Emotional intelligence and subjective well-being: Altruistic behavior as a mediator

Jiatao Huang (Guangdong University of Technology),  Hongbo Shi (Harbin Institute of Technology),  Wei Liu (The University of Sydney), 2018, 46(5), 749–758.

It is a common belief that helping others makes us feel better ourselves. I’ve been reflecting on this in the wake of the murder of 50 Muslim members of the community in Christchurch, New Zealand, the country I live in.

There has been an enormous outpouring of empathy and support for those affected, in a way that is both altruistic and beneficial to the well-being of those doing the giving. But what do research findings tell us about this link?

It is well established that higher levels of emotional intelligence correlate with greater subjective well-being. The factors in the path from one to the other are less well known, however, so in this study the authors examined the relationship between the two and what role, if any, altruistic behavior has in that relationship.

Altruistic behavior is defined as an intentional and voluntary helping behavior that is performed to enhance the welfare of others and that does not carry the anticipation of a material benefit or external reward for the helper. So it is something we do for others with no expectation of gaining anything ourselves.

The participants in this study were 412 undergraduates in two South China universities. The authors found that for these participants both emotional intelligence and altruistic behavior led to subjective well-being, and that altruistic behavior partially mediated the relationship between emotional intelligence and subjective well-being.

How does this happen? When people have greater emotional intelligence, they are better able to understand the mental and emotional states of others. This empathic response leads to a desire to help others and, therefore, to engage in helpful behaviors.

Paradoxically, this means that although the motivation to help others comes from a selfless desire, we end up helping ourselves while we are helping others.

Perhaps for those who have lower emotional intelligence and therefore aren’t so motivated by altruism, this could be the motivation needed to reach out to others, something I hope to see continue in my country and around the world.

Julie O'Brien | Copyeditor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal