Emotional intelligence may be good predictor of success in computing studies

BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 6, 2005 – The emotional intelligence of students indirectly contributes to academic success in information technology studies, preliminary results from a study led by Virginia Tech researchers show.

The research team, led by Pamplin College of Business faculty members, measured how well students in computer science and information systems coped with stressful situations and their levels of emotional intelligence, defined as “the ability to perceive, assess, and positively influence personal and others’ emotions.” The researchers then examined the effects of these intrapersonal factors on their grades. More than 600 undergraduates at more than 20 institutions in the United States participated in the study, based on a series of questionnaires designed to measure coping strategies and emotional intelligence.

“One of the study’s premises was that meeting the challenges of demanding curricula often requires more than innate intelligence,” said France Belanger, an associate professor of accounting and information systems and a member of the research team. “To explore this assumption, we measured coping strategies and emotional intelligence— two intrapersonal variables that are rarely studied in the computing field.”

The researchers found that though students’ emotional intelligence was not directly linked to academic success, students with higher levels of emotional intelligence had more self-efficacy (self-confidence and knowledge that one can handle any problems or challenges effectively)—and that having more self-efficacy in turn enhanced their academic performance.

Belanger said further research is needed, but emotional intelligence may be a good predictor of success or failure in computing studies and careers. In recruiting computing students, she said, companies are increasingly emphasizing the need for “soft” skills, such as effective interpersonal communication, in addition to technical abilities.

“One of the implications of these findings is that computing curricula might need to be redesigned to include emotional intelligence training, which is a learnable skill. For example, computing students could be trained on the development of important relationships with other students, which could help them function better in groups.”

The preliminary results are part of a larger, longitudinal study on student recruitment and retention of minorities in information technology being conducted by the researchers with funding from the National Science Foundation. The project focuses on the impact of rarely studied intrapersonal factors, including learning style, visual-spatial intelligence, and “resilient” personality, as well as interpersonal factors such as mentoring and internships.

The data for this first part of the study, Belanger said, included both minorities and non-minorities. The researchers will be doing further work to compare results for information technology and non-information technology majors as well as minority and non-minority students.

“It’s becoming more of a challenge to recruit students for and retain them in information technology studies such as computer science and information systems,” said Wanda Smith, associate professor of management, who is directing the three-year study. Not only have enrollments declined substantially in the past four years, she said, but “evidence suggest that students are increasingly migrating out of IT programs after enrolling.”

The reasons may include unfounded perceptions of decreased job opportunities, Belanger said, but “we need to learn more about the factors driving recruitment and retention, especially for underrepresented groups.”

The research team’s initial report, “Coping Strategies and Emotional Intelligence: New Perspectives on IT Students,” won the Best Paper Award at a recent professional meeting, the America’s Conference on Information Systems. Besides Belanger and Smith, the other co-authors are Lemuria Carter, a Ph.D. student in accounting and information systems, Vernard K. Harrington, a Radford University professor, and George Kasper, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor.

Virginia Tech’s nationally ranked Pamplin College of Business offers undergraduate and graduate programs in accounting and information systems, business information technology, economics, finance, hospitality and tourism management, management, and marketing. The college emphasizes the development of ethical values and leadership, technology, and international business skills. A member of its marketing faculty directs the interdisciplinary Sloan Foundation Forest Industries Center at Virginia Tech. The college’s other centers focus on business leadership, electronic commerce, and organizational performance. The college is committed to serving business and society through the expertise of its faculty, alumni, and students. It is named in honor of Robert B. Pamplin (Class of 1933), the former CEO of Georgia-Pacific, and his son, businessman and philanthropist Robert B. Pamplin Jr. (Class of 1964).