Is there a link between stress and emotional intelligence?

Dealing with stress is an all too common challenge for most employees, with its ability to affect our performance levels and mental state. However, can stress affect other areas of our lives as well – for example, our emotional intelligence?

According to a new study by the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), the University of Freiburg and the University of Vienna, it most certainly can – but the results are vastly different for males and females.

The three main researchers conducted a series of experiments to see how applying different levels of stress affected the social interaction skills of both men and women. Subjects were put through conditions of “moderate stress”, for example having to perform a public speaking task, and were subsequently required to carry out a series of assignments. These involved testing the subjects' motor coordination, emotional recognition and cognitive tasks.

According to the researchers, the results aligned strongly with their initial hypothesis that stress makes individuals more “egocentric” and self-centred – but this was only true for males. The men in the study were found to be less able to distinguish their own emotions from those of other people, which is a key tenet of good emotional intelligence.

However, the correlation was in the entirely opposite direction for women, as they displayed a higher level of “prosocial” capabilities after undergoing stress.

“There's a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective – and therefore be empathic