The Role of Emotional Intelligence During an Emotionally Difficult Decision-Making Task

Anna Alkozei, Zachary J. Schwab, William D.S. Killgore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Emotional intelligence (EI) can be defined as the ability to understand, perceive, and manage emotions. However, there is little research investigating how EI influences decision-making during emotionally difficult situations. We hypothesized that higher EI would correlate with greater utilization of socially relevant facial cues during emotional decision-making. Sixty-two 18–45 year olds completed a decision-making task simulating an airport security screening during a credible terrorist threat. Participants viewed a series of facial photographs of potential passengers (white men and women) and selected which passengers to detain for further interrogation. The face photographs were previously rated for a set of character traits (e.g., aggression) by independent judges. Participants completed measures of trait (self-perceived) and ability (performance-based) EI and cognitive intelligence (IQ). With higher ability EI, participants were more likely to detain only individuals judged to be particularly high in negative traits (e.g., “aggression”) and especially low in positive traits (e.g., “trustworthy”), suggesting greater acuity in decision choices. These associations were driven primarily by the facilitating and understanding branches of EI (i.e., the ability to generate and use emotion to facilitate decision making, and the ability to understand factors that generate and modify emotions). No association between trait EI or IQ and detainment decisions was found. Findings suggest that individuals with higher ability EI were more likely to utilize the available but limited social information (i.e., facial features) when completing an emotional decision-making task than those with lower EI. These findings have implications for real-life situations involving similarly difficult emotional decision-making processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-54
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Nonverbal Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Decision-making
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Facial perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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