Negative repetitive thoughts clarify the link between trait emotional intelligence and emotional distress

  • Kaytlin Constantin
  • Alexander M. Penney
  • Carley J. Pope
  • Victoria C. Miedema
  • Robert P. Tett
  • Dwight MazmanianEmail author


Emotional intelligence (EI) is reported to be inversely associated with emotional distress, although the potential role of negative repetitive thoughts in this relationship has not yet been explored. The current investigation examined the links between four facets of trait EI and emotional distress (i.e., symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], depression, and social anxiety), and the mediating roles of worry, rumination, and post-event processing (PEP) in a sample of university students (N = 126). The EI facets of recognizing and regulating emotions in the self correlated negatively with emotional distress and negative repetitive thoughts. Regulation of emotions in others correlated only with levels of social anxiety. The role of negative repetitive thoughts was tested using three multiple mediator models. Worry independently mediated the link between EI and symptoms of GAD. Worry, rumination, and PEP independently mediated the link between EI and depression. Worry and rumination independently mediated the link between EI and social anxiety. Results suggest lower trait EI may lead to greater negative repetitive thoughts, which may increase the experience of emotional distress.


Emotional intelligence Emotional distress Negative repetitive thoughts 



We would like to thank Stephanie Cottrell, Alyssa Mervin, Kimberly Ongaro, Amy Killen, Sarah Kaukinen, Dylan Antoniazzi, and Matthew Nordlund for their assistance with data collection. During the preparation of this manuscript, Kaytlin Constantin was funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program and Carley J. Pope was funded by Mental Health Research Canada.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Author Disclosure

Robert Tett is an author of the Multidimensional Emotional Intelligence Assessment scale, which is published commercially by Sigma Assessment Systems Inc. Dr. Tett receives a modest royalty for MEIA sales. Portions of the results were presented at the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences Conference, London, ON, July 2015.


