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Emotion and Health Research Laboratory

Research Report Series Report Number 27 Promoting emotional intelligence: An intervention program for use with Aboriginal peoples
Peggy Shaugnessy1, Laura M. Wood2 and James D. A. Parker2

Whitepath Consulting Inc., Peterborough, Ontario Department of Psychology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario


Abstract A group of 78 Aboriginal men residing in one of five medium or maximum security prisons located in Ontario volunteered to complete the most widely used self-report measure of emotional intelligence (Bar-On, 2002) and alexithymia (Parker, Taylor & Bagby, 2003). Twentyfour of these individuals volunteered to participate in the Red Path Program and 23 of those who volunteered to participate completed the emotional intelligence and alexithymia measures a second time at the end of the program. There were no differences in the mean levels of emotional intelligence and alexithymia between the Aboriginal men who participated in the intervention program and those individuals who did not. However, for the men who participated in the program there was a significant drop in alexithymia levels, as well as a significant increase in various dimensions of emotional intelligence.

Introduction Emotional intelligence (EI) is a set of noncognitive competencies and skills (Bar-On, 2002) that include the ability to identify and express emotional states, the ability to link emotions with specific situations and personal behaviours, the ability to guide future behaviour using feelings and emotions, as well as the ability to mentally regulate negative or extreme emotional states.

Another construct that has considerable overlap with EI is alexithymia (Parker, Taylor, & Bagby, 2001). When comparing the definitions of alexithymia and EI one can see that the two constructs are highly related. In fact, when describing an early model of emotional intelligence, Salovey, Hsee, and Mayer (1993), conceptualized individuals with alexithymia as being at the extreme lower end of the EI continuum.

2 Over the past three decades the personality construct of alexithymia has come to be defined by the following basic features (Parker, Taylor & Bagby, 2003): difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between these feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal; difficulty describing feelings to others; constricted imaginal processes; and a stimulus-bound, externally-oriented, cognitive style. Emotional intelligence and alexithymia have been linked with a variety of mental health problems, such as substance use disorders (Cecero & Holmstrom, 1997), eating disorders (Zonnevijlle-Bender, van Goozen, Cohen-Kettenis, van Elburg, & van Engeland, 2002), and problem gambling (Parker, Wood, Bond, & Shaughnessy, 2005). Within non-clinical populations, alexithymia has also been associated with a variety of lifestyle and interpersonal problems. Helmers and Mente (1999), using a sample of young men, also found alexithymia to be associated with maladaptive health behaviours like poor nutritional consumption and a sedentary lifestyle. North American Aboriginals appear to be at greater risk than other North American groups for a cross-section of health problems linked with emotional and social competency. For example, Aboriginals living in Canada and the United States have been shown to have a greater likelihood of various chronic health problems (Johnson & Cameron, 2001). Aboriginal adults are at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease (MacMillan et al., 2003) than nonAboriginal adults. Aboriginal samples have also been found to have higher rates of drug abuse (Smye, Browne & Annette, 2002), alcoholism (Koss et al., 2003), and pathological gambling (Wardman, elGuebaly & Hodgins, 2001) than their nonAboriginal counterparts. It appears crucial to address these issues in Aboriginal populations with appropriate intervention/prevention programs. One such program, the Red Path Program, was specifically designed to enhance emotional and social competencies in Aboriginal adults. For the present study, the efficacy of the Red Path Program was assessed using a group of Aboriginal inmates. Method A group of 78 Aboriginal men residing in one of five medium or maximum security prisons located in Ontario volunteered to complete self-report measures of alexithymia and emotional intelligence. Twenty-four of these individuals volunteered to participate in a program designed to enhance emotional and social competencies in Aboriginal adults (1 individual dropped out of the program before the end). Participants then completed the alexithymia and emotional intelligence measures a second time at the end of the program. Measures The short version of the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i:Short; Bar-On, 2002) was used to assess emotional intelligence. The EQ-i:Short is a 51-item self-report instrument designed to measure the core features of emotional intelligence (intrapersonal abilities, interpersonal abilities, adaptability, and stress management) using 5-point Likert scales for each item (ranging from “1” being “very seldom true of me” to “5” being “very often true of me”). High scores on this measure can be interpreted as follows: Individuals who score high on the intrapersonal scale tend to understand their emotions and are able to express

