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Personality and Individual Differences 52 (2012) 295300

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Personality and Individual Differences

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Emotional intelligence, personality and the decoding of non-verbal expressions

of emotion
Christopher Edgar , Margaret McRorie, Ian Sneddon
School of Psychology, Queens University, University Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT7 1NN, UK

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Previous research has highlighted theoretical and empirical links between measures of both personality
Received 14 June 2011 and trait emotional intelligence (EI), and the ability to decode facial expressions of emotion. Research has
Received in revised form 13 October 2011 also found that the posed, static characteristics of the photographic stimuli used to explore these links
Accepted 18 October 2011
affects the decoding process and differentiates them from the natural expressions they represent. This
Available online 13 November 2011
undermines the ecological validity of established trait-emotion decoding relationships.
This study addresses these methodological shortcomings by testing relationships between the reliabil-
ity of participant ratings of dynamic, spontaneously elicited expressions of emotion with personality and
Emotion perception
Facial expression
trait EI. Fifty participants completed personality and self-report EI questionnaires, and used a computer-
Emotional intelligence logging program to continuously rate change in emotional intensity expressed in video clips. Each clip
Personality was rated twice to obtain an intra-rater reliability score. The results provide limited support for links
between both trait EI and personality variables and how reliably we decode natural expressions of emo-
tion. Limitations and future directions are discussed.
2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction participants performance in an Inspection Time (IT) task and an

emotion recognition task shared a positive relationship with trait
The ability to perceive, process and react appropriately to facial EI scores. These results are in line with previous research that
expressions of emotion (henceforth referred to as emotion decod- reported trait EI to be associated with both the speed at which
ing) is a central facet of communication in everyday life (Zuckerman, emotional expressions are identied (Petrides & Furnham, 2003)
Lipets, Koivumaki, & Rosenthal, 1975). This decoding ability is not and how accurately they can be labelled (Ciarrochi, Chan, & Bajgar,
one that exists in equal measure across individuals, and psycholog- 2001). These results associate high trait EI with improved perfor-
ical traits such as trait EI and personality may provide a source for mance on multiple measures of decoding ability and emphasise
this variation (Austin, 2004; Gomez, Gomez, & Cooper, 2002). Trait the need to consider trait EI when investigating individual differ-
EI has been formally dened as a constellation of emotional self- ences in the decoding process.
perceptions located at the lower levels of personality hierarchies Personality may also play an important role in mediating indi-
and these self-perceptions reect the processing of both interper- vidual differences in emotion decoding. Several theories associate
sonal and intrapersonal emotional information (Petrides, Pita, & high extraversion scores with heightened sensitivity to positive
Kokkinaki, 2007). High trait EI is seen as a universally benecial trait, emotional stimuli and high neuroticism scores with heightened
with previous research demonstrating how the effects of trait EI on sensitivity to negative emotion (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985; Gomez
performance in emotion-related tasks parallel the benecial effects et al., 2002; McCrae & Costa, 1987). Subsequent attempts have
of general ability in cognitive-processing tasks, being associated been made to validate and expand upon these links, with authors
with greater speed and accuracy (Austin, 2005). proposing that personality traits interact with attention (Amin,
Given that decoding of emotion is an integral part of trait EI and Constable, & Canli, 2004), motivation (Zuckerman, Joireman, Kraft,
high trait EI is associated with enhanced performance when pro- & Kuhlman, 1999) and mood (Rusting, 1998) to mediate the pro-
cessing emotional information, it is reasonable to assume that cessing of emotional stimuli.
the emotion decoding process should be affected accordingly. These theories refer to emotional stimuli in a very general way
Austin (2004, 2005) tested this assumption directly and found that and tend not to account for decoding emotional expressions explic-
itly. This raises the issue of treating emotional expressions in a
similar way conceptually to more general stimuli designed to elicit
Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 028 9097 5445; fax: +44 028 9097 5486.
emotion (e.g. words, pictures of animals/situations/objects). The
E-mail addresses: (C. Edgar),
literature suggests a common neural locus for both experiencing
(M. McRorie), (I. Sneddon).

