The Decline of Emotional Intelligence? Not if You Practice Music Therapy.

How Music Therapy Can Help with Emotional Regulation and Increase Emotional Intelligence

There’s no denying that it’s been a tough couple of years for everyone. With the public health threat of the COVID–19 pandemic hanging over the world, major changes in day-to-day to life, dramatically increased job and financial stress, a looming eviction crisis, and limited opportunities to connect with loved ones, it’s no wonder that our collective mental health is taking a toll. On the individual level, the pandemic years have seen depression and anxiety rates soar, topping at four times higher than average at the height of the pandemic.

As we begin to piece together what post-COVID life looks like, you have to wonder – has the pandemic affected our social health as well?

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the state of emotional intelligence in the nation right now, including:

  • What emotional intelligence is + how it’s defined
  • Why emotional intelligence is on the decline
  • How music therapy can help mend the damage done to our social selves

We’ve got some big questions to tackle, so without further ado, let’s get started.

Emotional intelligence is all about how we handle our own emotions and the emotions of the people around us.

What Exactly Is Emotional Intelligence?

Understanding the Four Factors That Make Up Emotional Intelligence

First thing’s first – what is emotional intelligence, anyway? We all have some basic understanding of the concept – it’s the ability to read others’ emotions and respond appropriately to the situation – but that’s just a layperson’s definition.

Psychologists define emotional intelligence as a complex construct consisting of four factors:

  • Well-being. This includes pretty much all of an individual’s positivity, from positive self-evaluations and self-esteem to their general level of optimism.
  • Self-control. This factor is all about emotional regulation. Can you recognize and cope with your emotions, impulses, and stress?
  • Emotionality. This factor is where relationship skills really come into play – it’s all about the ability to perceive and empathize with the emotions others demonstrate.
  • Sociability. Another factor that plays heavily into relationships, sociability encompasses communication and networking skills as well as the ability to influence others.

Emotional intelligence can be measured by self-report EI tests (similar to self-report IQ tests, but focusing on emotion rather than logical reasoning). In clinical or research settings, psychologists may also administer more comprehensive emotional intelligence tests, which involve actively demonstrating behavior in different role play scenarios, and having that behavior ranked and analyzed by a third party.

But why does understanding emotional intelligence matter?

As you may have guessed, emotional intelligence has a huge impact on our ability to work, form relationships, and otherwise interact with other people.

Studies over the last two decades have shown a marked decrease in multiple factors of emotional intelligence in young adults in Western cultures.

New Research Shows Declining Emotional Intelligence in Western Cultures

Understanding What the Research Says, and the Implications of Declining Emotional Intelligence

A 2021 study by Khan and colleagues that appeared in the Journal of Personality suggests that emotional intelligence is on the decline, and not just over the last two years. The meta-analysis reported on samples from Western college students in studies completed as far back as 2001 in which students completed the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire. The analysis included over 70 studies and 17,000 participants.

What did the researchers find? After controlling for variables like gender and country, the researchers found that 3 facets of emotional intelligence (well-being, emotionality, and self-control) declined over time, and found that access to technology was associated with declining levels of well-being and self-control.

The researchers speculate that social media may have had some influence on the decline because it substitutes the closeness and bonding that results from in-person social interaction with a digital alternative.

Researchers also speculate that the resulting increase of loneliness can be linked to the increased prevelance of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and suicides over the last two decades.

When we map these trends over the events of the last two years – the dramatic drop in opportunities for in-person interaction, the necessity of increased technology and social media use in order to work or interact with others – the implications for our collective emotional intelligence and emotional wellbeing are concerning.

Music intervention can lead to increased emotional intelligence and better emotional health.

Music Therapy as a Strategy for Increasing Emotional Intelligence

Music Can Be Used to Improve Emotional Regulation + to Promote Healing

So in the face of declining emotional intelligence, what can be done?

One extremely accessible option is music therapy.

It’s hard to ignore the impact that simply listening to music can have on your day – have you ever felt better after listening to your favorite song, or used music to hype yourself up before a big presentation, performance, or event? We all have. But research suggests that when harnessed and used intentionally, music can have measurable therapeutic benefits.

Time and time again, researchers find that music intervention has a significant impact on emotional intelligence.

What exactly does “music intervention” look like? In many studies, it simply means listening to music. The music chosen for studies is often instrumental and heavily uses scales or pitches often associated with happiness and other light, positive emotions.

If you want some musical intervention in your own life, you have plenty of options. Despite popular belief, you don't have to be a kid to learn how to play an instrument like piano or guitar (although if you want to learn a string instrument, I personally recommend starting with some basic music theory for guitar -- it will make the whole process way easier). But you don't have to go all out and learn an instrument to reap the emotional benefits of music.

Whether you opt for some simple DIY at-home music activities or seek professional support from a licensed music therapist, music is a great way to boost your emotional intelligence and overall mental health.

Listening to and creating music helps boost mood and provides an outlet for emotions.

Research suggests that that the increase in technology use is leading to a decline in emotional intelligence, but there is hope. Music and music therapy are easily accessible tools anyone can use to improve their emotional regulation and emotional intelligence.

Contact one of Incadence’s music therapists today to learn more about how music therapy can help with your emotional intelligence and help you feel your best.

Anthony Stockton
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