Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 39–54 | Cite as

The Role of Emotional Intelligence During an Emotionally Difficult Decision-Making Task

  • Anna Alkozei
  • Zachary J. Schwab
  • William D. S. Killgore
Original Paper


Emotional intelligence (EI) can be defined as the ability to understand, perceive, and manage emotions. However, there is little research investigating how EI influences decision-making during emotionally difficult situations. We hypothesized that higher EI would correlate with greater utilization of socially relevant facial cues during emotional decision-making. Sixty-two 18–45 year olds completed a decision-making task simulating an airport security screening during a credible terrorist threat. Participants viewed a series of facial photographs of potential passengers (white men and women) and selected which passengers to detain for further interrogation. The face photographs were previously rated for a set of character traits (e.g., aggression) by independent judges. Participants completed measures of trait (self-perceived) and ability (performance-based) EI and cognitive intelligence (IQ). With higher ability EI, participants were more likely to detain only individuals judged to be particularly high in negative traits (e.g., “aggression”) and especially low in positive traits (e.g., “trustworthy”), suggesting greater acuity in decision choices. These associations were driven primarily by the facilitating and understanding branches of EI (i.e., the ability to generate and use emotion to facilitate decision making, and the ability to understand factors that generate and modify emotions). No association between trait EI or IQ and detainment decisions was found. Findings suggest that individuals with higher ability EI were more likely to utilize the available but limited social information (i.e., facial features) when completing an emotional decision-making task than those with lower EI. These findings have implications for real-life situations involving similarly difficult emotional decision-making processes.


Facial perception Decision-making Emotional intelligence 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Alkozei
    • 1
  • Zachary J. Schwab
    • 2
  • William D. S. Killgore
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.University of Kansas School of MedicineKansas CityUSA
  3. 3.McLean HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBelmontUSA

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