0191-8869/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
296 C. Edgar et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 52 (2012) 295300

and decoding emotion (see Bastiaansen, Thioux, & Keysers, 2009; accurately when presented quickly, and others (e.g. sadness) when
Goldman & Sripada, 2005) and this may allow for a degree of pre- presented more slowly. Furthermore, Biele and Grabowska (2006)
dictive overlap when deriving hypotheses from general emotion compared participants intensity ratings of happy and angry expres-
processing theories. It would be expected then, that high extraver- sions in photographs to those presented in dynamic animations.
sion would be associated with a heightened sensitivity to positive Their results indicated dynamic animations were consistently rated
emotional expressions, and high neuroticism with heightened sen- as more intense compared to their static counterparts.
sitivity to negative emotional expressions. Theoretical links Such results provide an interesting insight into how individuals
between psychoticism and the decoding of emotion have also been rated dynamic emotional expressions after they had been viewed,
identied, suggesting that the aggressive, anti-social, detached but issues with their methodology still remain. Schubert (2010)
qualities associated with high psychoticism scores should result argues that allowing participants to provide a summative judge-
in heightened sensitivity to expressions of anger, sadness and fear, ment of dynamic stimuli after they have been perceived is not
and low sensitivity to expressions of happiness (Blair, Colledge, the same as obtaining a continuous measure as the stimuli are
Murray, & Mitchell, 2001; Miskovic & Schmidt, 2010). viewed. Although several authors have called for emotion research
A number of studies have begun to reveal links between person- to employ naturalistic stimuli (e.g. Kamachi et al., 2001; Naab &
ality constructs and emotion decoding. Positive associations have Russell, 2007; Tcherkassof et al., 2007) this has been impeded by
been reported between both extraversion and neuroticism with a lack of appropriate tools to perform meaningful analyses.
performance on tasks involving the processing of positive and neg- The above ndings show that posed expressions of emotion dif-
ative emotional information respectively (De Pascalis & Speranza, fer in several fundamental ways from spontaneous emotion
2000; Gomez et al., 2002). In addition, a growing body of literature expressions and that they lack the dynamic features that play a
has associated high extraversion and neuroticism scores with key role in determining how we decode expressions over time. This
heightened neural response to positive and negative emotional questions how well the previously established relationships
stimuli respectively, following predicted patterns of heightened between trait EI, personality and emotion decoding ability accu-
sensitivity at a neural level (Amin et al., 2004; Canli et al., 2001). rately inform us of how individuals differ in their ability to decode
When testing how this sensitivity affected the decoding process emotion in day-to-day interactions. The origin of this problem lies
directly, Matsumoto et al. (2000) found that extraversion scores with the pervasive use of posed emotional expressions in experi-
showed a positive relationship with participants ability to identify mental contexts that are fundamentally different from the natural
expressions of happiness but neuroticism scores showed a nega- emotional expressions they are supposed to represent.
tive relationship with their ability to identify happiness, anger, fear For the rst time in emotion-individual differences research this
and sadness. These results suggest that heightened sensitivity to study aims to test established relationships between trait EI, per-
emotional information may not always prove benecial, with high sonality, and participants ability to decode dynamic expressions
neuroticism scores associated with reduced performance in rec- of spontaneously elicited emotion.
ognising specic expressions. The aggressive-detached qualities
of psychoticism result in emotion-specic effects on the decoding
process. A range of experimental methods found high scores in 2. Method
psychopathic tendencies associated with lowered attention to
angry faces (Miskovic & Schmidt, 2010) and with difculty pro- 2.1. Participants
cessing fearful and sad faces accurately and quickly (Blair et al.,
2001). Fifty undergraduate students, postgraduate students and work-
Although these studies have made progress establishing the ing professionals (52% female), were recruited using volunteer
role of trait EI and personality constructs in the emotion decoding sampling. The majority of participants were from Northern Ireland
process, they have repeatedly failed to address methodological with a mean age of 23.8 years (SD = 6.68).
criticisms that undermine ecological validity of their results. Most
have employed static, posed photographs of emotional expressions
2.2. Materials
to derive data and inform theory (variants of Matsumoto and
Ekmans (1988) JACFEE picture set the most widely utilised).
2.2.1. Personality questionnaire
There are two fundamental ways in which these photographs
Measures of extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism were
differ from the natural expressions they are supposed to emulate.
obtained using the short-scale Eysenck Personality Question-
Firstly, the posed nature of such expressions dissociates them from
naire-Revised (EPQ-R) (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1991). Each dimension
their naturally elicited counterparts. Posed expressions are more
had 12 corresponding items that could be answered using a yes or
intense, lacking both blending of different expressions and dis-
no closed choice format. This questionnaire provided measures of
tracting features (Naab & Russell, 2007). When comparing the
extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism previously shown to
two types of stimuli, Naab and Russell (2007) found much lower
have links to the decoding process. The above scales obtained
labelling consensus for spontaneous expressions of emotion com-
alpha ratings of .88, .82 and .61 respectively.
pared to posed. These results are broadly in line with those of sim-
ilar studies (e.g. Yik, Meng, & Russell, 1998), indicating the more
salient features of posed expressions make them consistently eas- 2.2.2. Emotional intelligence
ier to identify. Posed expressions also have a much slower onset Emotional intelligence was assessed using a modied version of
time and tend to be less physically symmetrical (Hess & Kleck, the Schutte Self-Report Emotional Intelligence Scale (SSREI)
1994). (Austin, Saklofske, Huang, & McKenney, 2004). This scale consists
Secondly, the expression of emotion is not a static, immediate of 41 items presented on a 5 point Likert scale, using the anchors
process, but a series of dynamic, complex action patterns that persist strongly agree to strongly disagree. The SSREI provides an overall
over time (Tcherkassof, Bollon, Bubois, Pansu, & Adam, 2007). Stud- trait EI score and sub-scale measures of Optimism/Mood regula-
ies conducted by Sato and Yoshikawa (2004) and Kamachi et al. tion, Utilisation of Emotion and Appraisal of Emotions that have
(2001) utilised computer-generated animations to present expres- previously been shown to relate to decoding measures (Austin,
sions of emotion at varying speeds. These authors found that partic- 2004). The above scales obtained alpha ratings of .88, .73, .62 and
ipants were able to recognise certain emotions (e.g. happiness) more .84 respectively.
C. Edgar et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 52 (2012) 295300 297

