Investigating the relationship between trait and ability emotional intelligence and theory of mind

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Theoretical links between emotional knowledge and theory of mind (ToM) have previously been proposed. This study investigates this relationship using measures of both ability and trait emotional intelligence (EI). Our sample comprised 194 children, divided into two age groups (5–7 years and 8–10 years). Children participated in measures of false belief understanding, advanced tests of ToM, ability EI and trait EI, and a standardized language assessment. For both age groups, we found that only ability EI was related to false belief understanding. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed that the understanding and managing branches of ability EI predicted unique variance in false belief understanding once controlling for age, language, and the other ability EI branches. Trait EI failed to display any association with false belief understanding. Ability and trait EI were associated with more advanced ToM tasks undertaken only by the older sample. These results offer support for previous research that has found a relationship between emotion perception and labelling and ToM. They also provide new knowledge: (1) higher order emotional knowledge, measured by ability EI, is associated with advanced ToM; and (2) emotional self efficacy, as measured by trait EI, is also important in advanced ToM. Furthermore, they provide the first account of associations between standardized EI measures and ToM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-454
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


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