Emotional intelligence is a powerful tool, helping us to navigate not only our own complex emotional worlds, but also those of our friends, family, colleagues and strangers.
It is vital in a wide range of professions, especially in fields where social interaction is frequent or intensive, such as education, healthcare or the service sector.
But what if your job is mostly to interact with an emotionless machine?
If you’re a pilot, for example, you might need excellent concentration, memory, and situational awareness, among other traits. But how much emotional intelligence do you need to fly an airplane?
Despite a wealth of research on emotional intelligence as a whole, few studies have looked at its role in aviation, according to a team of researchers led by Maj. Zachary Dugger, an instructor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Hoping to shed some light on the matter, Dugger and his colleagues contacted pilots from “numerous aviation organizations” in the United States, ultimately recruiting 44 volunteers to complete a questionnaire designed to assess emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and regulate your own emotions, as well as to recognize and empathize with the emotions of others. The term was popularized by an eponymous book in the 1990s and has since attracted increasing research interest.
There are two main models for measuring emotional intelligence (EI): trait EI and ability EI. The new study focuses on the EI trait, which the authors define as “a constellation of emotional perceptions assessed using questionnaires and rating scales.”
Numerous studies have already examined trait EI in various contexts, the authors note, and it has been “strongly linked to behaviors that constitute key elements of the pilot’s skill set, including leadership, mental toughness and stress management”.
Yet very little research has directly examined trait EI in pilots, they add.
The researchers cite two studies that have addressed the topic, but while these papers found trait EI to be positively related to pilot training performance and “safety citizenship behaviors,” both were limited to military pilots. , and none compared the IE of the pilots to that of the general public.
And since research suggests that other personality traits influence a pilot’s success — like extroversion and neuroticism, for example — Dugger and his colleagues suspect that emotional intelligence plays an undervalued role that deserves attention. to be studied.
The 44 pilots who volunteered for the study ranged in age from 24 to 67, with flight experience ranging from 150 to more than 5,000 hours. They included both fixed-wing and rotary-wing pilots, but all had to hold a valid flight rating.
For a control group, the study used 88 non-pilots from a US dataset of people who answered the TEIQue questionnaire.
The researchers matched the subjects based on age, gender, ethnicity and education, allowing them to control for factors that have been shown to affect trait EI.
The pilots also took the TEIQue, which measures trait EI by asking subjects to read 153 statements and rate their agreement with each. It covers the four main factors of trait EI – well-being, emotionality, sociability and self-control – as well as 15 more specific facets.
The pilots scored “consistently lower than their matched counterparts” in overall trait EI, the researchers write, as well as well-being, emotionality and sociability. The study found no significant difference in self-control scores between pilots and non-pilots.
The reasons for these differences remain unclear, but the study authors have some ideas.
The factors of well-being, emotionality and sociability are linked to “a positive evaluation of one’s emotional capacities”, they write, and when taken too far, this initially beneficial self-evaluation “sometimes turns into narcissism and pride”.
Pilots must be “cautious, direct and discreet in their work”, the researchers note, which could lead to a different mindset compared to jobs that incentivize more self-promotion. This could explain the relatively low scores of military officials, they add.
At the same time, pilots also belong to an organizational culture that often rewards a sense of invulnerability and “resistance to human weakness”, they add.
“Pilots have long been associated with a male culture that emphasizes aggression, competition, and performance orientation,” the researchers write.
“In practice, the pilot selection and training process can produce pilots, primarily male but also female, who fit into this culture.”
The new study has some notable limitations. The sample size of 44 pilots is small, for example, and lacks diversity: the majority of pilots who participated are male (93%), Caucasian (91%) and have completed at least some college education (98%).
Additionally, most pilots currently serve or have served as military aircrew, which limits the ability of this study to go beyond the military-centric focus of previous studies.
Still, this research marks an important step in filling the information void about emotional intelligence in pilots, the researchers say.
“While exploratory, these results highlight promising avenues for future EI research in the broader international aviation sector,” they write.
More research like this could help improve pilot training and organizational culture, they add, producing better prepared pilots for aviation service and “ultimately leading to improved safety, performance and overall satisfaction.” “.
The study was published in Scientific reports.