Category: Emotional Intelligence

Interested in PhD study?

We are pleased to announce the release of six new PhD projects that will be supervised by members of the Interpersonal Relationships & Wellbeing Research Group.  These opportunities are for self-funding students and align with major areas of research activity within the group. 

Why study our projects?

We asked project supervisors to give us an insight into the value and importance of their proposed projects and we share their comments below.  Please click on the project title links to find out more.

Pro-Environmental Behaviour and Life History Theory

Dr Daniel Farrelly, Principal Lecturer in Psychology will supervise this project and Daniel explains why this work is important:

“Our early surroundings can have profound and lifelong effects on our cognition, perception and emotions. These effects shape how we respond to our world in later life, and can predict how we interpret and behave in different scenarios such as risk-taking, impulsivity and social relationships. One possible further effect our early life can have is on pro-environmental behaviour, and this project will explore precisely this. By doing so it will offer valuable insights into how attempts to tackle the climate crisis can be shaped for different populations in society.”

Read more from Dr Farrelly here.

Training emotional competency in the workplace: Does ‘one size’ really ‘fit all’?

Dr Sarah Davis, Principal Lecturer in Psychology and Interpersonal Relationships & Wellbeing Group Lead will supervise this project.  Sarah explains that:

“Training emotional competencies in the workplace has become commonplace, particularly with the rise of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy.  Most of us will have heard of programmes that teach ‘perspective taking’, ‘sensitivity training’,  or ‘emotional intelligence’ in our workplaces.  But does everyone always benefit from these ‘interventions’ at work? Might there be some unanticipated and unintended consequences for employers and employees?  This research seeks to explore the scope of these practices within organisations across the UK and explore this neglected but important question.”

Read more from Dr Davis here.

“Getting On With It!”: Ensuring Safe and Compassionate Supervision and Thinking Spaces for Practitioners in Child Protection Practice

Dr Claire McLoone-Richards, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology and leader of our Trauma & Violence Prevention theme will supervise this project.  Claire outlines why this research is valuable:

The professional experiences and practices of child protection is complex, challenging and takes a toll on the emotional well-being and resilience of practitioners. This study can examine the need for promoting and ensuring organisational cultures of compassion and safety for staff, as being conducive to enabling critical reflective practice to protect vulnerable children.”

“Please take us seriously!”: examining the help and support needs of male victims of domestic abuse

Dr Claire McLoone-Richards Senior Lecturer in the Department of Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology and leader of our Trauma & Violence Prevention theme will supervise this project.  Claire explains:

This is an important research theme when considering the experiences of less visible and marginalised groups. The concern of male victims is troubling against the backdrop of “toxic masculinities” in society, as restrictive gender norms and the shaming of men,  make it more difficult for victims to disclose their experiences of abuse.”   

Read more from Dr McLoone-Richards here.

Responsible virtual assistant for effective marketing communication

Dr Sajad Rezaei, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing, and member of our Customer Interactions theme will supervise this project.  Sajad believes that “exploring Responsible AI empowers academics and practitioners to discover the potential of emerging technologies for society.” 

How care-experienced individuals define and achieve career success

Dr Pamela Murray, Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Behaviour, and member of our People and Work theme will supervise this project.  Pamela notes that “A regrettable relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and a range of marked negative outcomes impacting the life course exists [see a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood:

Children enter the care system for a myriad of reasons, most of which can be characterised by loss of a pivotal positive in the children’s lives. That being the case, this vision of this research is to explore enabling interventions experienced by care-leavers making their way toward personal fulfilment by achievement of career aspirations”.

Read more from Dr Murray here.

How to apply

If you wish to apply for any of these projects, please go to our Course Search and select the relevant research degree programme area.

An application link can then be found towards the bottom of each programme page. In your application, please remember to clearly highlight that you are applying for one of our un-funded MPhil/PhD project ideas.

Working for all children and young people with the Children’s Alliance

Sharing an aim to support the lives of children and young people, I have worked alongside peers and professionals from many walks of life. I have relished the opportunity to be a part of the Children’s Alliance Campaign, targeted at enhancing life conditions for children, young people, their families and carers.

Based on the vision of Steve Franks (former Chief Executive of Water Babies who was tragically lost to COVID-19), the Children’s Alliance is child-centric. Steve’s aim was to enable opportunities for activity for all young children. This vision was embedded strategically and carefully broadened via the Children’s Alliance who seeks to ‘work for the next generation’, by raising awareness of children’s circumstances and influence their futures through policy and community.

