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Emotional intelligence and smoking across ethnicity

Institution: University of Southern California
Investigator(s): Dennis Trinidad, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Award Cycle: 2000 (Cycle 9) Grant #: 9DT-0174 Award: $52,392
Subject Area: Epidemiology
Award Type: Dissertation Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Adolescent tobacco use is a well-known public health problem with harmful health consequences. Regardless, increasing numbers of adolescents in California have recently begun to smoke. These increasing rates of smoking initiation among adolescents indicate that novel approaches to tobacco use prevention are needed in order to reduce the rising adolescent smoking prevalence in California.

The most effective adolescent tobacco use prevention programs focus on social influences, such as perceived norms (e.g., “lots of people my age smoke”) and perceived social consequences (e.g., “smoking makes me look cool”) associated with smoking. Those with high levels of emotional intelligence may be better prepared to process and utilize the information learned from the prevention programs and thus better benefit from them. Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive and appraise emotions within oneself and in others, to understand and reason about emotions (how emotions come about), and to manage and regulate emotions. Emotional intelligence accounts for human success in ways that other indicators, such as traditional intelligence measures like IQ, do not.

It is hypothesized that low levels of emotional intelligence, resulting in an inability to cope and manage one’s emotions, contributes to the onset and progression of cigarette use. Conversely, high emotional intelligence may counteract the initiation and progression of cigarette use by increasing the adolescent’s awareness of experienced feelings regarding tobacco and tobacco offers, how those feelings developed, and how to manage them. It is also hypothesized that those with high emotional intelligence will be better able to apply methods taught in a social influences-based tobacco prevention program.

The proposed study will be conducted in conjunction with the Pacific Rim Integrated Research Project (PRIRP). The PRIRP is a five-year tobacco use prevention program targeting Pacific Rim populations that emphasizes Asians and Latinos. The PRIRP is culturally appropriate and focuses on social influences. The groups of this study provide a unique opportunity to evaluate the main effects of emotional intelligence over time and its effects on the relationship between tobacco use prevention programs and adolescent smoking behaviors across ethnicity.

The knowledge gained from this research can be used to develop improved smoking prevention programs incorporating components of emotional intelligence in addition to the already successful social influences components for these adolescents and other adolescents throughout the U.S. The impact of this knowledge may lead to more successful and effective adolescent smoking prevention programs. As a result, this research may contribute to preventing adolescents from experimenting with cigarettes and/or becoming addicted to cigarettes, the greatest preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States.

Final Report
Introduction Adolescent tobacco use continues to be a major public health concern. Adolescent smoking prevalence has leveled off after an increase in the early 1990s, but is still higher than at any period of time in the 1980s. New avenues must be explored in order to further increase the effectiveness of today’s tobacco use prevention programs. Recent interest in the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has increased due to the popular media claiming it to be the most important predictor of life success, with some suggesting that EI could account for up to 80% of that variance. Though much popular literature and some scientific literature presents claims that are overly optimistic, this exciting field of research continues to grow. Exploration of the relationship between EI and specific health behaviors, such as adolescent smoking, is of particular interest. An understanding of this relationship may help in designing improved targeted smoking prevention programs for adolescents.

Topic Addressed Emotional intelligence and adolescent smoking risk factors

Progress Toward Specific Aims The dissertation based on this research was completed and the specific aims of this project were addressed. Modifications were made to adapt to the lower-than-expected smoking rates, and to make for a more well rounded dissertation. High EI was related to an increased perception of the negative social consequences of smoking, higher refusal self-efficacy toward potential cigarette offers, and lower smoking intentions. Those with low EI were more likely to intend to smoke if they had low refusal skills or were more hostile, while those with high EI were more likely to intend to smoke if they have previously experimented with cigarettes. The association between emotional intelligence and smoking intentions did not vary significantly across culture/ethnicity, though there was a trend towards significance. The trend suggested that EI might have been more protective against smoking intentions in the next year for White adolescents compared to A/PI and H/L adolescents. Finally, as EI increased so did perceptions of the social consequences of smoking for those who were acculturated to the US culture.

Future Directions As the dynamics of the U.S. population shift and become more culturally diverse, it becomes increasingly important to identify protective variables and design adolescent smoking prevention programs that will be more effective for adolescents of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Those with high EI appear to be more protected against smoking risk factors. Therefore, administration of an EI survey at the baseline data collection phase of a smoking prevention program can help identify higher risk (i.e., low EI) adolescents for targeted, tailored interventions. As adolescent smoking prevention programs evolve, adding novel EI-enhancing components to future prevention programs may lead to increased effectiveness.

Examination of intervention program effects by EI level, or versus a control group, would be informative and may lend support the current findings. Future research on EI and adolescent smoking would benefit by sampling older adolescents. Future versions of the EI scale used in this dissertation, the MEIS (Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, 1997) can be improved with the addition of even more diverse items within the MEIS, such as pictures of faces, musical selections, and vignettes. Consideration of alternative scoring methods, such as an expert consensus versus the sample consensus may also diffuse some of the criticisms regarding validity of the MEIS’s scoring.

Impact Based on the findings of this dissertation award, evidence of a protective link between EI and smoking-related factors is increasing. With the emerging trend within tobacco research towards positive and protective factors, these findings regarding the protective role of EI against smoking intentions is encouraging. Many adolescent smoking risk factors cannot be changed, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status. However, EI appears to be a modifiable factor that can be improved (i.e., it can be taught) (Mayer & Salovey, 1997) and thus may help to curb future adolescent smoking behaviors. EI was found to be protective against traditional smoking risk factors, such as perceived social consequences of smoking, refusal self-efficacy, smoking intentions, and hostility. The buffering effect of EI may be even greater for certain US acculturation levels (and perhaps various ethnicities) that have been shown to be at an increased risk for smoking.

Based on the results of this and previous studies, it is plausible that the plateau recently experienced by social-influences based programs may be overcome. EI is a novel variable that can be informative regarding improving social-influences based smoking prevention programs. Mayer and his colleagues assert that emotions are socially based (Mayer et al., 1999). Therefore, programs that center on social processes and emphasize improving emotional skills may lead to reductions in smoking beyond basic social-influences based programs. Increased emotional skills may improve adolescents' processing of social-influences based prevention information and thus build on standard self-efficacy techniques. For example, existing and previously successful social-influences based smoking prevention programs such as Project SMART (Graham, Johnson, Hansen, Flay, & Gee, 1990), can be improved by taking EI into account. Modules within such programs emphasizing the detection of motivations behind peer pressures to smoke increase emotional awareness (a component of EI). For example, pointing out that a solicitor employing social pressures or teasing tactics might be doing so in order to feel better about himself or make himself look good in front of his friends. Expanding upon or more strongly emphasizing such program modules may help to increase the effectiveness of social-influences based smoking prevention programs. The identification of EI as a novel, protective factor brings hope for further reducing adolescent tobacco use.