Being emotionally intelligent may be important for a teacher, salesman, or therapist, but what about for a pilot? A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports suggests that pilots are less likely to be emotionally intelligent compared to the average person.
Trait emotional intelligence is a concept that captures an individual’s general ability to manage, perceive, and express emotions. It has been linked with many other positive constructs, such as leadership abilities, self-control, mental strength, and the ability to manage stress well. Though aviation does not seem like a field that would require emotional intelligence, many of the aforementioned advantages could be helpful for pilots. Previous research has studied emotional intelligence in military pilots and did not compare them to a control group, and this study seeks to bridge that gap in literature.
For their study, Zachary Dugger and colleagues utilized 44 pilots ranging in age from 24 to 67 years old to serve as the sample. All participants were required to have an active flight qualification and the majority of participants were either current or former military pilots. The control group was drawn from a US dataset and was matched on age, gender, ethnicity, and education as best as possible. In total, 88 control subjects were used. All 132 participants completed measures on trait emotional intelligence and demographics.
Results showed that pilots scores lower in trait emotional intelligence, including the subfactors of well-being, emotionality, and sociability. Though pilots have been found to be an extraverted group, it is thought that they score lower in these constructs because their job requires careful precision. The lower scores could also be related to organizational culture.
“Pilots have long been associated with a masculine culture that emphasizes aggressiveness, competition, and performance orientation,” the researchers said. “In practice, the pilot selection and training process may produce pilots, primarily male but also female, who fit within this culture.”
In regard to self-control, there were no significant differences between control participants and pilots. This is likely because self-control allows people to maintain situational awareness, which is very important for people operating an aircraft.
This study took steps into better understanding trait emotional intelligence in pilots. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the sample was overwhelmingly male. Another limitation is that the sample size of pilots was relatively small and still consisted mainly of people with military service. Future research could focus on obtaining a more diverse sample of pilots.
“Overall, the findings show that pilots tend to have lower trait [emotional intelligence] scores, indicating less confidence and reliance on their emotional world, with all the advantages and disadvantages this might entail,” the researchers concluded. “Although exploratory, these findings highlight promising avenues for future trait [emotional intelligence] research within the broader sector of international aviation. Such research will help practitioners identify new opportunities in pilot training and organizational culture, the better to equip pilots for aviation duty, ultimately leading to improved safety, performance, and all-around satisfaction.”
The study, “Trait emotional intelligence in American pilots“, was authored by Zachary Dugger, K. V. Petrides, Nicole Carnegie, and Bernadette McCrory.