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HandWiki. Sex Differences in Emotional Intelligence. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 April 2024).
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Sex Differences in Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) involves using cognitive and emotional abilities to function in interpersonal relationships, social groups as well as manage one's emotional states. It consists of abilities such as social cognition, empathy and reasoning about the emotions of others. Current literature finds women have higher emotional intelligence ability than men based on common ability tests such as MSCEIT and the newer Test of Emotional Intelligence. Reviews, meta-analysis and studies of physiological measures, behavioral tests and brain neuroimaging also support such findings.

emotional intelligence emotional abilities social groups

1. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) involves using cognitive and emotional abilities to function in interpersonal relationships, social groups as well as manage one's emotional states. A person with high EI ability can perceive, comprehend and express emotion accurately, and also has the ability to access and generate feelings when needed to improve one's self and relationships with others. According to the Four-Branch Model of Emotional Intelligence model, there are four abilities that exist for emotional intelligence:[1][2]

  1. Perception – the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artifact. Also includes the ability to identify one's own emotions. Perceiving emotions represents a basic aspect of emotional intelligence, as it makes all other processing of emotional information possible.[1][2][3]
  2. Facilitation – the ability to use emotions for various cognitive activities such as thinking and problem solving as well as interacting with others. An emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his or her changing moods in order to best fit the task at hand. An example of this includes a person using their emotions to motivate themselves.[1][2]
  3. Understanding – the ability to process emotion language and understand why someone, including themselves, might feel a certain way. Understanding emotions also encompasses the ability to be sensitive to slight changes between emotions, and the ability to recognize and describe how emotions evolve over time.[1][2]
  4. Management – the ability to manage one's emotions as well as manage emotional relationship with others. An emotionally intelligent person can also use any type of emotions and apply them in pursuit of a goal.[1][2]

2. Tests

2.1. Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)

The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test is used to get emotional intelligence IQs (EIQ). The area scores include experiential EIQ and strategic EIQ. Experiential EIQ includes being able to recognize emotions to compare them to other sensations and their connection to the thought process. Strategic EIQ focuses on the meaning behind emotions, how emotions affect relationships, and how to manage emotions. After area scores, branch scores include four different sections: perceiving emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and managing emotions.[4] Using these categories, the test analyzes people's ability to perform tasks and solve emotional problems/situations. No self-perceived assessments are used in the test.[4]

Hiearchy of Mayer-Salovey-Caruso emotional intelligence test.

A 246 university sample study published in the 2004 journal Personality and Individual Differences found women scored significantly higher than men on all scales of the MSCEIT.[5] Another 330 sample study published in the same year and same journal also found women scored significantly higher in emotional intelligence ability than men.[6] A 2006 sample study of 946 participants involving the University of Málaga and Yale University as well as researcher Peter Salovey found significantly higher scores obtained by women on overall scale and branches.[7]

A 2010 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology by researchers Dana L. Joseph and Daniel A. Newman found that women scored higher than men by around half a deviation which amounts to 6–7 points difference.[8] A 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality Assessment by researchers Antonietta Curci and Tiziana Lanciano found that results are in line with those of previous studies showing that women consistently expressed higher emotional intelligence abilities than men (Brackett et al., 2004; Extremera et al., 2006; Salguero et al., 2012).[9] A 2014 study published in the journal PLoS ONE by researchers Jerzy Wojciechowski, and Maciej Stolarski found differences favoring women for performance-based EI ability tests supporting the held common hypothesis that women have higher EI scores than men do.[10] A 2016 study by researcher Tiziana Quarto published in the journal PLoS ONE found women had higher EI abilities among a group of 63 participants.[11]

2.2. Test of Emotional Intelligence (TIE)

The Test of Emotional Intelligence (TIE) is based on a theory provided by Peter Salovey and John Mayer,[12] which postulates that emotional intelligence has distinct, yet connected, categories. There are four categories:

  1. The first one is called perception of emotions. It consists of being able to perceive, identify, and recognize emotions correctly.
  2. Using emotions to facilitate thinking is the second category which means understanding emotions to then think and problem solve.
  3. The third category, understanding emotions, includes understanding of emotional triggers and phases of emotional processing.
  4. The last of the four categories is managing emotions. This category includes being able to regulate emotions and being able to handle other's as well.[12]

The TIE uses these categories in its structure.

