ; Clem et al., 2020 ; Luo et al., 2020 ; Romano et al., 2020 ; Dong et al., 2021 ). Furthermore, some studies have shown the benefits of positive teacher-student relationship in promoting the development of adolescents’ emotional intelligence ( Wang et al., 2020 ) and buffering negative consequences of stressful situation (e.g., victimization) on psychological security ( Jia et al., 2018 ). Hence, one might tentatively assume that teacher-student relationship might have an interaction effect with emotional intelligence on subjective and psychological well-being (i.e., flourishing).

The Current Study

Based on these findings and some gaps in the literature about the relation among emotional intelligence, academic performance, flourishing, and teacher-student relationship, the main objective of this study was to examine the underlying mechanisms in the linkage between emotional intelligence and academic performance, analyzing the roles of flourishing and teacher-student relationship by a moderated mediation model. For this, the following hypotheses were proposed: (1) flourishing will mediate the positive effect of emotional intelligence on academic performance and (2) teacher-student relationship will moderate the relation between emotional intelligence and flourishing.

Materials and Methods


A non-random convenience sample was composed of 283 adolescents (50.2% males and 49.8% females), aged 12–18 years ( M = 14.42, SD = 1.12), from two public secondary schools in the Andalusia region (Spain). The majority of the sample (93.2%) was Spanish. With regard to grade level: 31.1% were in the 2nd year, 37.5% in the 3rd year, and 31.4% in the 4th year of compulsory secondary education.

Emotional intelligence was measured using the Wong and Law Emotional Intelligence Scale (WLEIS: Wong and Law, 2002 ). The WLEIS is a self-report questionnaire containing 16 items that measure four dimensions of emotional intelligence: self-emotion appraisal (e.g., “I have a good sense of why I feel certain feelings most of the time”), other-emotion appraisal (e.g., “I always know my friends’ emotions from their behavior”), use of emotions (e.g., “I always set goals for myself and then try my best to achieve them”), and regulation of emotions (e.g., “I am able to control my temper and handle difficulties rationally”). A global score can be calculated based on these dimensions. Items are answered on a scale from 1 (“totally disagree”) to 7 (“totally agree”) and higher scores indicate higher levels of emotional intelligence. In this study, we used the Spanish version, which has shown adequate validity and reliability ( Extremera et al., 2019 ). As shown in Table 1 , our sample’s reliability indexes were excellent ( α = 0.91; ω = 0.92).

Table 1 . Descriptive statistics, reliability indexes, and correlations for the study variables.

Flourishing was assessed using the Flourishing Scale (FS: Diener et al., 2010 ). The FS is a one-dimension self-report questionnaire, which measures several aspects of positive human functioning such as personal competence, positive relationships, and purpose in life. The scale comprised eight items (e.g., “People respect me”) that are answered on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”), so higher scores indicate higher levels of well-being. We used the Spanish validated version, which shows good validity and reliability ( Checa et al., 2018 ). The internal consistency in this study was good ( α = 0.81; ω = 0.81).

Teacher-student relationship quality was measured using the Inventory of Teacher-Student Relationships (ITSR: Murray and Zvoch, 2011 ). The ITSR is a student-report measure of three dimensions of teacher-student relationships: trust (e.g., “I trust my teacher”), communication (e.g., “My teacher understands me”), and alienation (e.g., “I get upset easily at school,” reverse scored). The inventory has 17 items measured on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (“never”) to 4 (“always”). A mean score of all the items was calculated, so higher scores suggest a better teacher-student relationship. The questionnaire was adapted into Spanish following international guidelines for adapting tests ( International Test Commission, 2017 ). First, two researchers independently translated the original English version into Spanish. Second, a third bilingual translator performed the back-translation. In this process, great care was taken to preserve the content expression of the items. Discrepancies were discussed until agreement on the final version was reached. Following data collection, the reliability of the complete scale was analyzed. Results showed good internal consistency ( α = 0.86; ω = 0.87).

Finally, academic performance was assessed using the grades of the previous term (September to December 2020) reported by the students. An average score was calculated based on four mandatory subjects in the Spanish education curriculum: mathematics, geography and history, Spanish language and literature, and foreign language. Global grades were ranged from 1 (“poor”) to 10 (“excellent”) so higher scores indicate better academic performance. The internal consistency of this measure was good ( α = 0.86; ω = 0.87).

