8. Can EI improve academic success in boys & girls?

Summarised by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions."

Together IQ and personality variables account for less than 35% of the variance in academic success. It is therefore important to identify other factors that may also contribute to it. Emotional intelligence may be one of them. There are many questions we still need to ask on the influence that emotional intelligence has. 

Does emotional intelligence play a role in predicting the academic success of both boys and girls at secondary level? If so, are there specific aspects of emotional intelligence that are more important than others in predicting academic performance? And, is emotional intelligence differentially implicated in academic achievement across different subjects?

Dr. Luke Downey and his colleagues at the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University in Melbourne, have asked these key questions in a study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology.

They examined whether more academically successful students scored higher on emotional intelligence than students in less academically successful groups.

They also looked at the association between the EI sub-scales on their adolescent emotional intelligence test and a range of educational subjects. 

Data was collected on scholastic achievement for the whole school year, across five year levels and encompassing a wide range of educational subjects.  

Subjects used in secondary school emotional intelligence study

Subjects were a cross-sectional sample of Australian adolescents.

  • Attended school in Australia.
  • 209 secondary school students: 86 boys, 123 girls.
  • Age range 12-17 (mean 13.81 years for boys, 13.97 for girls).
  • 22.5% in year 7, 32.5% in year 8, 24.9% in year 9, 10.5% in year 10, 9.6% in year 11.
  • Attended two high schools.
  • Cultural mix. Subjects identified their backgrounds as: 50% "Oceanian (Australia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia), 32% Asian, 14% European, 2% North African or Middle Eastern, 1% Sub-Saharan African, and 1% "People of the Americas".
  • In Melbourne, Victoria.
  • Subjects were recruited by their teachers.

Study design in secondary school emotional intelligence study

Information collected:

  1. Each subject was assessed on the Adolescent Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test. This is a self-report questionnaire of 57 items with four sub-scales: Emotional Recognition and Expression (10 items), Understanding Emotions (19 items), Emotions Direct Cognition (10 items) and Emotional Management and Control (18 items). This was conducted in the middle of the school year - June.
  2. Academic records for the entire year were collected for all participants at the end of the school year - December. An overall Grade Point Average (GPA) was calculated based upon the students’ marks in each of the subjects they undertook during the school year. 
  3. EI scores for all participants were matched with their academic records.

The subjects were divided into 3 sub-groups:

  1. Successful students: those with a GPA at the 80 percentile or higher. (n=43)
  2. Middle success students: those with a GPA between 80 percentile - 20 percentile. (n=124)
  3. Less successful students: those with a GPA at 20 percentile or less. (n=42)

Results of secondary school emotional intelligence study

Academic success was associated with higher levels of total EI, and EI was generally positively associated with performance across school subjects.

  • Gender differences were found. Girls scored significantly higher than boys on "Emotional Recognition and Expression", "Understanding Emotions" and "Total EI".
  • The 80th percentile group scored higher than both the middle and 20th percentile groups on "Understanding Emotions". The middle group also scored higher than the 20th percentile group on this scale.
  • For "Emotional Management and Control" the middle group scored higher than both the 20th and 80th percentile groups, and the 80th percentile group scored significantly higher than the 20th percentile group.
  • For "Total EI", the 80th percentile and middle group scored significantly higher than the 20th percentile group.
  • No significant effects were noted for grade or age on the EI variables.
  • "Emotional Management and Control" correlated positively with and significantly predicted scores for maths and science (4%).
  • "Understanding Emotions" correlated positively with and significantly predicted scores for art (12%) and geography.
  • The "Total EI" score positively correlated with geography and science grades. 

My personal comments on secondary school EI study

  • This is one of several studies that have found correlations between emotional intelligence and academic success. It is important to find this out, as schools are understandably very focused on academic achievement and this will help them to see the value of introducing EI studies into their schools. It also helps us to understand more about the variables impacting on academic success.
  • There is more to adolescent success than academic achievement. There is a need to introduce emotional intelligence assessment and studies into schools for reasons in addition to, or other than, academic success. Studies which look at other factors of adolescent behaviour and emotional intelligence are also valuable. Indeed, to put emphasis on the role of EI in scholastic achievement, at one level, misses the history behind the original "discovery" of emotional intelligence which was to find an explanation for the success in life of some people who did not have a high IQ and the failure of some others who did have a high one.
  • On what basis did the teachers select the students?
  • It is a small study in terms of sample size. Further larger studies would now be valuable.
  • What types of schools were involved - and does this matter?
  • IQ data was not collected.
  • It was a wide cultural mix - what are the implications of this? I would like to have known a lot more, and to have separated Australian students from the New Zealand, Melanesian, Micronesian, Polynesian ones, for example.
  • How valid are self-report measures of emotional intelligence? The Adolescent EI has normative data on 1000+ students so far. More research is underway. Would other ways of measuring EI tell a different story? Maybe teacher assessments of the students' EI would also be useful or the use of EI ability measures?
  • It is an exciting time and this study is an important step for EI in Australian schools.

For further details of this emotional intelligence study

"Emotional intelligence and scholastic achievement in Australian adolescents". Luke A. Downey, Jessica Mountstephen, Jenny Lloyd, Karen Hansen and Con Stough. Brain Sciences Institute, Swinburne University, Australia.

If you would like to know more about Professor Con Stough's work and research on emotional intelligence in school-age children and teenagers, please visit his new website:

Australian Journal of Psychology, Vol. 60, No. 1, May 2008, pp. 10 – 17. 

Correspondence on this study: Luke Downey, Brain Sciences Institute, Swinburne University, PO Box 218 (H99), Hawthorn, 3122, Australia. E-mail: ldowney @

For the full article click here.

Develop your school's emotional intelligence

There is so much that your leadership team can do to develop their emotional intelligence and the emotional intelligence of their school. We have a number of options to help:

  1. There is a series of emotional intelligence workshops, including: "Mastering emotional intelligence". 
  2. There is an emotional intelligence 2 DVD program "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".
  3. We provide a face-to-face 5 star emotional intelligence coaching package which can be conducted online or in our Kelmscott office.
  4. Emotional intelligence asessments can be conducted using the MSCEIT.
  5. We can also bring a whole emotional intelligence programme to your entire school for your students and teachers, under the guidance of Professor Con Stough.

For more details, or to make a booking, e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.

Develop the emotional intelligence of your teachers now and be an emotionally intelligent school.