  1. Abdollahi, A., & Talib, M. A. (2016). Self-esteem, body-esteem, emotional intelligence, and social anxiety in a college sample: The moderating role of weight. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 21(2), 221–225. Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Antony, M. M., Coons, M. J., McCabe, R. E., Ashbaugh, A., & Swinson, R. P. (2006). Psychometric properties of the social phobia inventory: Further evaluation. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(8), 1177–1185. Scholar
  5. Arditte Hall, K. A., Quinn, M. E., Vanderlind, W. M., & Joormann, J. (2019). Comparing cognitive styles in social anxiety and major depressive disorders: An examination of rumination, worry, and reappraisal. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(2), 231–244. Scholar
  6. Barlow, D. H. (2002). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  7. Baroni, D., Nerini, A., Matera, C., & Stefanile, C. (2018). Mindfulness and emotional distress: The mediating role of psychological well-being. Current Psychology, 37(3), 467–476. Scholar
  8. Berking, M., Wupperman, P., Reichardt, A., Pejic, T., Dippel, A., & Znoj, H. (2008). Emotion-regulation skills as a treatment target in psychotherapy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46(11), 1230–1237. Scholar
  9. Bore, M., Pittolo, C., Kirby, D., Dluzewska, T., & Marlin, S. (2016). Predictors of psychological distress and well-being in a sample of Australian undergraduate students. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(5), 869–880. Scholar
  10. Borkovec, T. D., Robinson, E., Pruzinsky, T., & DePree, J. A. (1983). Preliminary exploration of worry: Some characteristics and processes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 21(1), 9–16. Scholar
  11. Borkovec, T. D., Hazlett-Stevens, H., & Diaz, M. L. (1999). The role of positive beliefs about worry in generalized anxiety disorder and its treatment. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy: An International Journal of Theory & Practice, 6(2), 126–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Borkovec, T. D., Alcaine, O. M., & Behar, E. (2004). Avoidance theory of worry and generalized anxiety disorder. In R. G. Heimberg, C. L. Turk, & D. S. Mennin (Eds.), Generalized anxiety disorder: Advances in research and practice (pp. 77–108). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Clark, D. M., & Wells, A. (1995). A cognitive model of social phobia. In R. Heimberg, M. Liebowitz, D. A. Hope, & F. R. Schneier (Eds.), Social phobia: Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment (pp. 69–93). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cohen, J. (1992). Statistical power analysis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1, 98–101. Scholar
  15. Connor, K. M., Davidson, J. R., Churchill, L. E., Sherwood, A., Foa, E., & Weisler, R. H. (2000). Psychometric properties of the social phobia inventory (SPIN): New self-rating scale. British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 379–386. Scholar
  16. Conway, J. M., & Lance, C. E. (2010). What reviewers should expect from authors regarding common method bias in organizational research. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25(3), 325–334. Scholar
  17. Cosco, T. D., Prina, M., Stubbs, B., & Wu, Y. T. (2017). Reliability and validity of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale in a population-based cohort of middle-aged US adults. Journal of Nursing Measurement, 25(3), 476–485. Scholar
  18. Cvetkovski, S., Jorm, A. F., & Mackinnon, A. J. (2018). Student psychological distress and degree dropout or completion: A discrete-time, competing risks survival analysis. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(3), 484–498. Scholar
  19. Dawda, D., & Hart, S. D. (2000). Assessing emotional intelligence: Reliability and validity of the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) in university students. Personality and Individual Differences, 28(4), 797–812. Scholar
  20. Downey, L. A., Mountstephen, J., Lloyd, J., Hansen, K., & Stough, C. (2008). Emotional intelligence and scholastic achievement in Australian adolescents. Australian Journal of Psychology, 60(1), 10–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Erdur-Baker, Ö., & Bugay, A. (2010). The short version of ruminative response scale: Reliability, validity and its relation to psychological symptoms. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 5, 2178–2181. Scholar
  22. Fernández-Berrocal, P., Alcaide, R., Extremera, N., & Pizarro, D. (2006). The role of emotional intelligence in anxiety and depression among adolescents. Individual Differences Research, 4(1), 16–27.Google Scholar
  23. Fresco, D. M., Frankel, A. N., Mennin, D. S., Turk, C. L., & Heimberg, R. G. (2002). Distinct and overlapping features of rumination and worry: The relationship of cognitive production to negative affective states. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 26(2), 179–188. Scholar
  24. Goring, H. J., & Papageorgiou, C. (2008). Rumination and worry: Factor analysis of self-report measures in depressed participants. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(4), 554–566. Scholar
  25. Hayes, A. F., & Preacher, K. J. (2014). Statistical mediation analysis with a multicategorical independent variable. British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 67, 451–470. Scholar