The University of Malaga’s Ethical Committee assessed and approved the research protocol of this study (reference number: 62-2016-H). First, two public schools’ administrations were contacted by phone, they were informed of the study’s objectives and procedure, and they were invited to participate in the cross-sectional study. Upon agreement, they signed an informed consent and notified the students’ parents or legal guardians. Following each school’s policy, parents and legal guardians gave their consent on behalf of the students, either in written form or by not expressing dissent. Data were collected at the schools during a routine class session in the presence of a teacher and a research assistant. During this session, students were informed of the objectives of the study and were assured of the anonymity and confidentiality of their responses. Following, instructions to complete the questionnaires were given and all questions were answered. Students voluntarily completed the paper-based questionnaires for approximately 25 min. Data collection was in accordance with current ethical standards ( World Medical Association, 2013 ).

Data Analysis

Analyses were carried out using JASP and SPSS 23. Cronbach’s alpha and McDonald’s omega indexes were calculated to assess the reliability of the questionnaires. Descriptive statistics and Pearson correlations were estimated. As self-report questionnaires were used to measure all variables, common-method bias was assessed using Harman’s single-factor test ( Podsakoff and Organ, 1986 ). The PROCESS macro for SPSS ( Hayes, 2018 ) was used to estimate the mediating effect of flourishing on the emotional intelligence-academic performance association (model 4). Moreover, model 7 of the same macro was used to test the moderating effect of the quality of teacher-student relationship in the tested mediation model. The assumptions of independence, normality, multicollinearity, and homoscedasticity were tested prior to conducting the analyses ( Field, 2013 ). For the mediation and moderated mediation analyses a bootstrapping method was used to obtain bias-corrected 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) with 5,000 re-samples. An effect was considered as significant if the 95% CI did not contain zero.

Preliminary Analyses

Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics, reliability indexes (coefficients Alpha and Omega), and Pearson correlation analyses for the study variables. As shown, the internal consistency of all the questionnaires was satisfactory and all the variables were significantly and positively correlated. Moreover, Harman’s test indicated that there were nine factors with eigenvalues higher than 1 and the first factor accounted for 24.75% of the variance, so common-method bias was not an issue in this study. Lastly, statistical indexes (i.e., Durbin-Watson = 1.506; VIF values < 10) and plot analyses indicated that all regression assumptions were met.

Mediating Effect of Flourishing

Table 2 presents the results of the mediation analysis. As shown, emotional intelligence was positively associated with flourishing ( p < 0.001), which was positively related to academic performance ( p < 0.05). The total effect of emotional intelligence on academic performance ( b = 0.184, SE = 0.090, p = 0.041) was statistically significant. Moreover, the 95% bootstrap CI for the indirect effect ( b = 0.178, SE = 0.080, 95% CI = 0.035–0.349) did not contain zero, indicating a statistically significant effect. As the direct effect of emotional intelligence on academic performance ( b = 0.006, SE = 0.116, p = 0.958) was not statistically significant, the results suggest that flourishing completely mediated the positive association between emotional intelligence and academic performance. The model accounted for 11.4% of the variance in academic performance.

Table 2 . Mediating effect of flourishing on the association of emotional intelligence and academic performance.

Moderating Effect of Teacher-Student Relationship

Model 7 of the PROCESS macro ( Hayes, 2018 ) was used to test if the quality of teacher-student relationship moderated the previous mediation model. As shown in Table 3 , despite emotional intelligence and teacher-student relationship being positively associated with flourishing ( p < 0.001), their interaction was negatively related to this outcome variable. Figure 1 illustrates this effect at two levels of the moderator: low ( M – SD) and high ( M + SD) teacher-student relationship. As presented, in adolescents with low teacher-student relationship, the association between emotional intelligence and flourishing is stronger, suggesting that the quality of teacher-student relationship is particularly important in adolescents with low levels of emotional intelligence to predict their flourishing. Furthermore, the conditional indirect effect of emotional intelligence on academic performance through flourishing was obtained at these two levels of teacher-student relationship. The lower part of Table 3 shows 95% bootstrap CI and the index of moderated mediation, which indicate that this effect was significantly different from zero. Thus, teacher-student relationship moderated the association between emotional intelligence and flourishing, which mediated and positively predicted academic performance, confirming hypotheses 1 and 2.

