Emotional Intelligence Home Page


Dec, 2001

Emotional intelligence and empathy: their relation to multicultural counseling knowledge and awareness.(Statistical Data Included)

Author/s: Madonna G. Constantine, Kathy A. Gainor

The construct of emotional intelligence has received increasing attention in a variety of literature bases (e.g., education, business, and organizational psychology) over the past several decades (e.g., Goleman, 1995; Greenspan, 1989; Leuner, 1966; Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Payne, 1986; Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to process emotional information as it pertains to the perception, assimilation, expression, regulation, and management of emotion (Mayer & Cobb, 2000; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000). Emotional intelligence is believed to encompass a variety of social and cognitive functions related to the expression of emotion (Schutte et al., 1998). Emotionally intelligent individuals are often described as well-adjusted, warm, genuine, persistent, and optimistic (Mayer, DiPaolo, & Salovey, 1990; Salovey & Mayer, 1990).

Among school counselors, however, the construct of emotional intelligence has not been explored in relation to dimensions of their professional functioning, particularly in connection with salient counseling-related skills such as empathy and multicultural counseling competence. Empathy has been defined as counselors' ability to communicate a sense of caring and understanding regarding their clients' experiences (Egan, 1994; Nystul, 1999). Moreover, multicultural counseling competence refers to counselors' attitudes/beliefs, knowledge, and skills in working with culturally diverse persons (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992; Sue et al., 1998). There is a need for information that identifies how school counselors' emotional intelligence and empathy may relate to their self-perceived competence in counseling students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Such competence undoubtedly affects school counselors' ability to provide comprehensive, developmental, and systematic services to all students (Campbell & Dahir, 2000).

In the professional literature, emotional intelligence is typically viewed as a somewhat enduring trait-like characteristic (Goleman, 1995; Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Emotional intelligence involves a set of mental abilities in which individuals employ higher-level processes regarding their attention to feelings, clarity of feelings, discriminability of feelings, and mood-regulating strategies (Mayer & Salovey, 1993). Emotional intelligence has been found to be positively correlated with variables such as empathy, verbal intelligence, extraversion, openness to feelings, self-esteem, and life satisfaction (Ciarrochi, Chan, & Caputi, 2000; Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999; Schutte et al., 1998). It is also believed to be related to other types of intelligences such as cognitive ability and social intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Schutte et al., 1998). Goleman (1995) suggested that although cognitive intelligence may provide some individuals with entry into a particular setting, emotional intelligence may serve a vital role in determining how successful they will be after entering the setting. With regard to school counselors, the presence of high levels of emotional intelligence may be crucial in helping them work with students from a range of cultural backgrounds. In particular, school counselors' emotional intelligence could play an important role in their ability to empathize with and address the mental health concerns of culturally diverse students.

Empathy requires the accurate identification of emotional responses in others (Mayer et al., 1990), and it is believed to involve well-defined abilities rather than solely attitudes (Mayer & Salovey, 1993). Thus, school counselors who encounter difficulties in empathizing with students may experience skill deficits in working with these individuals (Mayer et al., 1990). In the context of cross-cultural relationships, school counselors' ability to understand the culturally based experiences of students of color may be crucial to the alleviation of these students' presenting issues (Constantine, 2000; Fischer, Jome, & Atkinson, 1998). Hence, the degree to which school counselors display empathy in cross-cultural counseling relationships may reflect aspects of their self-perceived multicultural counseling competence.

This study sought to better understand the relationships among school counselors' emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-reported multicultural counseling knowledge and awareness. Previous research in the school counseling literature has reported that prior multicultural counseling education was associated with higher self-perceived abilities to work with culturally diverse clients (e.g., Constantine, 2001; Constantine & Yeh, 2001). Thus, this variable was also examined in the context of this investigation. One hypothesis was formulated for the current study--that previous multicultural education, emotional intelligence, and empathy would account for significant variance in school counselors' self-perceived multicultural counseling knowledge and awareness.


Participants and Procedure

Two-hundred potential participants were randomly selected from a national mailing list of members of the American School Counselor Association. These counselors were asked to participate in an anonymous study examining their general attitudes about working with clients. They were asked to complete a survey packet consisting of the Emotional Intelligence Scale (Schutte et al., 1998), the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980), the Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (Ponterotto, Gretchen, Utsey, Rieger, & Austin, 2000), and a brief demographic questionnaire. No incentives were used to solicit participation in the investigation, and respondents were told that they would be provided with the study's results at their request. A total of 108 school counselors chose to participate in the study (54% response rate).

