If you’re even a casual fan of The Bachelor, chances are good that you will never be able to hear the phrase “emotional intelligence” the same way again. If you don’t watch the show — well, first of all, I commend your ability to have a productive Monday night. And second, all you really need to know is that this season, “no emotional intelligence” — an accusation constantly leveled against maybe-villain/teen-in-an-adult-body Corinne — may have come dangerously close to replacing “here for the wrong reasons” as the franchise’s signature burn.
But while a perceived dearth of emotional intelligence may not win you any pals inside the Bachelor mansion, a surplus isn’t so great, either. As Agata Blaszczak-Boxe recently explained in Scientific American, research has shown that there can be too much of a good thing:
In a study published in the September 2016 issue of Emotion, psychologists Myriam Bechtoldt and Vanessa Schneider of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany asked 166 male university students a series of questions to measure their emotional smarts. For example, they showed the students photographs of people’s faces and asked them to what extent feelings such as happiness or disgust were being expressed. The students then had to give job talks in front of judges displaying stern facial expressions. The scientists measured concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol in the students’ saliva before and after the talk.
The volunteers who had scored higher on the test of emotional intelligence, Bechtoldt and Schneider observed, produced more cortisol when thrown into the stressful situation, and also were slower to return to their normal unstressed state.
As you may have caught, the study only included male volunteers (along with cortisol, the researchers were also looking at testosterone levels), so the findings should be taken with several grains of salt. And other studies have made similar gender-specific conclusions: As Lori Keong has written for Science of Us, past research has shown that for young women in particular, higher emotional intelligence was linked to a tendency to commit “delinquent acts” like bullying, possibly because they’re more likely to internalize, and then need an outlet for, negative feelings.
“More research is needed to see how exactly the relation between emotional intelligence and stress would play out in women and in people of different ages and education levels,” Agata Blaszczak-Boxe wrote. “Nevertheless, emotional intelligence is a useful skill to have, as long as you learn to also properly cope with emotions.” It’s also a handy scapegoat if you want to stir up trouble on reality television, but for some reason, SciAm failed to mention that.