Table 3 . The indirect effect of emotional intelligence on academic performance through flourishing conditioned by teacher-student relationship quality.

Figure 1 . Flourishing as a function of emotional intelligence at low ( M − SD) and high ( M + SD) levels of teacher-student relationship quality. B = unstandardized coefficients; *** p < 0.001.

The present study used a moderated mediation to investigate whether flourishing would mediate the link between emotional intelligence and academic performance, and whether teacher-student relationship would moderate the association between emotional intelligence and academic performance in a sample of adolescents. Our results are in accordance with previous studies underlying the key role of emotional abilities on some educational outcomes such as academic performance (e.g., MacCann et al., 2020 ; Sánchez-Álvarez et al., 2020 ).

Regarding our first hypothesis, the results corroborated the mediator role of flourishing in the relation between emotional intelligence and academic performance. In line with previous research ( Sánchez-Álvarez et al., 2016 ; Rey et al., 2019 ; Trigueros et al., 2019 ), these findings suggest that emotionally intelligent adolescents report higher levels of well-being and psychological functioning (i.e., flourishing). In addition, these higher levels of flourishing seem to be linked to higher reported academic performance ( Datu, 2018 ; Datu et al., 2020 ). Thus, our contribution shows the relevance of promoting students’ flourishing as a key mechanism, which allows them to perform better in school.

With respect to our second hypothesis, the results of the moderated mediation model suggest that, despite emotional intelligence and teacher-student relationship being positively related to flourishing, their interaction seems to counterbalance their independent effects on this personal well-being indicator. Thus, developing emotional intelligence skills are a crucial factor in fostering flourishing in adolescents, especially if they have a poor relationship with their teachers. Previous studies have found that positive teacher-student relationship contributes greatly to adolescents’ adjustment and well-being (e.g., Bakadorova and Raufelder, 2018 ; Lan and Moscardino, 2019 ; Borraccino et al., 2020 ; Dong et al., 2021 ). Our results expand on these findings by suggesting that, when the quality of the relationship with teachers is low, the association between emotional intelligence and flourishing become stronger.

The present study is not without limitations. Firstly, we used cross-sectional data, which does not allow draw any causal inferences. Future studies should use longitudinal designs to clarify causal directionality among personal (i.e., emotional intelligence) and social resources (i.e., teacher-student relationship) on flourishing and academic performance. Therefore, it would be important in further research to investigate the extent to which levels of emotional intelligence, flourishing, and teacher-student relationship predict changes in academic performance in adolescents across time. Another limitation of the study is that it relied on self-reported measures of academic achievement, which could be subject to social desirability bias or memory issues. Although this measurement was taken to guarantee anonymity and was tend to be a reliable indicator ( Kuncel et al., 2005 ), ideally future research should examine the effect of actual grade point average. Thirdly, when assessing teacher-student relationship, we only measured students’ perspective, so future studies should evaluate teachers’ point of view to ensure a more comprehensive approach of this variable.

Despite these limitations, our study is the first to analyze flourishing as an underlying mechanism that explaining the association between emotional intelligence and academic performance in adolescents and teacher-student relationship as a moderator in this relationship. These findings have important practical implications. Positive psychology’s goal is to build human flourishing, which results from the experience of positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishments ( Seligman, 2011 ). Our results support the notion that interventions aiming at promoting the different dimensions of flourishing may not only have an impact on adolescents’ general well-being but also specifically on their academic performance (e.g., Van Zyl and Stander, 2019 ). Moreover, several reviews and meta-analyses provide evidence to consider emotional intelligence as a trainable ability in adults ( Hodzic et al., 2018 ; Kotsou et al., 2019 ; Mattingly and Kraiger, 2019 ). Nonetheless, some intervention programs also have found that emotional intelligence can be trained in adolescents (e.g., Motamedi et al., 2017 ; Viguer et al., 2017 ; Cantero et al., 2020 ). In line with our findings, researchers and practitioners should foster the development of students’ emotional intelligence, particularly among those who have low-quality relationships with their teachers. Lastly, our results also imply that for adolescents with a good teacher-student relationship, emotional intelligence positively predicts flourishing to a lesser degree, so positive teacher-student relationship should also be fostered as a personal resource to improve adolescents’ flourishing and academic performance.

In sum, our study provides some empirical evidence to support the importance of developing personal and social resources (i.e., emotional intelligence and teacher-student relationship) to foster adolescents’ well-being and improve their academic performance.

