KSAOs/Individual Differences

Emotional Intelligence Can Be Faked!

A number of organizations are utilizing measures of emotional intelligence (EI) as part of their selection systems, because of EI’s ability to predict performance. Emotional intelligence has been defined from two different perspectives, in terms of how it can be utilized.

Trait-based emotional intelligence.

The trait-based perspective defines EI as a personality trait “emotional self-confidence”, based on the characteristics of conscientiousness and resilience. From this perspective, EI determines how individuals cope with the demands and pressures of their environment, based on five main aspects:
  1. Awareness and understanding of one’s own emotions
  2. Awareness and understanding of other people’s emotions
  3. Flexibility and adaptability for changing one’s own emotions
  4. Coping with and managing stress
  5. Remaining optimistic and in a good mood

Ability-based emotional intelligence.

The ability-based perspective defines EI as a type of cognitive ability, similar to general intelligence, and focuses on four main aspects:
  1. Perception of emotion in one’s self, others, and inanimate objects
  2. Facilitating and using emotions for communicating feelings
  3. Understanding how emotions progress in relationships
  4. Managing feelings in one’s self and others.

Which perspective is the most appropriate?

While both perspectives have a fundamentally similar focus, the type of questions/items that are used to measure each type differ, and as such, the measures’ susceptibility to faking differs. Faking on a selection test occurs when an applicant attempts to choose answers that they think are the “right answer” rather than answering truthfully about him or herself. Trait-based measures of EI are particularly susceptible to faking, due in part to the items being so similar to personality test items (which have been shown to be fakeable). Additionally, trait-based items tend to be more transparent, in that the “right” answer tends to be more obvious to the responder. With top-down selection systems, faking can alter the rank order of applicants, such that those whose scores are increased due to faking rise to the top, making them more likely to proceed to the next phase of the application process.

What should organizations do?

Organizations with a need for selecting or promoting employees on the basis of their emotional intelligence may wish to avoid problems associated with faking by utilizing ability-based measures of EI, as opposed to the more susceptible trait-based measures. In instances where trait-based measures are necessary or preferred, the use of warnings against, or repercussions for, faking or distorting responses is encouraged. These types of “preventative measures” have been shown to reduce the incidence of applicant faking, and can help diminish the amount of faking on trait-based measures.

Interpretation by:

Kathleen Melcher

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Day, A.L., & Carroll, S.A. (2008). Faking emotional intelligence (EI): comparing response distortion on ability and trait-based EI measures. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 761-784.