In responding to the prevailing ailing conditions for children and young people, the direction set with ‘Building a brighter future for young people: The Children’s Alliance’ called for fundamental change. It was decided to produce four reports with the intention of persuading the UK Government to appoint a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Children and Young People.

For me (like many others), to better understand and account for how things are for children and young people, and dedicate time to join efforts to redress inequalities therein, is an honour. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the initiative and for this, thank Campaign Manager Helen Clark.

I have contributed to each report of this series focusing on children and young people’s living conditions and life chances. My involvement has been poignant and at times, made for stark learning on my part. As a result, I have attempted to use my University-developed acumen to seek to establish ‘what is’ with curiosity and resilience, underpin the evidence search with academic rigour for accuracy and credibility, and, try to better empathise with the conditions found to impede or crush the flourishing lives of our children and young people.

Working together

In terms of the writing collaboration process, it seems to be both science and art. Clearly identified chapter titles are disseminated, who will do what and by when is established. The adherence parameters are set by the Lead Author Helen Clark, and actively supported by Paul Wright, [Founding Member of the Children’s Alliance at the House of Lords] who keeps everyone in-touch and in-check.

Report contributors have opportunity to ‘speak to’ what they feel they can provide evidential indicators of and/or practise insights into. The production of tenable contributions is a well-oiled machine where keen contributors comply with the spirit and reality of the explicit topic boundaries and deadlines.

Our research provides a glimpse into the hardship and challenges facing children and young people. Multiple issues around lack of physical activity, deterioration in mental health issues and socio-economic and cultural inequalities, magnified by the Covid pandemic, have beleaguered thousands of children and young people. These limitations make it difficult for children and young people to meet the functional needs in their lives. Instead of reaching their fullest potential, for instance:  

40,000 children begin school obese

200,000 young people have been referred to mental health services in 3 months

1 in 3 children in the UK are living in poverty, including 2.2 million under-5s

With that, the recognition by Government that the initial 1001 days of children’s lives impact their physical and mental wellbeing for the remaining days of their lives, is needed to secure monies to give every child their voice and the best start in life.

Read more:

To date, the Children’s Alliance has published: 

Report 1) The Early Years Children’s Alliance (October 2021) The Health and Wellbeing of Children in the Early Years

Report 2) The Physical Health of Children and Young People Children’s Alliance (December 2021). The Physical Health of Children and Young People. 

Forthcoming in 2022: 

• Report 3) Mental Health 

• Report 4) Family and Community 

The collaborative writing has come to an end with the final report deadline met. Contributors to this Children’s Alliance body of work will be joining together for its presentation to the Houses of Parliament on March 1st 2022. Pamela will be there with fellow supporters hoping for a positive fruition to this worthy campaign and will continue to support The Children’s Alliance through her work at the University of Worcester.

For further information and to find out more about Pamela’s work, please get in touch

Dr Pamela F Murray

Pamela is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at Worcester Business School and member of the Interpersonal Relationships and Wellbeing Research Group. 

Giving Thanks at Christmas

The relationship between giving and gratitude


In the run up to Christmas, you may be considering what presents to buy for others, or even pre-empting what gifts you may receive. This short blog post considers the possible impacts of giving and receiving gifts, with a particular focus on experiences of gratitude.

What is gratitude?

When considering the Christmas gifts that we receive, there are three significant factors that might influence the degree of gratitude that we experience. The first is cost. That is, how much does it cost the benefactor to bestow this gift? This doesn’t necessarily mean financial cost, however, as a benefit can be viewed as ‘costly’ if it required considerable effort or thought. For instance, a handmade scarf might not cost the benefactor much to make yet would be costly in terms of time. We tend to be more grateful for the gifts we consider as costly to provide.

The second factor is value of the benefit. In other words, do we want or need the benefit that we have received? Research conducted in the UK and Australia suggests that we are less grateful for something we consider non-valuable or unwanted (Morgan, Gulliford & Waters, in press). From personal experience, you might recognise that the festive mug that won’t fit into your already overfilled kitchen cabinet or the itchy Christmas jumper that it two sizes too big is unlikely to elicit the same level of grateful emotion as a gift that you will really enjoy. This doesn’t mean that we don’t experience any gratitude in these cases though, often we still acknowledge the cost involved or the good intentions of the benefactor. As the proverb states, sometimes ‘it’s the thought that counts’.