  26. Hubbard, N. A., Faso, D. J., Krawczyk, D. C., & Rypma, B. (2015). The dual roles of trait rumination in problem solving. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 321–325. Scholar
  27. Hunt, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2010). Mental health problems and help-seeking behavior among college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(1), 3–10. Scholar
  28. Hur, J., Heller, W., Kern, J. L., & Berenbaum, H. (2017). A bi-factor approach to modeling the structure of worry and rumination. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 8(3), 252–264. Scholar
  29. Jones, M., & Rakovshik, S. (2019). Inflated sense of responsibility, explanatory style and the cognitive model of social anxiety disorder: A brief report of a case control study. the Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 12.
  30. Killgore, W. D. S., Sonis, L. A., Rosso, I. M., & Rauch, S. L. (2016). Emotional intelligence partially mediates the association between anxiety sensitivity and anxiety symptoms. Psychological Reports, 118(1), 23–40. Scholar
  31. Kuk, A., Guszkowska, M., & Gala-Kwiatkowska, A. (2019). Changes in emotional intelligence of university students participating in psychological workshops and their predictors. Current Psychology, 1–8.
  32. Lanciano, T., Curci, A., Kafetsios, K., Elia, L., & Zammuner, V. L. (2012). Attachment and dysfunctional rumination: The mediating role of emotional intelligence abilities. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(6), 753–758. Scholar
  33. Leahy, C. M., Peterson, R. F., Wilson, I. G., Newbury, J. W., Tonkin, A. L., & Turnbull, D. (2010). Distress levels and self-reported treatment rates for medicine, law, psychology and mechanical engineering tertiary students: Cross-sectional study. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(7), 608–615. Scholar
  34. Liu, M., & Ren, S. (2016). Moderating effect of emotional intelligence on the relationship between rumination and anxiety. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues. Advanced online publication. Scholar
  35. Lizeretti, N. P., Extremera, N., & Rodríguez, A. (2012). Perceived emotional intelligence and clinical symptoms in mental disorders. Psychiatric Quarterly, 83(4), 407–418. Scholar
  36. Lloyd, S. J., Malek-Ahmadi, M., Barclay, K., Fernandez, M. R., & Chartrand, M. S. (2012). Emotional intelligence (EI) as a predictor of depression status in older adults. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 55(3), 570–573. Scholar
  37. Martins, A., Ramalho, N., & Morin, E. (2010). A comprehensive meta-analysis of the relationship between emotional intelligence and health. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(6), 554–564. Scholar
  38. Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2000). Competing models of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of human intelligence (pp. 396–420). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McEvoy, P. M., & Brans, S. (2013). Common versus unique variance across measures of worry and rumination: Predictive utility and mediational models for anxiety and depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37(1), 183–196. Scholar
  40. McEvoy, P. M., & Kingsep, P. (2006). The post-event processing questionnaire in a clinical sample with social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1689–1697. Scholar
  41. McEvoy, P. M., Mahoney, A. E. J., & Moulds, M. L. (2010). Are worry, rumination, and post-event processing one and the same? Development of the repetitive thinking questionnaire. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24(5), 509–519. Scholar
  42. McEvoy, P. M., Watson, H., Watkins, E. R., & Nathan, P. (2013). The relationship between worry, rumination, and comorbidity: Evidence for repetitive negative thinking as a transdiagnostic construct. Journal of Affective Disorders, 151(1), 313–320. Scholar
  43. Mennin, D. S., Heimberg, R. G., Turk, C. L., & Fresco, D. M. (2005). Preliminary evidence for an emotion dysregulation model of generalized anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43(10), 1281–1310. Scholar
  44. Mennin, D. S., Holaway, R. M., Fresco, D. M., Moore, M. T., & Heimberg, R. G. (2007). Delineating components of emotion and its dysregulation in anxiety and mood psychopathology. Behavior Therapy, 38(3), 284–302. Scholar
  45. Meyer, T. J., Miller, M. L., Metzger, R. L., & Borkovec, T. D. (1990). Development and validation of the Penn State worry questionnaire. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 28, 487–495. Scholar
  46. Molina, S., & Borkovec, T. D. (1994). The Penn State worry questionnaire: Psychometric properties and associated characteristics. In G. Davey & F. Tallis (Eds.), Worrying: Perspectives on theory, assessment and treatment (pp. 265–283). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  47. Newman, M. G., Zuellig, A. R., Kachin, K. E., Constantino, M. J., Przeworski, A., Erickson, T., & Cashman-McGrath, L. (2002). Preliminary reliability and validity of the generalized anxiety disorder questionnaire-IV: A revised self-report diagnostic measure of generalized anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy, 33, 215–233. Scholar
  48. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 504–511. Scholar
  49. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424. Scholar
