This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Individual differences in the stressor-strain relationship: The role of ability-based emotional intelligence




Cox, Brennan

Type of Degree





Researchers have uncovered several individual characteristics and situational variables that help explain and predict how, why, when, and which individuals will be affected by a potentially stressful encounter. Still, there remains a considerable need for research devoted to identifying, empirically testing, and explaining how relevant individual and situational variables impact individuals’ responses to stress. Recent findings suggest that emotional intelligence (EI) may play a role in the stress process; however, these studies have relied on the oft-criticized trait conceptualization of the EI construct. Recommendations have been made for future researchers to use measures from the ability framework of EI. The present study evaluated the role of ability-based EI in college students’ stress experience. The primary aims were (a) to determine if ability-based EI operates on stressors and strains in the same manner as trait-based EI and (b) to assess whether ability-based EI accounts for additional variance in stressors and strains beyond the variance accounted for by more established constructs (i.e., hardiness and social support). Participants (undergraduate college students, n = 150) completed the leading ability-based EI measure as well as measures of perceived stressors, psychological strain, physiological strain, and behavioral strain (i.e., absenteeism and grades). Ability-based EI was not related to participants’ perception of stressors or their experience of psychological strain, physiological strain, or behavioral strain in terms of absenteeism. Of the seven scores derived from the ability-based EI measure (i.e., total EI, strategic EI, experiential EI, emotion perception, emotion facilitation, emotional understanding, and emotion management), only the emotional understanding branch score was correlated with the measure of students’ academic performance (i.e., grades). Emotion management moderated the stressor-strain relationship for psychological strain and the relationship between perceived stressors and physiological strain was moderated by emotion perception, emotion facilitation, and emotion management. Ability-based EI did not moderate the relationship between stressors and behavioral strain. None of the ability-based EI scores explained additional variance in the stress variables after accounting for the variance explained by hardiness and social support. Based on these results, it is recommend that future investigators of ability-based EI consider the more specific emotional abilities rather than one’s global assessment of ability-based EI.