People with lower emotional intelligence are more likely to hold right-wing views, study finds

New research from Belgium provides evidence that deficits in emotion understanding and emotion management are related to right-wing and prejudiced attitudes. The study has been published in the journal Emotion.

“I have a lifelong interest in political psychology and in political ideology in particular. The observation that left-wing and right-wing adherents tend to differ on so many psychological characteristics is amazing,” said study author Alain Van Hiel, a professor at the University of Ghent.

“Many scholars have investigated the cognitive basis of ideology in general, and right-wing ideological attitudes in particular. In the present study, we wanted to investigate if a similar relationship would exist for emotional abilities.”

In two studies, the researchers assessed the emotional abilities and political ideology of 983 Belgian undergraduate students. The second study also examined the participants’ cognitive ability. Emotional ability was measured with three tests: the Situational Test of Emotional Understanding, the Situational Test of Emotion Management, and the Geneva Emotion Recognition Test.

The researchers found that individuals with weaker emotional abilities — particularly emotional understanding and management — tended to score higher on a measure of right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation.

Right-wing authoritarianism is a personality trait that describes the tendency to submit to political authority and be hostile towards other groups, while social dominance orientation is a measure of a person’s preference for inequality among social groups.

“The results of this study were univocal. People who endorse authority and strong leaders and who do not mind  inequality — the two basic dimensions underlying right-wing political ideology — show lower levels of emotional abilities,” Van Hiel told PsyPost.

Those with lower emotional and cognitive abilities were also more likely to agree with blatantly prejudiced statements such as “The White race is superior to all other races.”

The researchers controlled for age, sex, and education level. But like all research, the study includes some limitations. The study only collected correlational data, preventing inferences of causality from being made.

“Of course, caution should be exercised in the interpretation of such results,” Van Hiel said. “One cannot discredit any ideology on the basis of such results as those presently obtained. Only in a distant future we will be able to look back upon our times, and then we can maybe judge which ideologies were the best. Cognitively and emotionally smart people can make wrong decisions as well.”

“The results have been obtained in one particular context. Would similar results be obtained in other contexts besides in a Western country with a long-standing stable democracy? Whether these tendencies are universal, or limited to particular contexts, is very intriguing.”

The study, “The Relationship Between Emotional Abilities and Right-Wing and Prejudiced Attitudes“, was authored by Alain Van Hiel, Jonas De keersmaecker, Emma Onraet, Tessa Haesevoets, Arne Roets, and Johnny R. J. Fontaine.