Scholarly Critique on Positive Emotions, Emotional Intelligence, and Successful Experiential Learning

I am currently working my way through my third semester of the Information and Learning Technologies master’s program at University of Colorado, Denver.  This post is the fifth within a series of 12 scholarly critiques that I’ve been assigned to write for a course titled Research in ILT.

My academic partner Jason and I have recently decided to completely revise our action research project for this course.  We’ve been struggling to figure out exactly what we want to do our project on, but we do know we want to stay within topics that pertain to or utilize emotional intelligence.  Our instructor made the following suggestion:  “I would highly recommend that you constrain the scope of this research to the relationship between emotional intelligence and individual learning. and perhaps emotional intelligence/individual learning/understanding change processes.”    With that in mind, Jason did a search on the Auraria Library, using the phrase “emotional intelligence and learning.”  He found several applicable articles and I chose to critique Positive Emotions, Emotional Intelligence, and Successful Experiential Learning by Dr. Jo Ann A. Abe, Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University.

Research Window in Auraria Library

In this study, Dr. Abe explored the role that positive emotions and emotional intelligence (henceforth “EQ”) play in successful experiential learning.  There were two goals to the study (p. 818):

  1. The main goal was to examine the associations between positive emotions and emotional intelligence with supervisors’ ratings of students’ performance and students’ ratings of perceived personal and professional benefits associated with their practicum experiences.
  2. The subsidiary goal was to examine whether emotional intelligence mediates the relations between positive emotions and successful experiential learning or vice versa.

Dr. Abe had conducted a previous study on experiential learning and used those results to form her hypotheses for this study.  In introducing the topics of positive emotions, emotional intelligence, and experiential learning, Dr. Abe’s utilizes her literature review to support the postitive-emotions-broadened-mind-fullfollowing theories (pp. 817-818):

  1. Positive emotions broaden a person’s mindset which facilitates creative and flexible thinking as well as effective problem-solving and coping skills.
  2. Individuals with high EQ are most likely to exhibit adaptive functioning in both intrapersonal and interpersonal realms.
  3. Therefore, both positive emotions and EQ are likely to play an essential role in successful experiential learning.  They both facilitate the experiential learning process, they serve as valuable psychological and social resources for coping with the various challenges associated with the experience of learning, and they foster reflection, a key phase in the process of experiential learning.

To perform the research, 65 undergraduate students who were enrolled in a mental health specialization program, were studied while completing 150 hours of field practicum during their senior year (p. 819).  Dr. Abe used a journal-based qualitative research method along with a quantitative method utilizing both an online word analytics program and an online EQ test.

To collect data on the effects of positive emotions, students were required to keep a weekly journal in which they were encouraged to not only describe their practicum experiences, but also to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings associated with their practicum experiences (p. 819). The journals were then analyzed by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Program (LIWC), which searches for target words or word stems from an extensive dictionary, categorizes them into linguistic dimensions, and then converts the raw counts to percentages of total words (p. 819).

To collect data on the effects of EQ, students were required to take the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) online.  The MSCEIT consists of 141 items and takes 30-45 minutes to complete.  The MSCEIT provides 15 main scores: Total EI score, two Area scores, four Branch scores, and eight Task scores.  In addition to these 15 scores, there are three Supplemental scores (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2002).

To collect data on the measures of successful experiential learning,  both supervisors and students were asked to complete rating scales at the end of the semester, which consisted of 10 items and were rated on a 5-point scale.  The supervisors’ rating scale assessed students’ performance in several major domains. The students’ rating scale assessed their perceived personal and professional benefits associated with their practicum experiences (p. 819).

According to Dr. Abe, this study replicated some of the major findings from her previous study on experiential learning (Abe, 2009), but also yielded additional findings, which cast an entirely new light on the role of emotions in successful experiential learning (p. 820).

Dr. Abe states, “In general, the findings from this study prove that positive emotions and emotional intelligence are relatively independent of one another and complement one another in predicting successful experiential learning.  The overall patterns of findings from this study were, furthermore, broadly consistent with the prediction that positive emotions may contribute to successful experiential learning mainly by expanding a person’s thought-action repertoire and that emotional intelligence may contribute to successful experiential learning mainly by fostering reflective capabilities” (p. 820).

Unfortunately, Dr. Abe was unable to meet her subsidiary goal to explore whether the relations between positive emotions and successful experiential learning were mediated by EQ and vice versa.  “According to Baron and Kenny (1986), the first condition for establishing mediation is for the predictor variable to be significantly correlated with the proposed mediator variable. In this study, the LIWC emotion dimensions were not correlated with the EI dimensions. Thus, the mediational analyses were not conducted” (p. 819).

I found this study to be extremely interesting and very relevant to my area of study within this course.  The data collection methods of the journal and the MSCEIT are similar to what I expected to use within my own research.  Dr. Abe’s study spanned the course of several semesters.  Unfortunately, I do not have that amount of time for the project within this course, but this article has given me a much clearer understanding on how to perform such a study.

Header image from here.
Positive emotions image from here.


Abe, J. A. (2009). Words that predict outstanding performance. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 528–531.

Abe, J. (2011). Positive emotions, emotional intelligence, and successful experiential learning. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 817-822.

Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R., & Sitarenios, G. (2002). Measuring emotional intelligence with the MSCEIT V2.0. Emotion, 3, 97-105.