3 and communicate their feelings and needs. Those scoring high on the interpersonal scale are likely to have satisfying interpersonal relationships, are good listeners and are able to understand and appreciate the feelings of others. Individuals with high adaptability scores are flexible, realistic, effective in managing change, and are good at finding positive ways of dealing with everyday problems. Those with high scores on the stress management scale are generally calm and work well under pressure; they are rarely impulsive and can usually respond to a stressful event without an emotional outburst. The 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20; Parker, Taylor & Bagby, 2003) was used to assess participants’ levels of alexithymia. The TAS-20 uses 5-point Likert rating scales to assess three factors: difficulty identifying feelings; difficulty describing feelings; and externally-oriented thinking. These three factors are added to determine overall level of alexithymia with a higher score indicating a higher level of alexithymia. It is important to note that previous research has shown empirical support for the use of the TAS-20 (Parker, Shaughnessy, Wood, Majeski & Eastabrook, 2005) and the EQ-i (Parker, Saklofske, Shaughnessy, Huang, Wood, & Eastabrook, 2005) within Aboriginal populations. Program This program is based on the Aboriginal holistic approach to healing and selfwellness, which addresses the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the participant in a manner consistent with Aboriginal teachings. Participants begin the journey of exploring, defining, reflecting and evaluating personal states of being (past and present). This is accomplished by introducing inventory skills (introspection) leading to a greater awareness (new knowledge) culminating in a choice (new direction). This process incorporates key concepts from the Aboriginal worldview: Circle; Creativity; Balance; and Ceremony. The Circle helps build community and relationships with each other based on respect, understanding, a common language and reference for Aboriginal participants. There is a sense of universal unity in the Circle itself. Creativity consists of stories; traditionally storytelling was an important aspect of sharing and learning. Portfolios allow participants to use their creative skills that are a traditional vehicle to teaching and learning. Balance is achieved through repetition, teachings and modeling. This teaches the interconnectedness of the entire program which allows participants to remain grounded during their journey. Ceremonies provide further grounding in traditional values and beliefs formulating the process of the program and helping the participants in creating a true self-identity. Ceremony helps reinforce the Circle, creativity, and helps maintain harmony and balance. The repetition of these key concepts develops skills that improve participants’ well-being. This improvement occurs within the Circle where the participants understand how others feel and develop mutually satisfying relationships (interpersonal e.g., empathy). Creativity improves the awareness and understanding of one’s emotions and the ability to express one’s feelings (intrapersonal). Balance improves the management and control of one’s emotions (stress management). Ceremony enhances the ability to adjust emotions and behaviors to fit diverse situations (adaptability).

