What’s the Big Deal with Emotional Intelligence Tests?

Topic: Emotional Intelligence, Selection
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Faking emotional intelligence: Comparing response distortion on ability and trait based EI measures.
Authors: A.L. Day, S.A. Carroll
Reviewed by: Benjamin Granger

Many believe that job applicants can fake personality tests. And we know that in some cases (e.g., unproctored, online) cheating on ability tests is possible. So what else can job applicants fake? (Or what can they not fake!?)

Recently, Emotional Intelligence (EI) tests have emerged in personnel selection contexts.  Many of the arguments against using EI measures in selection settings revolve around questions such as: Does EI really predict job performance?  Is EI just a repackaging of personality traits?  Can EI measures be faked?  Although the answers to some of these questions are unclear, Day and Carroll (2008) were interested in increasing our understanding of the response distortion issue when measuring EI. That is, the researchers investigated the susceptibility of two popular EI measures to faking.

The two EI measures utilized in this study are referred to as the MSCEIT and the EQ-i respectively. Both measures are designed to assess an employee’s EI, but they differ in their specific definitions of EI.  For example, the MSCEIT is an ability-based EI test that defines EI as a set of abilities that allows one to perceive emotions, communicate emotions effectively, and understand the emotions of others.  The EQ-i assumes that EI is a set of traits (much like personality).  Thus, the EQ-i defines EI as a set of traits, capabilities, and non-cognitive skills that allow individuals to successfully adapt to pressures and demands within the environment. Since faking is clearly a major issue in employee selection, Day and Carroll asked the question, which of these EI measures is more susceptible to faking: the ability-based or the trait-based EI measure?

As predicted, Day and Carroll found that the EQ-i (trait-based measure) was more susceptible to faking than was the MSCEIT.  When motivated to do so, participants were able to distort their responses to the EQ-i in an attempt to make themselves look like better job applicants.  However, job applicants were unable to do this for the MSCEIT.  Moreover, Day and Carroll showed that when applicants were selected based on their scores on the EI measures, a large number of those who faked would have been admitted into the organization based on their EQ-I scores.

Day and Carroll’s findings have important implications for organizations using or interested in using EI measures for employee selection.  It appears that measuring EI with an ability-based test (e.g., MSCEIT) as opposed to a trait-based test (e.g., EQ-i) makes response distortion less likely and reduces the possibility of selecting job applicants based on distorted information.

Day, A. L., & Carroll, S. A. (2008). Faking emotional intelligence (EI): Comparing response distortion on ability and trait-based EI measures. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 761-784.