The TIE focuses on measuring people's abilities, being an ecologically valid test, and the scoring being based on judgements by experts (instead of the population statistics). Multiple abilities are tested in theSr TIE, much more than compared to other emotional intelligence tests. These included fluid intelligence, verbal intelligence, personality, perception of emotion, and self-reported emotional intelligence. It can be looked at as valid alternative to the MSCEIT.[13]

A 2014 study plus meta-analysis published in the journal PLoS ONE with a sample size of 8979 participants found higher overall score by females on all facets of ability emotional intelligence. The analysis was conducted by researchers Magdalena Śmieja, Jarosław Orzechowski and Maciej S. Stolarski in various universities across Poland.[14] They also found in another study that although genders were equally adept at detecting consistency with basic emotions, women were superior at detecting deception in both basic emotion and inconsistent emotions conditions or in other words complex and subtle emotions.[10] The deviation size differences were 0.32 and the researchers attributed this to women's greater emotional intelligence.[10]

2.3. Behavioral Tests

One example of using a behavioral study was a 2011 study published in the journal Sex Roles by researchers Matthew J. Hertenstein and Dacher Keltner. The study found that within a behavioral experiment study of 212 participants, women shared more emotions, felt more prosocial emotions and communicated much more happiness levels in one on one dyadic interaction.[15] Results also found that 79% of female decoders accurately identified male emotions and 96% accurately identified female emotions (both ps < .01). For male decoders, 70% (p = .052) correctly identified male encoders and 81% (p < .01) correctly identified female encoded emotions. Results conformed with findings from past literature.[15]

3. Sex Differences

3.1. Social Cognition

Social cognition is what allows people and animals to interpret tone, language, facial expressions, and body language.[16] Everyday, people use social cognition subconsciously as it is part of most modern society. Social cognition is an important part of emotional Intelligence and incorporates social skills such as processing facial expressions, body language and other social stimulus.[17]

A 2012 review published in the journal Neuropsychologia found that women are better at recognizing facial effects, expression processing and emotions in general.[18] Men were only better at recognizing specific behaviour which includes anger, aggression and threatening cues.[18] A 2012 study published in the journal Neuropsychology with a sample of 3500 individuals from ages 8–21, found that females outperformed males on face memory and all social cognition tests.[19] Another 2014 study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex found that females had larger activity in the right temporal cortex, an essential core of the social brain connected to perception and understanding the social behaviour of others such as intentions, emotions, and expectations.[20]

In 2014, a meta-analysis of 215 study sample by researcher A.E. Johnson and D Voyeur in the journal Cognition and Emotion found overall female advantage in emotional recognition.[21] Other studies have also indicated greater female superiority to discriminate vocal and facial expression regardless of valence, and also being able to accurately process emotional speech.[22] Studies have also found males to be slower in making social judgements than females.[23] Structural studies with MRI neuroimaging has also shown that women have bigger regional grey matter volumes in a number of regions related to social information processing including the inferior frontal cortex and bigger cortical folding in the Inferior frontal cortex and parietal cortex.[23] Researchers supposed that these sex differences in social cognition predisposes to high rates of autism spectrum disorders among males which is characterized by lower social cognition.[23] Two 2015 reviews published in the journal Emotion review also found that adult women are more emotionally expressive,[24][25] but that the size of this gender difference varies with the social and emotional context. Researchers distinguish three factors that predict the size of gender differences in emotional expressiveness: gender-specific norms, social role and situational constraints, and emotional intensity.[25]

3.2. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to read emotional cues from others and to create an emotional connection during different social situations.[26] Empathy allows the user to organize their emotions in a way that allows them to broadcast what they feel, by what they say.[26]

A 2006 meta-analysis by researcher Rena A Kirkland in the North American Journal of Psychology found small statistically significant sex differences favoring females in "Reading of the mind" test. "Reading of the mind" test is an advanced ability measure of cognitive empathy in which Kirkland's analysis involved 259 studies across 10 countries.[27] Another 2014 meta-analysis, in Cognition and Emotion, found overall female advantage in non-verbal emotional recognition across 215 samples.[21]

A 2014 analysis from the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews also found that there are sex differences in empathy from birth,[28] growing larger with age and which remains consistent and stable across lifespan. Females, on average, were found to have higher empathy than males at all ages, and children with higher empathy regardless of gender continue to possess high empathy throughout development in life. Further analysis of brain tools such as event related potentials found that females who viewed human suffering had higher ERP waveforms than males, an indication of greater empathetic response. Another investigation with similar brain tools such as N400 amplitudes found higher N400 in females in response to social situations which then positively correlated with self-reported empathy. Structural fMRI studies have also found females to have larger grey matter volumes in posterior inferior frontal and anterior inferior parietal cortex areas which have been correlated with mirror neurons indicated by the fMRI literature. Mirror neurons are crucial for many if not most aspects of empathy. Females were also found to have a stronger link between emotional and cognitive empathy. The researchers use The Primary Caretaker Hypothesis to explain the stability of these sex differences in development. According to the hypothesis, prehistoric males did not have the same selective pressure as women and this led to sex differences in emotion recognition and empathy.[28]


