Research Topic

Shining a Light on the "Dark" Side of Emotional Intelligence

About this Research Topic

Emotional intelligence (EI) reflects individual differences in the identification, understanding, and management of emotions. The multifaceted nature of the construct (represented by trait and ability approaches), draws from the fields of personality, self-system beliefs, emotion regulation, and intelligence. Three decades of research suggest that EI predicts some important areas of functioning (e.g., mental health, occupational, academic success) and can be trained through interventions. Nevertheless, a growing body of research suggests that there may be a ‘dark’ side to EI: being emotionally smart and possessing high levels of EI can impact deleteriously on a person and/or those around them. Research suggests EI may contribute to a range of negative outcomes that are intrapersonal (psychological ill-health, increased stress reactivity) and interpersonal (emotion manipulation, deception, social deviance) in nature. These effects may be moderated by preexisting qualities of the person (e.g., personality) or the environment they are in (e.g., workplace), and more research is needed to explore these conditional effects to better understand how and when EI is used. It is also clear that different levels/blends of specific EI facets may confer vulnerability. For instance, high emotional awareness, coupled with low emotion management and understanding, relates to poorer mental health.

This cutting-edge Research Topic seeks to examine the limits, capabilities, and reach of EI within everyday settings. We are interested in receiving original research and review articles that further explore the dark side of EI, construed as either trait or ability. Studies may consider how dark EI effects manifest within educational, clinical, and occupational contexts, and/or with reference to specific, performance-based activities in field or lab settings (e.g., competitive sports; public speaking; test-taking; interviews). In doing so, the negative effects of EI on mental health, personal and social relationships, academic or occupational success could be explored.

Note that this article collection presents an opportunity to showcase articles that explicitly set out to explore links between EI and negative outcomes, and this is not the same as reporting the absence of a hypothesized ‘positive’ effect.

We welcome contributions that specifically consider how EI may promote negative or maladaptive outcomes for an individual or for others around them (i.e., the mechanisms facilitating this effect). In doing so, researchers may wish to consider links between EI and other individual difference constructs (e.g., Narcissism; Agreeableness, Sensation-Seeking, etc) or aspects of cognition (e.g., attentional processes; decision-making). Establishing whether these mechanisms are context-dependent is an important next step for the field, and research testing effects under conditions of uncertainty, stress, or other ‘high stakes’ contexts are sought.

Furthermore, we also invite research that sheds further light on the notion that ‘optimal levels’ of EI may exist – in line with other prototypically positive constructs such as self-esteem, it is possible that there is a tipping point, beyond which EI yields decreasing returns at increasing levels, such that any positive benefits are outweighed by a negative impact on adjustment. This is important to establish in light of the proliferation of school and industry-based training programs seeking to boost EI in trainees.


Keywords: emotional intelligence, dark traits, hypersensitivity, emotion manipulation, anti-social behavior


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Emotional intelligence (EI) reflects individual differences in the identification, understanding, and management of emotions. The multifaceted nature of the construct (represented by trait and ability approaches), draws from the fields of personality, self-system beliefs, emotion regulation, and intelligence. Three decades of research suggest that EI predicts some important areas of functioning (e.g., mental health, occupational, academic success) and can be trained through interventions. Nevertheless, a growing body of research suggests that there may be a ‘dark’ side to EI: being emotionally smart and possessing high levels of EI can impact deleteriously on a person and/or those around them. Research suggests EI may contribute to a range of negative outcomes that are intrapersonal (psychological ill-health, increased stress reactivity) and interpersonal (emotion manipulation, deception, social deviance) in nature. These effects may be moderated by preexisting qualities of the person (e.g., personality) or the environment they are in (e.g., workplace), and more research is needed to explore these conditional effects to better understand how and when EI is used. It is also clear that different levels/blends of specific EI facets may confer vulnerability. For instance, high emotional awareness, coupled with low emotion management and understanding, relates to poorer mental health.

This cutting-edge Research Topic seeks to examine the limits, capabilities, and reach of EI within everyday settings. We are interested in receiving original research and review articles that further explore the dark side of EI, construed as either trait or ability. Studies may consider how dark EI effects manifest within educational, clinical, and occupational contexts, and/or with reference to specific, performance-based activities in field or lab settings (e.g., competitive sports; public speaking; test-taking; interviews). In doing so, the negative effects of EI on mental health, personal and social relationships, academic or occupational success could be explored.

Note that this article collection presents an opportunity to showcase articles that explicitly set out to explore links between EI and negative outcomes, and this is not the same as reporting the absence of a hypothesized ‘positive’ effect.

We welcome contributions that specifically consider how EI may promote negative or maladaptive outcomes for an individual or for others around them (i.e., the mechanisms facilitating this effect). In doing so, researchers may wish to consider links between EI and other individual difference constructs (e.g., Narcissism; Agreeableness, Sensation-Seeking, etc) or aspects of cognition (e.g., attentional processes; decision-making). Establishing whether these mechanisms are context-dependent is an important next step for the field, and research testing effects under conditions of uncertainty, stress, or other ‘high stakes’ contexts are sought.

Furthermore, we also invite research that sheds further light on the notion that ‘optimal levels’ of EI may exist – in line with other prototypically positive constructs such as self-esteem, it is possible that there is a tipping point, beyond which EI yields decreasing returns at increasing levels, such that any positive benefits are outweighed by a negative impact on adjustment. This is important to establish in light of the proliferation of school and industry-based training programs seeking to boost EI in trainees.


Keywords: emotional intelligence, dark traits, hypersensitivity, emotion manipulation, anti-social behavior


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 October 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 October 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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