This brings us nicely onto the third amplifier of gratitude experience, intention. We tend to be more grateful for gifts that are bestowed through good intention. Benevolence has been considered a key determinant of whether we experience gratitude, and philosophers have argued that gratitude is not warranted in cases where an individual hasn’t intentionally tried to benefit you or where the intention is not altruistic (McConnell, 2021). Empirical data and anecdotal evidence does suggest, however, that gratitude can be experienced in some cases where there is no intention or where there is an ulterior motive at play (Morgan & Gulliford, 2015). For example, one can be grateful for a much-needed organ donation (where there is no explicit intention to benefit a particular individual) or in situations where a benefactor is motivated by the prospect of receiving help or reciprocation in the future (i.e., a self-serving purpose). These examples illustrate how the three amplifying factors can interact and all three needn’t be present at once to experience gratitude. We may be grateful when there are non-benevolent intentions should the benefit be of great value, or, as noted earlier, we can be grateful for an unwanted gift when we consider it to be costly or well-intentioned.


Why is this important?

Being aware of these amplifiers can be useful when reflecting on benefits received to gauge appropriate (or proportionate) responses to benefaction. Expressing our gratitude to the benefactor allows the ‘upward spiral’ of gratitude to continue. That is, when a benefactor is thanked for their benefaction, these actions are reinforced and they are more likely to behave in similar ways in the future (McCullough et al., 2001). At the same time, experiencing grateful emotion can motivate the beneficiary (or recipient) to act pro-socially towards others as well. For example, helping a stranger in need. This allows the positive aspects of gratitude to be passed on from person to person.

An important caveat

It is important to note that receiving a gift or benefit may not necessarily lead to feelings of gratitude. Evidence also demonstrates that our emotional responses to gratitude may not be entirely positive (Gulliford & Morgan, 2016). For example, receiving a benefit that is perceived to be extremely costly to the benefactor could prompt a sense of indebtedness, or even concern about how one could ever repay such a benefaction. Alternatively, should you receive a gift that you really dislike, you may fail to experience grateful emotion. This can lead individuals to feel guilt or awkwardness. These are natural responses to receiving gifts that many of us can empathise with. So, whilst gratitude has largely been described as a positively valenced experience, there are certainly cases where gratitude might co-occur with unpleasant feelings too. Acknowledging and embracing this might help to counteract these unpleasant feelings and promote psychological wellbeing (Morgan et al., 2015).

With luck, this blog post will encourage you to consider your own experiences of gratitude, and the diversity of feelings that might be prompted by others’ gift-giving. To end on a positive note, gratitude can be a powerful source of positivity and a motivator of prosocial behaviour – hopefully we can all play a role in continuing the upward spiral of positive emotion this Christmastime!

Dr Blaire Morgan

Blaire Morgan is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Worcester. She received her B.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham. Her research spans Positive Psychology and Cyberpsychology and examines character strengths and wellbeing in children, adolescents and adults. This has included, for example, development and evaluation of character strengths and wellbeing programmes, social media research into authenticity and empathy online, and developmental and cross-cultural explorations of gratitude and wellbeing in the UK and Australia. Her research has appeared in print and broadcast media and has led to a number of invited presentations internationally as well as invited book chapters alongside experts in the fields of psychology, moral education and virtue ethics. At the University of Worcester, Blaire leads a research theme on “Strengths and Adversity Across the Life Span”, and she has a number of ongoing national and international collaborations alongside academics within psychology, public health, philosophy and education.

Forward into the past: Emotional Intelligence turns 30

Emotional intelligence (EI) enjoyed its 30th birthday last year and is fast becoming middle-aged, that is, if we take the writings of Peter Salovey & John (Jack) Mayer (1990) as the starting point for modern research into EI.  This anniversary gives us much to reflect on – certainly for me personally, as a researcher who has spent over a decade investigating EI (a third of its life) – but also for those of us interested in psychology more broadly and the study of individual differences. 

I began my EI adventure in 2008.  At that time EI was everywhere, and it had become a catch-all buzzword for improving society’s ills – take, for example, David Cameron’s infamous speech about emotion and compassion being at the core of understanding the causes of youth crime, which became known as the ‘hug a hoodie’ campaign. Self-help books were springing up regularly, telling us how to be more emotionally smart and how this was the ticket to solving all of our interpersonal problems.   This explosion of interest hadn’t escaped the attention of the UK government, who invested significant resources in school-based social and emotional learning programmes  in an effort to train EI in young people.  But we actually had very little scientific evidence about what EI was, whether training this was possible, and whether this made a tangible difference to young people in terms of academic success and mental wellbeing. 