  1. Mayer, John D.; Roberts, Richard D.; Barsade, Sigal G. (2008). "Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence". Annual Review of Psychology 59 (1): 507–536. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093646. PMID 17937602. 
  2. Fiori, Marina; Antonietti, Jean-Philippe; Mikolajczak, Moira; Luminet, Olivier; Hansenne, Michel; Rossier, Jérôme (2014-06-05). "What Is the Ability Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) Good for? An Evaluation Using Item Response Theory". PLOS ONE 9 (6): e98827. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098827. ISSN 1932-6203. PMID 24901541. Bibcode: 2014PLoSO...998827F.
  3. Hildebrandt, Andrea; Sommer, Werner; Schacht, Annekathrin; Wilhelm, Oliver (2015-05-01). "Perceiving and remembering emotional facial expressions — A basic facet of emotional intelligence". Intelligence 50: 52–67. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2015.02.003.
  4. "MSCEIT® - Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test® | Multi Health Systems (MHS Inc.)". 
  5. "Using an Ability-Based Measure of Emotional Intelligence to Predict Individual Performance, Group Performance, and Group Citizenship Behaviors.". Personality and Individual Differences 36 (6): 1443–58. April 2004. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(03)00240-X. 
  6. "Group differences in emotional intelligence scores: theoretical and practical implications". Personality and Individual Differences 38 (3): 689–700. February 2005. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2004.05.023.
  7. "Spanish version of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). Version 2.0: reliabilities, age and gender differences". Psicothema 18 (Suppl): 42–8. 2006. PMID 17295956. 
  8. "Emotional intelligence: an integrative meta-analysis and cascading model". The Journal of Applied Psychology 95 (1): 54–78. January 2010. doi:10.1037/a0017286. PMID 20085406. 
  9. "Construct validity of the Italian version of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) v2.0". Journal of Personality Assessment 95 (5): 486–94. 2013. doi:10.1080/00223891.2013.778272. PMID 23536991. 
  10. "Emotional intelligence and mismatching expressive and verbal messages: a contribution to detection of deception". PLOS ONE 9 (3): e92570. 2014-03-21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092570. PMID 24658500. Bibcode: 2014PLoSO...992570W.
  11. "Association between Ability Emotional Intelligence and Left Insula during Social Judgment of Facial Emotions". PLOS ONE 11 (2): e0148621. 2016-02-09. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148621. PMID 26859495. Bibcode: 2016PLoSO..1148621Q.
  12. "Emotional Intelligence". Imagination, Cognition and Personality 9 (3): 185–211. March 1990. doi:10.2190/dugg-p24e-52wk-6cdg.
  13. "TIE: an ability test of emotional intelligence". PLOS ONE 9 (7): e103484. 2014-07-29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103484. PMID 25072656. Bibcode: 2014PLoSO...9j3484S.
  14. "TIE: an ability test of emotional intelligence". PLOS ONE 9 (7): e103484. 2014-07-29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103484. PMID 25072656. Bibcode: 2014PLoSO...9j3484S.
  15. "Gender and the Communication of Emotion Via Touch". Sex Roles 64 (1–2): 70–80. January 2011. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9842-y. PMID 21297854.
  16. Spaulding, Shannon (October 2015). "Phenomenology of Social Cognition". Erkenntnis 80 (5): 1069–1089. doi:10.1007/s10670-014-9698-6. ISSN 0165-0106. 
  17. "Social cognition". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 363 (1499): 2033–9. June 2008. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0005. PMID 18292063.
  18. "A review on sex differences in processing emotional signals". Neuropsychologia 50 (7): 1211–21. June 2012. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.12.022. PMID 22245006. 
  19. "Age group and sex differences in performance on a computerized neurocognitive battery in children age 8-21". Neuropsychology 26 (2): 251–265. March 2012. doi:10.1037/a0026712. PMID 22251308.
  20. "Sex Differences in the Neuromagnetic Cortical Response to Biological Motion". Cerebral Cortex 25 (10): 3468–74. October 2015. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhu175. PMID 25100856. 
  21. "Sex differences in the ability to recognise non-verbal displays of emotion: a meta-analysis". Cognition & Emotion 28 (7): 1164–95. 2014-01-01. doi:10.1080/02699931.2013.875889. PMID 24400860.
  22. "Gender differences in the activation of inferior frontal cortex during emotional speech perception". NeuroImage 21 (3): 1114–23. March 2004. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.10.048. PMID 15006679. 
  23. "Social cognition, the male brain and the autism spectrum". PLOS ONE 7 (12): e49033. 2012-12-26. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049033. PMID 23300517. Bibcode: 2012PLoSO...749033H.
  24. "Gender and Emotion Expression: A Developmental Contextual Perspective". Emotion Review 7 (1): 14–21. January 2015. doi:10.1177/1754073914544408. PMID 26089983.
  25. "What Drives the Smile and the Tear: Why Women Are More Emotionally Expressive Than Men". Emotion Review 7 (1): 22–29. 2015-01-01. doi:10.1177/1754073914544406. ISSN 1754-0739.
  26. "Gender differences in the relationship between empathy and forgiveness". The Journal of Social Psychology 145 (6): 673–85. December 2005. doi:10.3200/SOCP.145.6.673-686. PMID 16334893.
  27. "Meta-analysis reveals adult female superiority in "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test"". 
  28. "Empathy: gender effects in brain and behavior". Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 46 (4): 604–27. October 2014. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.001. PMID 25236781. PMC 5110041. 
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