2.2.3. Emotional stimuli 2.4. Trace data reduction and analysis

For clarity, participants conveying an emotional expression are
henceforth referred to as encoders and participants observing The IntenseTrace program records the position of the moving
and rating these expressions are referred to as decoders. Nine emo- spot on the rating scale every 25 ms giving a near continuous
tional stimulus clips (30 s duration) were selected from the Belfast recording at a rate of 40 Hz. The delity of the original rating
Induced Natural Emotion Database an existing database of English was deemed too high to provide a meaningful representation of
language video clips (Sneddon, McKeown, McRorie, & Hanratty, decoders reaction to change in stimuli intensity so an average rat-
2011a). These clips depict three examples of adult females express- ing was calculated for each second (each rating had 30 data points).
ing emotion in the same induced condition (3 sadness, 3 amuse- Pearsons r was used to provide an indicator of how similar each
ment, 3 disgust), varying in the intensity of expression. pair of traces was, providing an intra-rater reliability score for each
The clips were presented without sound and only the encoders clip. An average of the three reliability scores was calculated to
face and upper body were visible. Sneddon, McKeown, McRorie produce a score for each target emotion and an average of these
and Vukicevic (2011b) employed similar video clips in recent produced the overall consistency score.
cross-cultural research, and comment on the advantages of using There is a lack of previous research examining the importance
stimuli consisting of dynamic, spontaneously elicited expressions. of reliability in the non-verbal communication of emotion but it
These authors accept that this increase in ecological validity comes is not difcult to imagine how less consistent judgements could
at the price of reliability, forfeiting the ability to objectively catego- make appropriate interpretation of expressions difcult and ham-
rise the emotion conveyed within the stimuli. per communication. It also has the benet of providing a value that
The stimuli were displayed using a variant of FeelTrace, a com- is sensitive to the temporal properties of the data, comparing how
puter-logging program called IntenseTrace (Cowie et al., 2000). A decoders responses change over time.
10 cm  10 cm window containing the stimulus appeared on There is evidence of gender differences in decoding emotion,
screen alongside an interactive horizontal scale (Fig. 1). Decoders with females generally more accurate, and their rating of emotion
used the mouse to move a coloured spot along the scale to trace expressions more variable and higher than males (Hall & Matsum-
real-time judgement of the intensity of the emotional expression oto, 2004). We thus explored decoding-trait relationships in the
of the target individual. The scale was anchored at the left by the full sample and also when split for gender. (Post hoc power analy-
text Zero emotion totally emotionless and at the right by ses for a small sample size of 25 males, medium effect size of 0.35,
Emotion at maximum intensity. Instructions for decoders were and alpha equal to 0.05 suggest the power to be 0.5667).
provided on-screen.
3. Results
2.3. Procedure
3.1. Descriptive statistics
The use of naturalistic stimuli and a computer based trace tool
to dynamically rate the intensity of expressed emotion in real time Table 1 provides descriptive statistics for trait EI, personality
is a novel approach to the study of individual differences in emo- and decoders intra-rater reliability scores (a measure of how con-
tion perception. Following explanation of the task, decoders ini- sistently they rated expressed intensity) for each condition.
tially used the trace tool while viewing a series of three practise Male decoders scored signicantly higher in psychoticism
clips. Decoders then rated the 12 experimental clips (Time 1), after (p = .001) and signicantly lower in neuroticism (p = .004) than
which they completed the personality and trait EI questionnaires. females. Paired samples t-tests compared reliability scores in each
Participants then rated the 12 clips for a second time (Time 2). condition to explore how encoders target emotion differentiated
To control for order effects the sequence in which clips were pre- decoders responses. Decoders were signicantly more reliable rat-
sented was randomised for Time 1 and again for Time 2 and ing amusement (p < .001) and disgust (p < .001) over fear suggest-
remained xed across participants. ing properties inherent in these expressions make them easier to