  50. O’Toole, M. S., Hougaard, E., & Mennin, D. S. (2013). Social anxiety and emotion knowledge: A meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27(1), 98–108. Scholar
  51. Onur, E., Alkin, T., Sheridan, M. J., & Wise, T. N. (2013). Alexithymia and emotional intelligence in patients with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. Psychiatric Quarterly, 84(3), 303–311. Scholar
  52. Perera, H. N., & DiGiacomo, M. (2013). The relationship of trait emotional intelligence with academic performance: A meta-analytic review. Learning and Individual Differences, 28, 20–33. Scholar
  53. Petrides, K. V. (2011). Ability and trait emotional intelligence. In T. Chamorro-Premuzic, S. von Stumm, & A. Furnham (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of individual differences (pp. 656–678). New Jersey: Wiley.Google Scholar
  54. Petrides, K. V., Pérez-González, J. C., & Furnham, A. (2007). On the criterion and incremental validity of trait emotional intelligence. Cognition and Emotion, 21(1), 26–55. Scholar
  55. Petrides, K. V., Mikolajczak, M., Mavroveli, S., Sanchez-Ruiz, M., Furnham, A., & Pérez-González, J. (2016). Developments in trait emotional intelligence research. Emotion Review, 8(4), 335–341. Scholar
  56. Rachman, S., Grüter-Andrew, J., & Shafran, R. (2000). Post-event processing in social anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(6), 611–617. Scholar
  57. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. Scholar
  58. Rodebaugh, T. L., Holaway, R. M., & Heimberg, R. G. (2008). The factor structure and dimensional scoring of the generalized anxiety disorder questionnaire for DSM-IV. Assessment, 15(3), 343–350. Scholar
  59. Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185–211. Scholar
  60. Sánchez-Álvarez, N., Extremera, N., & Fernández-Berrocal, P. (2016). The relation between emotional intelligence and subjective well-being: A meta-analytic investigation. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(3), 276–285. Scholar
  61. Schoofs, H., Hermans, D., & Raes, F. (2010). Brooding and reflection as subtypes of rumination: Evidence from confirmatory factor analysis in nonclinical samples using the Dutch ruminative response scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 32(4), 609–617. Scholar
  62. Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Thorsteinsson, E. B., Bhullar, N., & Rooke, S. E. (2007). A meta-analytic investigation of the relationship between emotional intelligence and health. Personality and Individual Differences, 42(6), 921–933. Scholar
  63. Spector, P. E. (2019). Do not cross me: Optimizing the use of cross-sectional designs. Journal of Business and Psychology, 34(2), 125–137. Scholar
  64. Startup, H. M., & Erickson, T. M. (2006). The penn state worry questionnaire (PSWQ). In G. C. Davey & A. Wells (Eds.), Worry and its psychological disorders: Theory, assessment and treatment (pp. 101–119). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd..Google Scholar
  65. Summerfeldt, L. J., Kloosterman, P. H., Antony, M. M., & Parker, J. D. A. (2006). Social anxiety, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal adjustment. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioural Assessment, 28(1), 57–68. Scholar
  66. Tett, R. P., Fox, K. E., & Wang, A. (2005). Development and validation of a self-report measure of emotional intelligence as a multidimensional trait domain. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(7), 859–888. Scholar
  67. Treynor, W., Gonzalez, R., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2003). Rumination reconsidered: A psychometric analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27, 247–259. Scholar
  68. Turk, C. L., Heimberg, R. G., Luterek, J. A., Mennin, D. S., & Fresco, D. M. (2005). Emotion dysregulation in generalized anxiety disorder: A comparison with social anxiety disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29, 89–106. Scholar
  69. Vandervoort, D. J. (2006). The importance of emotional intelligence in higher education. Current Psychology, 25(1), 4–7. Scholar
  70. Verger, P., Gilbert, F., & Kovess-Masfety, V. (2010). Psychiatric disorders in students in six French universities: 12-month prevalence, comorbidity, impairment and help-seeking. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 45, 189–199. Scholar
  71. Werner, K. H., Goldin, P. R., Ball, T. M., Heimberg, R. G., & Gross, J. J. (2011). Assessing emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder: The emotion regulation interview. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 33(3), 346–354. Scholar
  72. Wynaden, D., Wichmann, H., & Murray, S. (2013). A synopsis of the mental health concerns of university students: Results of a text-based online survey from one Australian university. Higher Education Research & Development, 32(5), 846–860. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kaytlin Constantin
    • 1
  • Alexander M. Penney
    • 2
  • Carley J. Pope
    • 3
  • Victoria C. Miedema
    • 4
  • Robert P. Tett
    • 5
  • Dwight Mazmanian
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyMacEwan UniversityEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyLakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada
  4. 4.School of NursingLakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TulsaTulsaUSA

Personalised recommendations