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.[1][2]

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.[3][4] Reviews, meta-analysis and studies of physiological measures, behavioral tests and brain neuroimaging also support such findings.[3][5][6][7][8][9] However, the field of emotional intelligence is relatively new because it has only existed since the late 1990s, and therefore the literature has not built up everything known about sex differences in emotional intelligence.

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 ability model, there are four abilities that exist for emotional intelligence:[1][10]

  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][10][11]
  2. Facilitation – the ability to use emotions for various cognitive activities such as thinking and problem solving as well as interacting with others. The emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his or her changing moods in order to best fit the task at hand for example using emotions to motivate themselves.[1][10]
  3. Understanding – the ability to process emotion language and understand why they someone or they 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][10]
  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][10]

Social cognition – Psychological processes that allow individuals to interpret and adapt to a social group. Social cognition is an important part of emotional Intelligence and incorporates social skills such as processing facial expressions, body language and other social stimulus.[12]

Empathy – Emotional intelligence includes key aspects of empathy especially that part of empathy having to do with recognizing others’ feelings which falls under the "Perception" facet in the ability model of emotional intelligence[1]

Sex differences in emotional intelligence

The Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)

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.[13] Another 330 sample study published in the same year and same journal also found women scored significantly higher in emotional intelligence ability than men.[14] 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.[15] 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.[3] 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).[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] A F factor value of 1 means no differences while the difference in this study was 4.46 in F factor .[18]

Test of Emotional Intelligence (TIE)

A new 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.[4] 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.[19] The deviation size differences were 0.32 and the researchers attributed this to women's greater emotional intelligence.[19]

Behavioral tests

A 2011 study published in the journal Sex Roles by researchers Matthew J. Hertenstein and Dacher Keltner 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.[8] 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.[8]

Social cognition

A 2012 review published in the journal Neuropsychologia found that women are better at recognizing facial effects, expression processing and emotions in general.[9] Men were only better at recognizing specific behaviour which includes anger, aggression and threatening cues.[9] 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.[20] A nother 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.[21] 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.[5] 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 have indicated 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 especially for positive emotions.[24][25]


A 2006 meta-analysis by researcher Rena A Kirkland in the North American Journal of Psychology found 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.[26] Another 2014 meta-analysis in Cognition and Emotion, found overall female advantage in non-verbal emotional recognition across 215 samples.[5]

In a study published in 2006, neuroscientist Tania Singer showed that empathy-related neural responses are significantly lower in males when observing an "unfair" person experiencing pain.[27] Another 2014 study by researchers Chiyoko Kobayashi Frank, Simon Baron-Cohen and Barbara L. Ganzel found that on average women use networks in the brain associated with both cognitive empathy ( higher activity in mPFC) and emotional empathy ( non-activity in the vmPFC) more than men, in which they inferred can somewhat explain why women have better performance in theory of mind or cognitive empathy skills.[7] An 2014 analysis from the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews also found that there are sex differences in empathy from birth, growing larger with age and which remains consistent and stable across lifespan.[6] Females 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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[6] Mirror neurons are crucial for many if not most aspects of empathy. Females were also found to have stronger link between emotional and cognitive empathy.[6] The researchers found that the stability of these sex differences in development are not likely explained by any environmental influences but instead might have some roots in human evolution and sex biased genetic inheritance.[6]

Throughout prehistory, females nurtured and were the primary caretakers of children, so this might have led to an evolved neurological adaptation for women to be more aware and responsive to non-verbal human expressions. According to the Primary Caretaker Hypothesis, prehistoric males did not have the same selective pressure as primary caretakers and therefore this might explain modern day sex differences in emotion recognition and empathy.[6]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Mayer, John D.; Roberts, Richard D.; Barsade, Sigal G. "Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence". Annual Review of Psychology. 59 (1): 507–536. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093646.
  2. Lin, Yu-chung; Wynn, Jonathan K.; Hellemann, Gerhard; Green, Michael F. (2012-08-01). "Factor Structure of Emotional Intelligence in Schizophrenia". Schizophrenia research. 139 (1-3): 78–81. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2012.04.013. ISSN 0920-9964. PMC 3393835Freely accessible. PMID 22584064.
  3. 1 2 3 Joseph, Dana L.; Newman, Daniel A. "Emotional intelligence: An integrative meta-analysis and cascading model.". Journal of Applied Psychology. 95 (1): 54–78. doi:10.1037/a0017286.
  4. 1 2 Śmieja, Magdalena; Orzechowski, Jarosław; Stolarski, Maciej S. (2014-07-29). "TIE: An Ability Test of Emotional Intelligence". PLoS ONE. 9 (7): e103484. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103484. PMC 4114749Freely accessible. PMID 25072656.
  5. 1 2 3 Thompson, Ashley E.; Voyer, Daniel (2014-01-01). "Sex differences in the ability to recognise non-verbal displays of emotion: a meta-analysis". Cognition & Emotion. 28 (7): 1164–1195. doi:10.1080/02699931.2013.875889. ISSN 1464-0600. PMID 24400860.
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  7. 1 2 Frank, Chiyoko Kobayashi; Baron-Cohen, Simon; Ganzel, Barbara L. (2015-01-15). "Sex differences in the neural basis of false-belief and pragmatic language comprehension". NeuroImage. 105: 300–311. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.09.041.
  8. 1 2 3 Hertenstein, Matthew J.; Keltner, Dacher (2011-01-01). "Gender and the Communication of Emotion Via Touch". Sex Roles. 64 (1-2): 70–80. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9842-y. ISSN 0360-0025. PMC 3016097Freely accessible. PMID 21297854.
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