Fig. 1. Screen presentation of video clip and the emotion rating scale IntenseTrace.
298 C. Edgar et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 52 (2012) 295300

Table 1 Table 3
Descriptive statistics: self-report EI, personality, intra-rater reliability. EI and intra-rater reliability correlations.

Sample mean (SD) Male mean (SD) Female mean (SD) Disgust Fear Amusement Overall
EI Overall EI .182 .366 .187 .266*
Overall EI score 153.77 (12.73) 154.61 (8.75) 153.00 (15.68) MoodReg -.082 .105 .038 .035
Mood 45.54 (5.49) 45.17 (5.50) 45.89 (5.57) Utilisation -.043 .069 .003 .012
Regulation Appraisal .084 .222 .000 .118
Utilisation 21.56 (3.67) 21.50 (3.75) 21.62 (3.67)
Appraisal 38.16 (5.67) 38.92 (5.34) 37.46 (5.97)
Overall EI .072 .063 .027 .060
Personality MoodReg .067 .105 .008 .069
Extraversion 9.06 (3.30) 8.92 (3.54) 9.19 (3.12) Utilisation .032 .013 .096 .051
Neuroticism 6.16 (3.39) 4.75 (3.53) 7.46 (2.72) Appraisal .012 .230 .382* .240
Psychoticism 2.92 (2.08) 3.92 (1.84) 2.00 (1.88)
Intra-rater reliability Overall EI .273 .534** .280 .374*
Disgust 0.67 (0.16) 0.66 (0.17) 0.68 (0.15) MoodReg .105 .291 .101 .133
Fear 0.53 (0.21) 0.54 (0.22) 0.53 (0.22) Utilisation .125 .121 .090 .021
Amusement 0.68 (0.18) 0.70 (0.19) 0.66 (0.18) Appraisal .189 .582** .311 .385*
Overall 0.62 (0.18) 0.63 (0.17) 0.61 (0.18) *
p < .05.
p < .01.

decode consistently. Curiously there was no signicant difference

in the reliability scores of disgust and amusement. 3.4. Personality and intra-rater reliability

