Teaching Emotional Intelligence: A Control Group Study of a Brief Educational Intervention for Emergency Medicine Residents

West J Emerg Med. 2015 Nov;16(6):899-906. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2015.8.27304. Epub 2015 Nov 22.


Introduction: Emotional Intelligence (EI) is defined as an ability to perceive another's emotional state combined with an ability to modify one's own. Physicians with this ability are at a distinct advantage, both in fostering teams and in making sound decisions. Studies have shown that higher physician EI's are associated with lower incidence of burn-out, longer careers, more positive patient-physician interactions, increased empathy, and improved communication skills. We explored the potential for EI to be learned as a skill (as opposed to being an innate ability) through a brief educational intervention with emergency medicine (EM) residents.

Methods: This study was conducted at a large urban EM residency program. Residents were randomized to either EI intervention or control groups. The intervention was a two-hour session focused on improving the skill of social perspective taking (SPT), a skill related to social awareness. Due to time limitations, we used a 10-item sample of the Hay 360 Emotional Competence Inventory to measure EI at three time points for the training group: before (pre) and after (post) training, and at six-months post training (follow up); and at two time points for the control group: pre- and follow up. The preliminary analysis was a four-way analysis of variance with one repeated measure: Group x Gender x Program Year over Time. We also completed post-hoc tests.

Results: Thirty-three EM residents participated in the study (33 of 36, 92%), 19 in the EI intervention group and 14 in the control group. We found a significant interaction effect between Group and Time (p≤0.05). Post-hoc tests revealed a significant increase in EI scores from Time 1 to 3 for the EI intervention group (62.6% to 74.2%), but no statistical change was observed for the controls (66.8% to 66.1%, p=0.77). We observed no main effects involving gender or level of training.

Conclusion: Our brief EI training showed a delayed but statistically significant positive impact on EM residents six months after the intervention involving SPT. One possible explanation for this finding is that residents required time to process and apply the EI skills training in order for us to detect measurable change. More rigorous measurement will be needed in future studies to aid in the interpretation of our findings.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Educational Measurement
  • Emergency Medicine / education*
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / methods*
  • Male
  • Ohio
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Teaching / methods*