Because of missing data, some demographic percentages do not equal 100. The 91 women (85.8%) and 15 men (13.9%) who responded to the study ranged in age from 24 to 76 years (M = 44.36, SD = 10.88). The racial and ethnic composition of the respondents was as follows: 97 White Americans (89.8%), 5 Black Americans (4.6%), 2 Latino(a)Americans (1.9%), 1 Asian American (.9%), 1 American Indian (.9%), and 2 Biracial individuals (1.9%). With regard to educational level, 90 of these counselors (83.9%)held master's degrees, 11 counselors (10.2%) held doctoral degrees, and 5 counselors (4.6%) held bachelor's degrees. The participants reported a mean of 10.89 years of counseling experience (SD = 9.61; range = 0 to 53), and 68.5% of the sample indicated that they had taken one or more academic courses related to multicultural counseling.


Emotional Intelligence Scale (EIS; Schutte et al., 1998). The EIS is a 33-item, 5-point (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree) self-report measure of emotional intelligence based on Salovey and Mayer's (1990) theoretical model of emotional intelligence. This unifactor scale asks respondents to indicate their level of agreement with each item, and the possible range of scores for the EIS is 33 to 165. The EIS was validated on a sample of participants who were recruited from a variety of settings, including university students and individuals from community settings. Examples of EIS items include, "I am aware of the non-verbal messages I send to others" and "I easily recognize my emotions as I experience them."

In the validation study, the EIS was found to be positively correlated with attention to feelings, clarity of feelings, mood repair, and optimism, and was reported to be negatively related to pessimism, alexithymia (i.e., difficulties in differentiating among and verbalizing feelings, along with a tendency to use externally oriented thinking processes in making decisions), depression, and impulsivity (Schutte et al., 1998). Moreover, psychotherapists were found to have higher mean scores on the EIS than a group of female prisoners and a group of individuals in a substance abuse treatment program. Women in the validation study also scored significantly higher than male respondents. The EIS is reported to have good predictive and discriminant validity. Internal consistency reliabilities in the validation sample ranged from .87 to .90, and a test-retest reliability coefficient of .78 was computed (Schutte et al., 1998). In this study, the Cronbach's alpha for the EIS was .87.

Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1980). The IRI is a 28-item, 5-point Likert-type (0 = does not describe me well to 4 = describes me very well) scale that assesses four dimensions of empathy: Perspective-Taking, Fantasy, Empathic Concern, and Personal Distress. Each of these four subscales is comprised of 7 items, and the possible range of scores for each subscale is 0 to 28. The Perspective-Taking subscale measures empathy in the form of individuals' tendency to spontaneously adopt others' points of view. The Fantasy subscale of the IRI taps respondents' ability to transpose themselves into the feelings and behaviors of fictional characters in movies, books, and plays. The Empathic Concern subscale assesses individuals' feelings of concern, warmth, and sympathy toward others. The Personal Distress subscale measures self-oriented feelings of anxiety and distress in response to extreme distress experienced by others (Davis, 1980; Davis, Luce, & Kraus, 1994). Higher scores in each domain correspond to greater levels of self-reported empathy.

Sex differences are reported to exist for each IRI subscale, with female respondents tending to score higher than male respondents on each subscale (Davis, 1980). Previous studies (e.g., Bernstein & Davis, 1982; Carey, Fox, & Spraggins, 1988; Davis, 1983) have also indicated good construct validity evidence for the IRI's subscales. Furthermore, these subscales have been documented to have satisfactory internal reliabilities (range = .71 to .77) and test-retest reliabilities (range = .62 to .80) (Davis, 1980). In this investigation, Cronbach's alphas of .64, .76, .70, and .69 were computed for the Perspective-Taking, Fantasy, Empathic Concern, and Personal Distress subscales, respectively.

Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (MCKAS; Ponterotto et al., 2000). The MCKAS is a 32-item, 7-point Likert-type (1 = not at all true to 7 = totally true) scale designed to measure dimensions of self-perceived multicultural counseling competence. The MCKAS consists of two factors: Knowledge (20 items, possible range of scores = 20 to 140) and Awareness (12 items, possible range of scores = 12 to 84). The Knowledge subscale of the MCKAS measures general knowledge related to multicultural counseling and the Awareness subscale assesses subtle Eurocentric worldview bias. Several MCKAS items assess the extent to which counselors believe clients of color should engage in certain behaviors that may be more reflective of White American cultural norms (e.g., maintaining direct eye contact during counseling, viewing the nuclear family as the ideal social unit, etc.). Thus, this measure was thought to be especially well suited for our study in terms of exploring its relationship to emotional intelligence and empathy.

Initial investigations examining the psychometric properties of the MCKAS reported coefficient alphas of .85 for the two subscales; the MCKAS was also found to possess good content, construct, and criterion-related validity (Ponterotto et al., 2000). In the current study, the Cronbach's alphas were .91 for the Knowledge subscale and .77 for the Awareness subscale.

Demographic questionnaire. Respondents were asked to indicate their race or ethnicity, sex, age, highest degree earned, number of years of previous counseling experience, and number of formal academic courses taken previously related to multicultural issues.


The Table provides the means and standard deviations for the study's primary variables, along with the interscale correlations. Because of the small numbers of people of color and non-master's degreed school counselors in the overall sample, the data were not analyzed by race, ethnicity, or degree status. However, a multivariate analysis of variance (p = .05) was computed to determine whether school counselors differed by sex with regard to the study's predictor and criterion variables. Results revealed no statistically significant sex differences [Pillai's Trace = .11, F(8, 95) = 1.76, p > .05], so it was not included as an independent variable in the main analysis.

To examine the study's hypothesis, a multivariate multiple regression analysis was performed. This analytic procedure was chosen to control for the possible intercorrelations among the predictor and criterion variables (Haase & Ellis, 1987; Lunneborg & Abbot, 1983; Stevens, 1986). A multivariate multiple regression analysis can accommodate multiple predictor and multiple criterion variables, all of which are continuously distributed, from which follow-up tests can determine the unique contribution of each predictor variable on each criterion variable (Lutz & Eckert, 1994). In our study, the predictor variables were the number of previous multicultural counseling courses taken, the EIS scores, and the four IRI subscales. The criterion variables were the two MCKAS subscales.

Results revealed that the overall proportion of variance in multicultural counseling knowledge and awareness accounted for by prior multicultural education, the EIS scores, and the four IRI subscales was statistically significant, Pillai's Trace = .36, F(12, 198) = 3.61, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2]= .18, where [[eta].sup.2] is the multivariate effect size. Because multivariate significance was reached at the .05 level, follow-up univariate analyses were conducted. Results of these analyses revealed that previous multicultural education, the EIS scores, and the four IRI subscales accounted for significant variance in the MCKAS Knowledge subscale, F(6, 99) = 8.33, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .34, where [[eta].sup.2] is the univariate effect size. Alternatively, the six predictor variables did not account for significant variance in the MCKAS Awareness subscale, F(6, 99) = .66, p > .05, [[eta].sup.2] = .04. Thus, no additional follow-up analyses were conducted for the MCKAS Awareness subscale.

Additional follow-up analyses were conducted to examine the unique contribution of each of the predictor variables on the MCKAS Knowledge subscale. Results of these analyses indicated that (a) prior multicultural education [F(1, 99) = 7.38, p < .01, [[eta].sup.2] = .07], (b) emotional intelligence [F(1, 99) = 7.27, p < .01, [[eta].sup.2] = .07], and (c) the Personal Distress subscale of the IRI [F(1, 99) = 6.52, p < .05, [[eta].sup.2] = .06] were each significantly and uniquely related to self-reported multicultural counseling knowledge. Specifically, more multicultural education and higher levels of emotional intelligence were related to higher levels of self-perceived multicultural counseling knowledge in school counselors. Conversely, higher levels of personal distress empathy were associated with lower levels of self-reported multicultural counseling knowledge.


Our hypothesis was only partially supported by the results. Findings revealed that school counselors' previous multicultural education, emotional intelligence scores, and personal distress empathy scores accounted for significant variance in their self-perceived multicultural counseling knowledge. However, prior multicultural education, emotional intelligence, and empathy were not significantly predictive of school counselors' self-reported multicultural counseling awareness.