3.2. Relationships between intra-rater reliability scores Table 4 shows the correlations between personality and reli-
ability scores. There were no signicant relationships when analys-
Correlational analysis was used to quantify the degree of simi- ing the complete sample, although the negative relationship
larity in reliability scores produced by decoders across conditions. between neuroticism and fear reliability was arguably approaching
Results demonstrated universally positive relationships between signicance (p = .055). When split for gender, female decoders pro-
all conditions across the entire sample, as well as for male and duced signicant relationships associating high neuroticism scores
female decoders when analysed separately (Table 2). This uniform with low reliability scores in the fear condition and high psychot-
pattern of response may be indicative of a single, underlying pro- icism scores with low reliability scores in the amusement condi-
cess that is responsible for mediating decoding reliability. tion. There was a notable lack of signicant associations between
personality and reliability scores for males.
3.3. Emotional intelligence and intra-rater reliability
4. Discussion
Table 3 shows the relationship between trait EI and decoding
reliability scores for the complete sample; high trait EI scores were In line with previous research males scored lower in neuroti-
associated with high decoding reliability for fear and overall scores. cism and higher in psychoticism than females (Martin & Kirkcaldy,
When split for gender, female decoders produced signicant rela- 1998). Comparing intra-rater reliability scores of intensity ratings,
tionships associating high trait EI & appraisal of emotion subscale it was apparent that fear was the most difcult expression to
scores with high decoding reliability for fear and overall. For male decode reliably. It is not clear whether this was due to how decod-
decoders there was a signicant negative association between ers processed fear or to how it was expressed by the encoders (or a
appraisal of emotion subscale scores and amusement reliability combination of both factors). Interestingly, these results demon-
scores. These results suggest that the relationship between apprai- strate a conceptual similarity between reliability scores and more
sal of emotion and reliability depends on both the target emotion traditional measures of emotion decoding that tend to be enhanced
and gender of the decoder. It is also notable that the highest num- when decoding happiness/disgust relative to fear (Ekman &
ber of signicant associations was in the fear condition. Friesen, 1971).
Particularly interesting was the universally positive manifold of
Table 2
relationships between all reliability scores across all emotions.
Intra-rater reliability correlations across conditions. These results are in line with previous research that also found high

Disgust Fear Amusement Overall

Disgust Table 4
Fear .680** Personality and intra-rater reliability correlations.
Amusement .497** .686**
Disgust Fear Amusement Overall
Overall .822** .908** .850**
Extraversion .141 .043 .070 .023
Neuroticism .125 .229 .138 .200
Psychoticism .045 .090 .059 .047
Fear .732**
Amusement .563** .785** Males
Overall .844** .949** .882** Extraversion .113 .029 .048 .032
Neuroticism .053 .133 .201 .147
Psychoticism .120 .271 .211 .231
Fear .636** Females
Amusement .456* .601** Extraversion .180 .117 .104 .009
Overall .818** .876** .827** Neuroticism .307 .380* .029 .246
Psychoticism .039 .058 .460* .161
p < .05.
** *
p < .01. p < .05.
C. Edgar et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 52 (2012) 295300 299

inter-correlations between decoding variables across a range of may be more pertinent to the decoding process than others. It
emotions (Austin, 2004, 2005; Matsumoto et al., 2000). Matsumoto would be benecial to explore a variety of analytical techniques
et al. (2000) interpreted this as a positive sign of convergent validity. and separate information relevant to the decoding process from
There is no direct explanation why reliability scores correlate that which simply reects how participants interact with the soft-
together so strongly (as opposed to patterns of reliability being dif- ware itself.
ferent across emotions). In fact these results are contrary to previous
research that found the decoding process to be more distinct
5. Conclusions
between differing emotions (Suzuki, Hoshino, & Shigemasu, 2010).
Both overall trait EI scores and appraisal of emotion subscale
This study has made some progress towards building an under-
scores tend to share a positive relationship with decoding reliabil-
standing of how trait EI and personality relate to decoding natural-
ity. Conceptualising high decoding reliability as a benecial charac-
istic emotion. By implementing spontaneous/dynamic expressions
teristic is in line with previous studies that associated high trait EI
of emotion it addressed criticisms of the posed stimuli used in pre-
with universally benecial effects on the emotion decoding process
vious research. Reliability provided a measure that was both sensi-
increasing both decoding speed and accuracy (Austin, 2004,
tive to the dynamic characteristics of the stimuli and informative
2005; Ciarrochi et al., 2001; Petrides & Furnham, 2003). This rela-
of how decoders ratings related to established psychological traits.
tionship is particularly apparent between trait EI and fear reliabil-
It is hoped through replication and expansion of this work that a
ity scores (and to a lesser extent the composite, overall scores).
greater understanding of how trait EI and personality constructs
This implies that high scores in trait EI and on the appraisal of emo-
relate to decoding natural emotion expressions will be developed.
tion subscale may be positively linked to how reliably we decode
emotion. Furthermore these relationships provide additional evi-
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