Lower emotional intelligence linked to prejudiced, right-wing views, study finds

The study is among the first to explore the relationship between emotional abilities, political ideologies, and prejudice.

Lower emotional intelligence linked to prejudiced, right-wing views, study finds
Image source: SOPA Images / Getty
  • New research measured the emotional and cognitive abilities, as well as the political ideologies, of nearly 1,000 Belgian undergraduate students.
  • The results showed that students who scored lower on the cognitive and emotional tests were more likely to measure higher on tests measuring right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation.
  • Still, the study only showed an association, and couldn't establish causality.


People who score lower on emotional intelligence tests are more likely to hold right-wing and prejudice attitudes, according to new research.

Psychologists have long been interested in how personality traits and cognitive abilities relate to political ideologies and prejudice. Past research, for example, has shown that people with lower cognitive abilities are more likely to hold right-wing and prejudiced attitudes. But relatively few studies have examined how emotional intelligence factors into the mix.

The new study, published in the journal Emotion, is one of the first to show that people with deficits in emotional abilities — like people with deficits in cognitive abilities — are more likely to hold right-wing and prejudiced views.

The results echo those of a similar 2017 study, which indicated that people who scored lower in trait Emotional Intelligence were more likely to hold right-wing and subtly racist views. Why? People with lower emotional intelligence have less empathy and are less able to assume the perspective of others, the authors suggested.

In the new study, the researchers assessed the political ideologies and emotional abilities of 983 Belgian undergraduates. To measure emotional abilities, the participants took three tests: the Situational Test of Emotional Understanding, the Situational Test of Emotion Management, and the Geneva Emotion Recognition Test. Here's an example question from the Situation Test of Emotional Understanding:

"Charles is meeting a friend to see a movie. The friend is very late and they are not in time to make it to the movie. Charles is most likely to feel? [A] Depressed [B] Frustrated x [C] Angry [D] Contemptuous [E] Distressed."

In a second part of the study, the participants' emotional and cognitive abilities were measured. The results showed that participants who scored lower on the emotional abilities tests — particularly ones measuring emotional understanding and management — were more likely to score higher on measures of right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation.

Generally, people who score high in right-wing authoritarianism are especially willing to submit to political authorities and be hostile toward people outside of their in-groups. Meanwhile, those who score high in social dominance orientation tend to dislike egalitarianism and prefer inequality within and between 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," study author Alain Van Hiel, a professor at the University of Ghent told PsyPost.

What's more, people who scored lower on the cognitive and emotional tests were more likely to agree with statements such as, "the white race is superior to all other races." Still, Van Hiel cautioned that the study couldn't establish causality.

"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."

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