The finding that prior multicultural education was significantly and positively related to school counselors' self-perceived multicultural counseling knowledge was not unexpected given that significant relationships between previous multicultural education and self-perceived multicultural counseling competence have been reported in earlier studies involving school counselors (e.g., Constantine, 2001; Constantine & Yeh, 2001). This result underscores the importance of multicultural counseling courses in preparing school counselors to serve culturally diverse students. It appears that such courses may help them to feel more knowledgeable about issues related to working with these students (Constantine, Arorash, et al., 2001).

School counselors with higher levels of emotional intelligence reported higher levels of multicultural counseling knowledge in our study. This finding may not be particularly surprising because emotional intelligence has been previously correlated with various prosocial behaviors such as empathy, verbal intelligence, and openness to feelings (e.g., Ciarrochi et al., 2000; Mayer et al., 1999; Schutte et al., 1998). Thus, emotionally intelligent school counselors appear to possess interpersonal strengths that may enable them to better comprehend or be attuned to the experiences and issues of culturally diverse others. Although emotional intelligence is generally viewed as a desirable characteristic in school counselors and even in school-aged children, it is important to note that there may be cultural differences in how some students express, regulate, and utilize emotion (Taylor, Parker, & Bagby, 1999). For example, Asian and Latino individuals have been found to have higher levels of alexithymia (i.e., difficulties in identifying and describing emotions) than Whites (Le, 1998; Tiago De Melo, 1998). Some cultures do not share values concerning the expression of emotion in the same ways that are often reflected in contemporary Western psychological theory (i.e., emotional restraint may been seen as more desirable than emotional expression in some cultural groups; e.g., Grimm, Church, Katigbak, & Reyes, 1999; Markus & Kitayama, 1994; Matsumoto, 1996; Stephan, Stephan, & deVargas, 1996). Hence, it is crucial that school counselors are cognizant of possible culturally based differences in students' expressions of emotional states. School counselors who are unaware of differences in how feelings may be expressed or regulated across cultures may erroneously interpret or even pathologize such behaviors in some students of color. As a result, these students may feel that their mental health issues are not being understood or addressed in culturally sensitive ways.

Our findings also indicated that personal distress empathy accounted for significant variance in school counselors' self-reported multicultural counseling knowledge. In particular, higher personal distress scores were related to lower levels of self-perceived multicultural counseling knowledge. The Personal Distress subscale of the IRI assesses respondents' feelings of anxiety and discomfort in response to marked distress in others. Although empathy is noted to be a particularly useful skill among counseling professionals, it appears that experiencing empathy to the point of being overly sympathetic in relation to others' distress may be somewhat detrimental in the context of counseling relationships. Thus, it is possible that school counselors who become unduly anxious or unsettled when empathizing with the difficulties of culturally diverse students may be somewhat less proficient in counseling situations because their anxiety may impede them from effectively applying their multicultural counseling knowledge. This result highlights the importance of school counselors identifying ways to appropriately empathize with the concerns of culturally diverse students so as not to experience extreme levels of discomfort or distress in attempting to understand their concerns. For example, portraying understanding and support about certain cultural issues may be helpful to school counselors in building effective working alliances with students of color. However, it may be counterproductive for these counselors to become so emotionally involved in this regard that their multicultural counseling effectiveness is diminished.

In our study, prior multicultural counseling education was not found to be significantly predictive of school counselors' self-reported multicultural counseling awareness. One possible reason for this finding may relate to the content usually covered in many academic multicultural counseling courses. For example, the MCKAS Awareness subscale measures subtle Eurocentric worldview bias in counseling, whereas academic multicultural counseling courses tend to focus primarily on augmenting students' didactic knowledge about cultural issues as opposed to emphasizing their own cultural self-awareness (Constantine, Juby, & Liang, 2001; Goodwin, 1997). Furthermore, emotional intelligence was not significantly related to school counselors' self-perceived multicultural counseling awareness. Based on the mean emotional intelligence score of the school counselors in our study, however, it is evident that these participants largely believed that they possessed a high level of emotional intelligence. Taken together, these latter results are interesting because they may suggest that school counselors with higher levels of emotional intelligence may not always be aware of salient cultural issues in counseling relationships. That is, it is feasible to consider that some school counselors with high levels of emotional intelligence may not possess adequate self-awareness or awareness of others with regard to cultural issues.

