Impact of Trait Emotionality on IQ
Our study presented at a recent Conference, looked at the impact trait emotionality has on the performance on IQ tests. With respect to emotions and test performance, there are a lot of findings concerning test anxiety, but there are hardly any findings on positive emotions. The few existing findings are contradictory, and so are the theories. Very briefly: Some findings indicate that negative emotions are detrimental to test performance because they consume resources that are thus not available for the task processed, and our working memory, which is important for processing information, is best in mild positive affect (Ashby, Isen, & Turken, 1999). Other studies suggest that positive emotions are disadvantageous for test performance because in a positive emotional state, people are not ready to expend effort and use “quick” rather than thorough ways of problem solving (e.g. Kuhl, 1983). These two contradictory positions can be brought together by the notion that in positive emotional states, our thinking is more flexible (Fredrickson, 2001), and that such states are beneficial for problem solving when the individual is motivated (Lyubomirski, King, & Diener, 2005). This idea was the basis for our hypotheses.
The actual emotional state a person is in is the product of that person’s trait emotionality and the interaction between person and situation (Lischetzke & Eid, 2011). Trait emotionality describes how a person usually feels (e.g. if that person frequently experiences feelings of joy), whereas the interaction between person and situation describes how the person responds to a certain setting (e.g. if being exposed to a testing situation makes the person anxious in the very moment). Thus, a person’s trait emotionality as well as his or her actual state should have an impact on test performance.
In the brain fitness programme mentaga GYM, there are a number of intelligence tests participants can take, and there is also a questionnaire assessing motives, habits, and the trait emotions balance, joy, and hope. Our hypothesis was that all of these emotions were activating, and that participants would be motivated when taking the test because they participate in the programme voluntarily, so we predicted that performance on the IQ test we selected for the study would be best in medium levels of the three emotions because working memory is best in mild positive affect.
However, the results were that there was no difference in the emotions balance and joy, but a difference in the emotion hope in that people low on the trait did better than those medium or high on the trait. Our conclusion was that (1) different emotions impact test performance differently and (2) that those who were high on hope were probably overconfident and therefore did not put enough effort into solving the test. We also concluded that most likely the impact of the state is stronger than the one of the trait. More research will follow on this topic!
But of course there were a lot of other interesting talks. Especially the lineup of keynote speakers was great. International Positive Psychology Association President Robert Vallerand talked about “The role of passion in making life worth living”. Leo Bormans, author of “The World Book of Happiness” which was made available for several heads of state via diplomatic mail (!), explained “How to put a megaphone on the positive message”. Carol Ryff from the University of Wisonsin addressed a topic that many perceive as lacking in the field of Positive Psychology: “Contradiction at the Core of Positive Psychology: The Essential Role of the Negative in Adaptive Human Functioning”. Ragnhild Nes from the NorwegianInstitute of Public Health explained that “Family matters: Genetic and environmental sources for well-being”. The closing keynote was by Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester, one of the founders of the famous self-determination theory. He talked about “Human autonomy and its functional importance for motivation, well-being and cultural evolution: Theory and evidence from self-determination theory”.
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