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by the Ethical Committee of University of Málaga. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants’ legal guardian/next of kin.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work, read, and approved it for publication.

This work was supported by the PAIDI Group CTS-1048 (Junta de Andalucía) and Junta de Andalucía/FEDER funds (UMA 18-FEDERJA-147).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We would like to thank the participating schools and adolescents for their helpful collaboration.

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Keywords: emotional intelligence, flourishing, academic performance, teacher-student relationship, adolescence

Citation: Chamizo-Nieto MT, Arrivillaga C, Rey L and Extremera N (2021) The Role of Emotional Intelligence, the Teacher-Student Relationship, and Flourishing on Academic Performance in Adolescents: A Moderated Mediation Study. Front. Psychol . 12:695067. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.695067

Received: 14 April 2021; Accepted: 23 June 2021; Published: 14 July 2021.

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Copyright © 2021 Chamizo-Nieto, Arrivillaga, Rey and Extremera. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: María Teresa Chamizo-Nieto, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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  • Barriers to trauma-informed care include unsafe environments and mental health nurses’ lack of emotional intelligence
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  • Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport , University of Stirling , Stirling , UK
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Commentary on: Wilson, A., Hurley, J., Hutchinson, M., & Lakeman, R. (2023). In their own words: Mental health nurses’ experiences of trauma-informed care in acute mental health settings or hospitals. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing.

Implications for practice and research

Trauma-informed care (TIC) in acute mental healthcare settings is inhibited by mental health nurses’ experiences of being unsafe, their lack of emotion management skills and their involvement in coercive practices.

Further research is needed to better understand the relationship between mental health nurses’ emotional intelligence and their ability to implement TIC.

TIC is an approach that has emerged from recognition of the prevalence of psychological trauma. 1 There is also increasing awareness of the avoidable harms that coercive practices such as detention and restraint cause to people using mental health services, particularly people who have experienced trauma. 2 There is widespread consensus on the value of TIC as a model of care that addresses needs around trauma and reduces iatrogenic harm. 3 However, there is a lack of knowledge on how to implement TIC in acute mental health settings. 3 Wilson et al , therefore, explored mental health nurses’ lived experiences of TIC in practice.

The findings were organised into three themes: embodied awareness; navigating safety in lived danger and caring amidst uncertainty. 4 The first theme identified the importance of emotional intelligence in enabling nurses to manage their own emotions and in helping patients to manage emotions. The second theme depicted nurses’ feelings of fear and experiences of being unsafe in the hospital environment. The third theme explored nurses’ relationships with hospital security guards as a source of safety.

In Herman’s 5 seminal work on trauma, she identified safety as the essential starting point for recovery. People who have been through traumatic experiences are likely to be hypervigilant to danger and vulnerable to feeling unsafe. 5 Mental health services should be a place of safety, but the evidence shows that services users do not always feel safe in acute mental health units. 6

In this study, the authors describe a world in which there is little safety: nurses are ‘terrified’, and security guards hold patients down. As the authors observe, working in acute mental healthcare can expose nurses to traumatic experiences, and they report that some of their participants suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Far from being a trauma-informed environment, therefore, the acute mental health units are potentially traumatising.

One of the issues the authors discuss is the use of coercion in mental healthcare, and the hope that TIC might reduce coercive practices. Their study shows why TIC will fail unless systemic issues in mental healthcare are addressed. The authors identify that nurses need emotional intelligence in order to give TIC, and yet this is largely absent from the TIC literature. Without the necessary emotional skills to de-escalate distressed patients, nurses lean on coercive methods. This study demonstrates that if TIC is to succeed we need a deeper understanding of the real-world barriers and facilitators.

  • Bargeman M ,
  • Abelson J ,
  • Mulvale G , et al
  • Burback L ,
  • Greenshaw AJ , et al
  • Hutchinson M , et al
  • Van Manen M
  • Stenhouse RC

Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Competing interests None declared.

Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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What federal education data shows about students with disabilities in the U.S.

Public K-12 schools in the United States educate about 7.3 million students with disabilities – a number that has grown over the last few decades. Disabled students ages 3 to 21 are served under the federal  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) , which guarantees them the right to free public education and appropriate special education services.

For Disability Pride Month , here are some key facts about public school students with disabilities, based on the latest data from the  National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) .