The four empathy variables were also not significantly predictive of school counselors' self-perceived multicultural counseling awareness in our study. A possible implication of these findings is that school counselors may wish to identify ways to increase their multicultural counseling awareness so that they may understand better how their own and others' cultural group memberships could affect counseling relationships. For example, didactic and experiential activities that encourage school counselors to explore and process how their own cultural identities interface with the cultural identities of their students could help these counselors to develop awareness of issues that may influence cross-cultural interactions. Such exercises could represent aspects of a multicultural counseling course in school counselor training programs, or they may be offered through specialized continuing education workshops or programs.

Implications for School Counseling Programs

The current results have vital implications for the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective school counseling programs. Such programs should be responsive to the cultural diversity of the schools and communities in which they exist. Personal and social competencies that specifically address school counselors' recognition and respect for (a) individual differences, (b) ethnic and cultural diversity, and (c) various family configurations are imbedded within the nine standards of the National Standards for School Counseling Programs (Campbell & Dahir, 2000). Therefore, to the extent that emotional intelligence and certain aspects of empathy relate to self-perceived multicultural knowledge in school counselors, the development of these competencies may have an impact on the ability of comprehensive school counseling programs to be culturally appropriate and sensitive.

There are several limitations of our study. First, generalizability of the findings is limited because the participants may somehow differ from nonresponding school counselors. Second, the sample was predominantly White. It will be important that future investigators explore similar variables in school counselors who represent a broader range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, particularly given the potential culturally based considerations surrounding the construct of emotional intelligence. In addition, it is possible that some participants were cued to the research intent. For example, if participants were aware that they were completing emotional intelligence, empathy, and multicultural competence measures, they may have responded differently to some or all of these instruments based on their presumed knowledge about what was being assessed.

Future researchers should continue exploring this study's variables in order to understand better how they may relate to school counselors' demonstrated ability to work with culturally diverse students. There is also a need for research that ascertains the effect of specific multicultural training exercises on the development of school counselors' multicultural counseling competence. Future investigations that identify the perceptions of culturally diverse students with regard to the school counseling services they receive are also warranted. For example, it would be beneficial to know the extent to which culturally diverse students perceive their school counselors to be multiculturally competent. Obtaining these students' perspectives may be potentially beneficial to school counselors in adapting existing services to meet the needs of specific cultural populations.

Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations of the
Study's Variables

Variables                              M       SD     1       2

1. EIS                               132.79   11.47   --   .45 ***
2. IRI Perspective-Taking Subscale    21.12    3.33        --
3. IRI Fantasy Subscale               17.76    4.80
4. IRI Empathic Concern Subscale      22.20    3.64
5. IRI Personal Distress Subscale      6.75    3.69
6. MCKAS Knowledge Subscale           98.42   17.90
7. MCKAS Awareness Subscale           68.66    8.25
8. MC Courses                           .94     .78

Variables                               3         4         5

1. EIS                               .26 **    .34 ***   -.31 **
2. IRI Perspective-Taking Subscale   .35 ***   .31 **    -.36 ***
3. IRI Fantasy Subscale              --        .46 ***    .01
4. IRI Empathic Concern Subscale               --         .14
5. IRI Personal Distress Subscale                         --
6. MCKAS Knowledge Subscale
7. MCKAS Awareness Subscale
8. MC Courses

Variables                               6        7       8

1. EIS                                .41 ***    .01   -.02
2. IRI Perspective-Taking Subscale    .34 ***    .15    .05
3. IRI Fantasy Subscale               .37 ***    .12    .14
4. IRI Empathic Concern Subscale      .31 **     .09    .06
5. IRI Personal Distress Subscale    -.30 **    -.10    .15
6. MCKAS Knowledge Subscale            --        .16    .22 *
7. MCKAS Awareness Subscale                      --     .05
8. MC Courses                                           --

Note. EIS = Emotional Intelligence Scale (Schutte et al., 1998);
IRI = Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980); MCKAS =
Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (Ponterotto
et al., 2000); MC Courses = Number of academic multicultural
counseling courses taken previously.

* p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.

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Madonna G. Constantine is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, NY. E-mail: mc816@columbia. edu.

Kathy A. Gainor is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Human Development and Educational Leadership at Montclair State University, NJ.


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