In the academic world, EI was viewed as either representing a collection of specialist skills for perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions in ourselves and others, or as a collection of emotion-related personal qualities and competencies. This seemed to split opinion amongst researchers; some suggested EI was too ill-defined to be meaningful, others argued it was nothing new, and we were just measuring things we already knew a good deal about, like personality or intelligence, and cautioned against falling into the “jingle” or “jangle” fallacy trap.  Yet there were others still, who wholeheartedly embraced this as a new form of intelligence that could predict success in all areas of life – here is a detailed summary of the main arguments for those that want to delve more deeply.

As a newly minted PhD researcher, all of this debate and uncertainty meant there was plenty for me to explore.  I set about examining the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of EI, starting with finding out whether EI was actually useful for young people who were experiencing a range of different (everyday) stressors, but I found that this wasn’t clear-cut – if we measured EI through self-reports (as emotional self-efficacy), higher levels were useful for maintaining lower levels of symptoms in young people experiencing family dysfunction.  But if we measured EI as an ability (or skill set through IQ style testing), very high levels were counter-productive for those young people experiencing socio-economic adversity. 

With colleagues, we then went on to find other interesting (and potentially counter-intuitive) things.  We confirmed that the way that you measure EI matters because this predicts different ways of coping and engaging with emotion (here and here), but that universally ‘high’ levels of EI may not always be beneficial in all contexts – here is an open access review we wrote on this.  


So emotional skills and self-efficacy are different sides of the EI coin, but doubt remains over whether we are actually capturing an ‘intelligence’ and whether this is always a good thing.

Fast forward to 2020, and some of our most recent work has, in a sense, gone forward into the past to try to answer some of these questions.   One of the core tenets of EI theory is that emotionally intelligent individuals should be adept at recognising emotional expressions in others to facilitate effective social interactions.

Photo by Simon Schwyter on Unsplash

We tested 92 people in the lab, to see whether those with high scores on measures of EI could recognise dynamic emotional expressions at an earlier, more subtle stage of presentation than those with lower scores.  Using the Emotion Recognition Task, we showed people a set of video clips of faces morphing from neutral expressions into different emotions, from subtle through to intense levels, and found that: 1) emotional self-efficacy (self-reported EI) was not associated with recognition performance, 2) higher skill in emotional understanding did relate to better performance of emotion cues (subtle through to intense and particularly negative emotion) but that, 3) fluid cognitive ability was a better predictor of performance. In a separate study with young people, we found EI skills did not predict accurate recognition of emotion in voices.

So, this continues to raise questions about whether existing measures of EI are sensitive enough to represent individual differences in socially relevant aspects of emotion recognition, and also the validity of EI as a discrete, and meaningful, individual differences factor.  

What can we say about all of this?  

Three decades on, and it seems we are still grappling with key questions from the past.  Many researchers picked EI up and ‘ran with it’, without us really knowing what makes someone emotionally intelligent, or us being able to measure EI ‘in action’.  I don’t doubt that for most researchers, this urgency came from a good place, and a desire to make a difference to people’s lives through intervention.  However, a critical eye is needed. 

I believe there is room for further high-quality scientific work which could still lead us to make progress with EI measurement. But we will only succeed if we better integrate with the work going on in Emotion sciences more broadly.  For instance, the constructed theory of emotion tells us that rather than being ‘triggered’ in situations, our emotional experience arises from brain-based predictions, created from prior experiences that are specific to our culture and upbringing.  So, developing rich and informative (early) experiences seems to be pivotal to train our system to learn about, and learn from, socio-emotional interactions.  Similarly, this suggests that our current methods of testing EI are way off the mark (e.g., identifying posed emotional expressions; multiple choice questions about effective emotion management strategies, etc).  We may find the future lies in technological solutions (such as virtual reality) and we could look to allied fields of study for clues e.g., recent developments in the gamification of cognitive testing. Until we are better able to capture authentic EI ‘in action’ I fear we will continue to chase our tails.

The future

This is far from being just another ‘academic’ debate – emotional intelligence is being readily embraced by companies interested in developing artificial intelligence systems for reading emotions in humans, which has far-reaching implications for us all…just how reliable are facial movements for judging how someone is actually feeling? What are the implications of using emotion AI for decision-making (e.g., screening for criminal intent; an angry student at school; suitability of a job applicant)? As we surge further ahead into the technological epoch, this it is something we should all care about.


Dr Sarah Davies

Dr Sarah Davis

Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology & the Interpersonal Relationships & Wellbeing Research Group Lead.  She is currently writing a new critical primer on EI for Oxford University Press with Dr Bérénice Mahoney.

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