Emotional Intelligence and the Interior Design Student

Presented by: Steven B. Webber

Introduction and Research Question Salovey and Mayer define emotional intelligence as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action" (Salovey and Mayer, 1990). Emotional intelligence (EI) is a growing area of research in many fields and has been found to be useful in professions that are high in managerial work (Farh et al., 2012) which, one could argue, includes interior design project managers and firm leaders as they manage multiple people, disciplines, and projects, often simultaneously. This study sought to bring emotional intelligence into the interior design education conversation due to its high potential to inform the education of future design leaders and managers. As this research progressed, it became clear that the EI metadata could provide some context for how interior design students compare to general populations of university students. If design students’ scores were found to be higher than general university student populations, then causation could be the next question. To better understand interior design students in the context of EI, the following questions were addressed in the research: How do emotional intelligence scores of ID students in this study compare to other general populations of college students? Do EI scores of interior design students vary by expertise level (studio 1, 2, and 4 in this case)? Methodology For this study, the 33-item Emotional Intelligence Scale (EIS) self-report instrument created by Schutte et al. (1998) was used in this study. The EIS has been used in many studies and shown to be reliable (Austin, E. J. et al., 2004). This study was conducted within a competitive entry interior design department at a public university in the U.S. Scores were tabulated, analyzed for internal consistency and then compared to an analysis of 13 studies of college students’ scores in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia (Schutte et al., 2009). The students in these studies were mostly undergraduates and varied by discipline. These countries were chosen as English is the dominant language in these countries and western cultural similarities would be present, providing a measure of control. Next, the interior design student scores were analyzed based on expertise level (studio 1, 2, and 4; sophomore – senior levels and first professional graduates) to find any potential differences. Findings The interior design students who participated in this study (n=82; SD=11.89) had a mean EIS score of 131.59 out of a possible 165 points in contrast to the mean score of the prior referenced 13 studies is 123.88 (n=2,623; SD=13.36). The difference between the mean scores was found to be significant (t(2703)=5.17, p less than .01) and have a large effect size of .61. The EIS scores of the student participants in studios 1, 2, and 4 were 130.55 (n=33; SD=11.78), 130.55 (n=33; SD=11.79), and 135.88 (n=16; SD=10.96) respectively. The difference between these mean scores was found to not be statistically significant (F2, 79=1.31, p greater than .05). These initial results open up an intriguing new area of discussion. More research is needed to determine if these findings can be replicated elsewhere, but should that happen a search for reasons why is a natural next step. For example, does interior design naturally attract persons with higher EI due to a desire to help others through design? This presentation will query attendees on this and related important findings to generate possible research questions for future studies and assist the search for new research partnerships.


  • Austin, E. J., Saklofske, D. H., Huang, S. H., & McKenney, D. (2004). Measurement of trait emotional intelligence: testing and cross-validating a modified version of Schutte et al.'s (1998) measure. Personality and individual differences, 36(3), 555-562.
  • Farh, C. I., Seo, M. G., & Tesluk, P. E. (2012). Emotional intelligence, teamwork effectiveness, and job performance: the moderating role of job context. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 890.
  • Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185-211.
  • Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 167–177.
  • Schutte, N.S., Malouff, J.M., & Bhullar, N. (2009). The Assessing Emotions Scale. C. Stough, D. Saklofske & J. Parker (Eds.), The Assessment of Emotional Intelligence. New York: Springer Publishing, 119-135.
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