Validating Emotional Attention Regulation as a Component of Emotional Intelligence: A Stroop Approach to Individual Differences in Tuning in to and Out of Nonverbal Cues

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Emotional intelligence (EI) has captivated researchers and the public alike, but it has been challenging to establish its components as objective abilities. Self-report scales lack divergent validity from personality traits, and few ability tests have objectively correct answers. We adapt the Stroop task to introduce a new facet of EI called emotional attention regulation (EAR), which involves focusing emotion-related attention for the sake of information processing rather than for the sake of regulating one’s own internal state. EAR includes 2 distinct components. First, tuning in to nonverbal cues involves identifying nonverbal cues while ignoring alternate content, that is, emotion recognition under conditions of distraction by competing stimuli. Second, tuning out of nonverbal cues involves ignoring nonverbal cues while identifying alternate content, that is, the ability to interrupt emotion recognition when needed to focus attention elsewhere. An auditory test of valence included positive and negative words spoken in positive and negative vocal tones. A visual test of approach–avoidance included green- and red-colored facial expressions depicting happiness and anger. The error rates for incongruent trials met the key criteria for establishing the validity of an EI test, in that the measure demonstrated test–retest reliability, convergent validity with other EI measures, divergent validity from factors such as general processing speed and mostly personality, and predictive validity in this case for well-being. By demonstrating that facets of EI can be validly theorized and empirically assessed, results also speak to the validity of EI more generally.

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