4 Collectively, these improvements are indicative of satisfying interpersonal relationships, openness, emotional stability, and the overall ability to get along with others (even in less than ideal circumstances). Results and Discussion EQ-i:Short and TAS-20 scores at time 1 were compared for those individuals who participated in the program and those who did not. Results from a series of independent t-tests showed that those who volunteered to participate in the program did not differ (p > .05) from those individuals who did not participate in the program on any of the measures. Table 1 shows the scores for each group. EQ-i:Short and TAS-20 scores at time 1 were also compared to scores at time 2 for those who completed the program. Results from a series of dependent t-tests showed that after the program participants scored significantly lower on the Difficulty Identifying Feelings subscale, Externally Oriented Thinking subscale, and the total TAS-20 scale. Table 1 shows the scores at each time-point. The dependent t-tests also demonstrated that the participants in the program scored significantly higher on the Intrapersonal, Adaptability, Stress Management and Total scores from the EQi:Short. This study indicates that the Red Path program can enhance emotional and social skills in even the most high risk Aboriginal population. Therefore, it is recommended that this program be used to enhance emotional and social competencies in a variety of Aboriginal groups to deal with the cross-section of problems (addiction, violence, etc.) plaguing North American Aboriginal communities. References Bar-On, R. (2002). BarOn Emotional Quotient Short Form (EQ-i:Short): Technical manual. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems. Cecero, J.J., & Holmstrom, R.W. (1997). Alexithymia and affect pathology among adult male alcoholics. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53, 201-208. Helmers, K.F., & Mente, A. (1999). Alexithymia and health behaviors in healthy male volunteers. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 47, 635-645. Johnson, J.L., & Cameron, M.C. (2001). Barriers to providing effective mental health services to American Indians. Mental Health Services Research, 3, 215-223. Koss, M.P., et al. (2003). Adverse childhood exposures and alcohol dependence among seven Native American tribes. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 25, 238244. MacMillan, H.L., et al. (2003). The health of Ontario First Nations people. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 94, 168-172. Parker, J.D.A., Saklofske, D.H., Shaughnessy, P.A., Huang, S.H.S., Wood, L.M., & Eastabrook, J.M. (2005). Generalizability of the emotional intelligence construct: A cross-cultural study of North American aboriginal youth. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 215-227. Parker, J.D.A., Shaughnessy, P.A., Wood, L.M., Majeski, S.A., & Eastabrook, J.M. (2005). Cross-cultural alexithymia: Validity of the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale in North American aboriginal populations.

5 Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 58, 8388. Parker, J.D.A., Taylor, G.J., & Bagby, R.M. (2001). The relationship between emotional intelligence and alexithymia. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 107-115. Parker, J.D.A., Taylor, G.J., & Bagby, R.M. (2003). The twenty-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale--III. Reliability and factorial validity in a community population. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 55, 269-275. Parker, J.D.A., Wood, L.M., Bond, B.J., & Shaughnessy, P. (2005) Alexithymia in young adulthood: a risk-factor for pathological gambling. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 74, 55-55. Salovey, P., Hsee, C.K., & Mayer, J.D. (1993). Emotional intelligence and the selfregulation of affect. In D.M. Wegner & J.W. Pennebaker (Eds.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 258-277). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Smye, V., Browne, V., & Annette, J. (2002). ‘Cultural safety’ and the analysis of health policy affecting aboriginal people. Nurse Researcher, 9, 42-56. Wardman, D., el-Guebaly, N., & Hodgins, D. C. (2001). Problem and pathological gambling in North American aboriginal populations: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Gambling Studies, 17, 91-100. Zonnevijlle-Bender, M.J.S., van Goozen, S. H.M., Cohen-Kettenis, P.T., van Elburg, A., & van Engeland, H. (2002). Do adolescent anorexia nervosa patients have deficits in emotional functioning? European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 11, 38-42.


Table 1. Pre- and post-treatment means (M) and standard deviations (Sd) for the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and EQ-i:Short. Controls M DIF DDF EOT Total TAS-20 Intrapersonal Interpersonal Adaptability Stress Management Total EI Mood 16.06 14.30 21.22 51.57 3.36 3.60 3.58 3.30 3.45 26.85 Sd 6.88 3.70 4.42 12.79 0.72 0.68 0.73 0.77 0.57 4.61 Treatment Group Pre-treatment PostM Sd M Sd 16.60 14.17 21.39 52.17 3.39 3.73 3.42 3.33 3.47 25.52 6.70 4.87 4.47 13.33 0.56 0.57 0.80 0.82 0.56 5.39 13.22 12.65 20.00 45.87 3.75 3.66 3.78 3.71 3.77 28.74 4.79 4.02 4.36 10.59 0.63 0.57 0.83 0.65 0.77 4.74

t 3.66 1.91 2.17 3.61 2.93 0.95 2.24 3.02 3.02 3.77

p .001 .069 .041 .001 .007 .354 .036 .006 .006 .001

Note: N = 54 for controls and 23 for treatment group.