July is both Disability Pride Month and the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. To mark these occasions, Pew Research Center used federal education data from  the National Center for Education Statistics  to learn more about students who receive special education services in U.S. public schools.

In this analysis, students with disabilities include those ages 3 to 21 who are served under the federal  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) . Through IDEA, children with disabilities are guaranteed a “free appropriate public education,” including special education and related services.

The 7.3 million disabled students in the U.S. made up 15% of national public school enrollment during the 2021-22 school year. The population of students in prekindergarten through 12th grade who are served under IDEA has grown in both number and share over the last few decades. During the 2010-11 school year, for instance, there were 6.4 million students with disabilities in U.S. public schools, accounting for 13% of enrollment.

The number of students receiving special education services temporarily dropped during the coronavirus pandemic – the first decline in a decade. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, the number of students receiving special education services decreased by 1%, from 7.3 million to 7.2 million. This was the first year-over-year drop in special education enrollment since 2011-12.

A line chart showing that fewer U.S. children received special education services in first full school year of COVID-19 pandemic.

The decline in students receiving special education services was part of a 3% decline in the overall number of students enrolled in public schools between 2019-20 and 2020-21. While special education enrollment bounced back to pre-pandemic levels in the 2021-22 school year, overall public school enrollment remained flat.

These enrollment trends may reflect some of the learning difficulties and health concerns students with disabilities and their families faced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic , which limited or paused special education services in many school districts.

Many school districts struggle to hire special education professionals. During the 2020-21 school year, 40% of public schools that had a special education teaching vacancy reported that they either found it very difficult to fill the position or were not able to do so.

Foreign languages (43%) and physical sciences (37%) were the only subjects with similarly large shares of hard-to-fill teaching vacancies at public schools that were looking to hire in those fields.

While the COVID-19 pandemic called attention to a nationwide teacher shortage , special education positions have long been among the most difficult for school districts to fill .

The most common type of disability for students in prekindergarten through 12th grade involves “specific learning disabilities,” such as dyslexia.  In 2021-22, about a third of students (32%) receiving services under IDEA had a specific learning disability. Some 19% had a speech or language impairment, while 15% had a chronic or acute health problem that adversely affected their educational performance. Chronic or acute health problems include ailments such as heart conditions, asthma, sickle cell anemia, epilepsy, leukemia and diabetes.

A chart showing that about a third of disabled U.S. students have a 'specific learning disability,' such as dyslexia.

Students with autism made up 12% of the nation’s schoolchildren with disabilities in 2021-22, compared with 1.5% in 2000-01.  During those two decades, the share of disabled students with a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia, declined from 45% to 32%.

The percentage of students receiving special education services varies widely across states. New York serves the largest share of disabled students in the country at 20.5% of its overall public school enrollment. Pennsylvania (20.2%), Maine (20.1%) and Massachusetts (19.3%) serve the next-largest shares. The states serving the lowest shares of disabled students include Texas and Idaho (both 11.7%) and Hawaii (11.3%).

A map showing that New York, Pennsylvania and Maine public schools serve the highest percentages of students with disabilities.

Between the 2000-01 and 2021-22 school years, all but 12 states experienced growth in their disabled student populations. The biggest increase occurred in Utah, where the disabled student population rose by 65%. Rhode Island saw the largest decline of 22%.

These differences by state are likely the result of inconsistencies in how states determine which students are eligible for special education services and challenges in identifying disabled children.

A cartogram that shows between the 2000-01 and 2021-22 school years, most states saw growth in population of students with disabilities.

The racial and ethnic makeup of the nation’s special education students is similar to public school students overall, but there are differences by sex.  About two-thirds of disabled students (65%) are male, while 34% are female, according to data from the 2021-22 school year. Overall student enrollment is about evenly split between boys and girls.

A dot plot showing that U.S. special education students tend to be male.

Research has shown that decisions about whether to recommend a student for special education may be influenced by their school’s socioeconomic makeup, as well as by the school’s test scores and other academic markers.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published April 23, 2020.

About 1 in 4 U.S. teachers say their school went into a gun-related lockdown in the last school year

About half of americans say public k-12 education is going in the wrong direction, what public k-12 teachers want americans to know about teaching, what’s it like to be a teacher in america today, race and lgbtq issues in k-12 schools, most popular.

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