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Emotion and Health:
Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement

Educators have always been aware of the simple and consistent fact that some students are academically successful while others are not. Psychologists, educators and researchers have long speculated on the root causes of this issue, identifying cognitive abilities, previous academic performance and personal issues such as birth order as possible factors in the mastering of academics.

However, much of the research conducted in this area has been limited. Many questions have been left unanswered in identifying exactly why some people succeed in school.

Dr. James Parker, Canada Research Chair in Emotion and Health, is addressing these questions in his groundbreaking research. He is seeking answers to such lines of thought as "how do personality and emotion contribute to academic success" and "how might our emotional abilities contribute to our mental or physical health?"

It may ultimately come down to something called emotional intelligence. Comprised of social and emotional competencies, this concept spans intrapersonal abilities (which include recognizing and understanding one’s feelings), interpersonal abilities (recognizing the feelings of others and expressing empathy), adaptability (adjusting one’s behaviours and emotions to changing situations and conditions) and stress management (which includes the ability to resist or delay impulses).

Measuring emotional intelligence is possible with the use of a specific and detailed set of questions. Upon completion of this type of survey a person’s overall emotional intelligence is mapped and identified. Consistently, this information is revealing noticeable trends to Dr. Parker.

Over the past three years, for instance, Dr. Parker has been able to survey entire groups of first-year students arriving at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. This study – called the Trent Academic Success and Wellness Project (TASWP) – is one of the most ambitious studies ever conducted in Canada on personality and health factors that influence academic success.

Dr. Parker doesn’t just identify the emotional intelligence of first-year students on a one-time basis. He is also tracking the academic achievement of these students as they move through their undergraduate career. Results indicate associations between those students who score poorly on emotional intelligence tests and those who drop out of school. This may eventually lead to novel tools which universities can use to identify students most likely to drop out, and interventions which may be employed to help them achieve their academic goals. It may also lead to tools that health care organizations can use to identify patients susceptible to mental disorders or unexplained physical health problems.

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Premier’s Research Excellence Awards and the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat, Dr. James Parker’s explorations into the realm of emotion and health are far-reaching and of immense significance.

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Last updated October 24, 2002