Older and Wiser? New Research Challenges Assumptions About Age and Emotional Intelligence

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Study confirms that while some aspects of emotional intelligence (EQ) develops with age, there's no guarantee that older means wiser. Using the Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Assessment, researchers found a slight but significant relationship between age and EQ. The study finds that many younger people are more emotionally intelligent than their older counterparts -- and that not all aspects of EQ develop without training.

There are many assumptions about emotional intelligence and age. Popular literature and "common sense" asset that older people are more aware, wise, and restrained. Is it true? Existing research indicates a slight relationship between emotional intelligence and age. How strong is this effect, and which areas of emotional intelligence are most affected by age? Are older people more self aware, better at self management, and/or do they make more principled decisions?

Using the Six Seconds' Emotional Intelligence Assessment (SEI), a study of 405 American people shows that emotional intelligence (EQ) increases slightly with age. The relationship is r=.13 (p 01) -- slight but significant.

Researcher Lorenzo Fariselli of Six Seconds Italia (http://www.6seconds.it) conducted the analysis, "The finding suggests emotional intelligence is a developing ability; it is likely that accumulated life experiences contribute to EQ." The research is reported in a White Paper at http://www.6seconds.org/sei/wp-age.php .

The study also challenges many popular beliefs about "with age comes wisdom" and the widespread perception of a "generation gap" in motivation and altruism. The relationship between EQ and age is very slight - meaning there while a majority of older people are higher in EQ, there are many young people with higher EQ scores than their older counterparts. In addition, some of the aspects of EQ can only be developed through training. So in an era where emotional intelligence is a critical competence for success, this finding shows that young people committed to their own development have a edge.

The study examined three aspects of emotional intelligence: Self-awareness, self-management, and self-direction.

Self-awareness, called "Know Yourself" in the SEI assessment, increases slightly with age. Fariselli explains, "We hypothesize that as people grow they have more opportunity to learn about emotions and the gradations of emotions, increase emotional vocabulary, and experience more and more varied life situations. Perhaps they accumulate more feedback and integrate this into greater self-awareness." Again, age is only mildly predictive of this dimension, so there are many younger people with a highly developed self-awareness and many older people who have not developed these competencies.

Meanwhile, self-management, called "Choose Yourself" in this model, does not increase with age. This suggests the competencies in this part of the model (Navigate Emotions, Exercise Optimism, Engage Intrinsic Motivation and Apply Consequential Thinking) need specific training in order to develop. In other words, it is less likely that these will "automatically" develop through life experience.

The strongest effect is in self-direction, where age predicts 3.9% of the development of a set of skills called "Give Yourself." There are two specific skills in this area, Empathy (noticing and appropriately responding to others' feelings) and Pursue Noble Goals (using principles and values to drive behaviors).

Massimiliano Ghini is President of Six Seconds Italia and a leading authority on using emotional intelligence to improve business results. His hypothesis of the link between "Give Yourself" and age comes from the responsibilities of adulthood: "For many people, adulthood and aging introduce increased need and opportunity to connect with and lead others -- for example engaging a team or developing an organization's vision. As people age they have more opportunities to practice these skills." Again, the link between age and Give Yourself is modest -- so age is no guarantee for vision and wisdom.

Six Seconds (http://www.6seconds.org) is the leading international organization helping all people develop emotional intelligence. With offices in North America, Europe, and Asia, the not-for-profit publishes best-in-class tools for emotional intelligence training, conducts research, and supports the largest world-wide network of practitioners, researchers, and educators.

SEI is the premier emotional intelligence test focused on development. Compared to other similar tests, SEI report offers the most extensive report with numerous effective development suggestions. With two self-correcting indices, a consistency scale, 104 items, and 14 different norms applied in each report, it also uses the most advanced statistical analysis in the scoring algorithm. The SEI is available in English, Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, and Spanish, and French (now in research validation). Strengths, Development, Group, and Leadership reports are available. Details are available online at http://www.6seconds.org/sei/.

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