Can We “Brain-Train” Emotional Intelligence? A Narrative Review on the Features and Approaches Used in Ability EI Training Studies

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Frontiers in Psychology


Recent studies had demonstrated that specific emotional intelligence (EI) abilities (as measured using the MSCEIT) were related to better performance on cognitive tasks that involved emotional information but not on their non-emotional counterparts. These findings suggest that cognitive control and other executive functioning processes (e.g., working memory) contribute to EI abilities. A well-functioning EI ability is crucial for a number of everyday activities and life outcomes. However, the evidence for training ability EI remains vague as to how these improvements occur. The purpose of this narrative review was to synthesize findings from past EI training research, specifically focusing on their methodology. This was to identify key aspects of the interventions used, to determine the prototypical features between them, as well as to propose a compelling research agenda for future EI training studies. Based on the features found in these studies, we identified two possible approaches in which EI improvements occurred. The first approach was through increasing emotional knowledge and related competencies through teaching and practice. These features were found in the majority of training interventions using a workshop-style training format, reflections, role-plays, and practice with other participants. The second approach used brain-training principles to improve basic cognitive processes, such as executive control or emotional inhibition. Using a cognitive training approach to EI training can provide several advantages, such as allowing researchers to examine EI improvements using the theories of (1) transfer; (2) plasticity; and (3) process-specific changes.

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