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PeerJ. 2019 Apr 19;7:e6595. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6595. eCollection 2019.

Ability emotional intelligence in young people and older adults with and without depressive symptoms, considering gender and educational level.

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Department of Psychology, Universidad de Castilla La Mancha, Albacete, Spain.
Unidad de Investigación, Gerencia de Atención Integrada de Albacete, Fundación del Hospital Nacional de Parapléjicos, Albacete, Spain.
Universidad de Castilla La Mancha, Albacete, Spain.
Department of Developmental Psychology and Education, Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain.
Department of Basic Psychology, Universidad de Málaga, Málaga, Spain.



There is little research on differences in Emotional Intelligence (EI) ability at different stages of adult development. The few published studies tend not to use older adult samples. Previous studies on EI ability and age have shown contradictory results. Our main objective was to evaluate results in EI ability across different stages of adult development, taking into account gender, depressive symptoms, and educational level.


We interviewed 166 participants (108 women), 66 of whom were aged 18-30 years, 53 aged 31-60 years, and 40 aged 61-76 years. All were either working or enrolled in colleges at the time of the study. The assessment tools used were the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), a test that assesses performance-based EI, and the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale, a tool to evaluate depressive symptoms.


Young people, women, and participants with a higher educational level achieved higher scores on the MSCEIT. Additionally, depressive symptomatology was only partially associated with the MSCEIT (i.e., with the using emotions branch). However, a subsequent joint analysis of the independent effects of variables age, gender, educational level, and depressive symptomatology and their interactions on MSCEIT total suggests that only educational level and depressive symptomatology were associated with EI ability, with the direct relationship between age and gender with MSCEIT disappearing. Additionally, our study indicated an interaction effect between age and depressive symptoms, showing that participants in age cohorts 18-30 and 31-60 and without depressive symptoms have a higher EI ability.


Our study suggests that the direct effects of age and gender on EI ability across adult development, using a wide age range, can change or disappear when effects of educational level and depressive symptomatology, and their interactions, are controlled for. Our results also suggest that EI ability is a protective factor against depression in some age cohorts. This novel aspect of our study does not appear in the previous literature. However, prospective studies are needed to verify these findings and examine whether other psychological variables could determine the relations between age, gender and EI ability across adult development.


Adulthood; Depression; Educational level; Elderly; Emotional intelligence; Gender

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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