Can High Emotional Intelligence Lead To Risky Behavior?

Your emotional intelligence (EI) can help you avoid risky behaviors in the health domain, it can push you to take risks in other domains. Read on to find out what other thought-provoking findings a team of Spanish researchers recently unearthed.

We’ve known for a long time that human intelligence is more than just the ability to grasp complex topics and do abstract reasoning. Intelligence also includes our emotional responses and social interactions.

Emotions are essential in our lives because they guide our attention, memory, motivation, and learning, and help us make the best decisions.

Higher emotional intelligence (EI) skills have been linked with improved physical and mental health, effective coping mechanisms, optimal social relationships, decreased rates of violent behavior, and increased rates of wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Emotions also have a central role in steering our risky behavior. In high-risk situations, we mold our behaviors based on both logic and emotion.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Risky Behavior

What is risky behavior?

Risky behavior is defined as any behavior that increases the likelihood of substantial loss, to the person or to others. Risk-taking behavior often threatens to deprive us of the basic necessities of life and endanger our health, safety, or well-being.

Substance abuse, reckless driving, unsafe sexual activities, and gambling are examples of risky behavior.

A high level of emotionality and arousal has been shown to promote both unsafe sexual activities and increased gambling behavior (Ariely and Loewenstein, 2006; Cyders and Smith, 2008; Haase and Silbereisen, 2011).

It is worth noting that your risk appetite increases regardless of whether the arousal state was already there or it was brought on by the current situation.


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Research has shown that risky behavior activates the same areas of the brain that process our emotions, such as the anterior insula, amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, among others (Vorhold, 2008; Mohr et al., 2010; Megías et al., 2015, 2018a).

Why do we take unnecessary risks?

Risk-takers believe they have “enough” information to make decisions and take actions sooner than is otherwise advisable.

Mostly, we take needless risks to satisfy our urges for instant gratification. And we tend to do them more when we are already in a strong positive or negative emotional state, which amplifies the effect of the short-term rewards.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI)?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize, analyze, use, and regulate one’s own and other’s emotional states. In essence, EI combines intellect and emotion to allow us to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of ourselves, of others, and of groups of people.

A high EQ influences interpersonal relationships and professional successes.

The concept of EI (or EQ) was introduced in 1990 by Peter Solovey and John D. Mayer in their work titled “Emotional Intelligence.”

Experts have proposed several models of EI. The performance-based model sees EI as a form of mental ability that can be measured by EQ tests.

The first EQ test appeared in 2001 when Mayer and Solovey along with researchers David R. Caruso (with Work-Life Strategies) and Gill Sitarenios (with Multi-Health Systems, Inc.) published a paper in the journal Emotion for the American Psychological Association titled “Emotional Intelligence as a Standard Intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, both a psychologist and a journalist, popularised the concept of emotional intelligence among a wide range of people.

His best-selling books — beginning with “Emotional Intelligence”(1995) — have already changed how businesses interact with clients, managers recruit employees, teachers engage with students, and people in relationships behave with each other.

FAQs

What are the 7 signs of emotional intelligence?

The 7 signs that indicate a high emotional intelligence (EQ) are: 1. A strong sense of self-awareness. 2. An ability to embrace change. 3. Ability to manage your emotions in adverse situations. 4. A desire for personal growth. 5. Capacity to empathize with and be compassionate toward others. 6. Ability to get along well with people. 7. Skills to defuse stressful situations and resolve conflicts.

What are the 5 elements of emotional intelligence?

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, the 5 elements of emotional intelligence are 1. self-regulation, 2. self-awareness, 3. empathy, 4. motivation, and 5. social skills.

What are the 4 types of emotional intelligence?

The four types of emotional intelligence are social awareness and social skills, emotional awareness and emotional management, sociability with others and the ability to build healthy relationships, and understanding of unfamiliar situations and coping mechanisms to handle them.

Risky Behavior And High Emotions: How They Are Related?

Recently, Maria T. Sánchez-López and colleagues looked at the relationship between emotional intelligence (EI) and risk-taking behavior. They discovered the interesting fact that EI behaves differently depending on the risk domain.

They reported their findings in a paper titled Emotional Intelligence and Risk Behavior (Sánchez-López, Fernández-Berrocal, et al., Frontiers in Psychology, 2022).

High Emotional Intelligence Reduces Risky Behavior In Health Domains

They found that emotional intelligence seems to act as armor against risk-taking in the ethics and health domains (like alcohol and substance abuse, sexual behavior, and reckless driving). So, those with higher EI appeared to take fewer risks when it came to ethical, health, or safety-related behaviors.

High Emotional Intelligence Increases Risky Behavior In Social & “Fun” Domains

However, when it came to social and recreational domains, EI seemed to increase risk-taking. That is, higher EI people appeared to have a stronger tendency to take risks when it came to social and fun activities.

High Emotional Intelligence Has No Effect On Gambling Behavior

There was no clear evidence to indicate the presence of a link between EI and risk behavior in finance and gambling.

Women Pay More Attention To Emotions

They also looked at how gender and age differences independently influenced the relationship between EI and risk behavior. This was the more interesting, though unsurprising, part.

Women, according to their findings, paid more attention to emotional states, both their own and those of others, than men.

Men Take More Risks, Except In Social Domain

Men, with the exception of the social domain, were overall more likely to take risks than women.

These findings were consistent with earlier studies, which revealed that men have a stronger inclination for risk-taking (Lozano et al., 2017; Weber et al., 2002).

Incidentally, a 2018 study funded by The Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Competitiveness, found a strong ability to perceive emotions acts as a protective factor in the early stage of aggression.

Risky Behavior Reduces With Age

Regarding age, the results revealed that as one grew older, the likelihood of engaging in risk-taking dropped across all five risk domains (social, recreational, financial, sexual, and driving).

Final Words

So, if strong emotions do not always lead to riskier behavior, what can make us stop?

Riding a motorcycle without a helmet for comfort, having five drinks at a party for fun, driving at high speeds for adrenaline, or taking unsafe shortcuts to get to our destination are all risky behaviors.

A person can show a tendency to behave in a risky way in one domain but not in others. This domain-specific risk-taking can be influenced by your emotional intelligence.

This might explain why some people who oppose masks and vaccines can be low on EQ.

And how we may train them on EI to have them take fewer risks.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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