Emotional Intelligence Training Effects on Aggression in Active-Duty Military Servicemembers

Lindsey Hildebrand, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States
Alisa Huskey, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States
William Killgore, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States


Military Service members tend to have elevated rates of aggression relative to the general population.  While this may be helpful in combat situations, it can lead to difficulties in maintaining healthy work, family, and social relationships in non-combat situations, and can even lead to psychiatric difficulties and suicidal ideation.  Given the increased rates of completed and attempted suicides amongst military personnel, we developed an online training program to develop emotional intelligence (EI) skills to mitigate these problems. Emotional Intelligence ability is defined as the ability to understand, perceive, and manage one’s own, as well as others’, emotions. We hypothesized that military personnel who were assigned to the EIT program would experience a reduction in feelings of aggression as a result of training relative to a matched placebo training program.

Participants and Methods:

There were 254 (NMales= 184, NFemales= 70) active-duty military Servicemembers who took part in our study (Mage=29.85 SD=5.853). Study participants were randomly assigned to either the Emotional Intelligence Training Program (EIT) or the Placebo Training Program (PAT) after enrollment. Participants completed 10-12 hours of online training modules within each program. The EIT program modules focused on training EI and related concepts such as emotional regulation and mindfulness skills. The Buss Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ) was measured prior to training and post-training. The BPAQ is a highly validated self-report measure of 4 dimensions of aggression to include anger, hostility, physical aggression, and verbal aggression. Higher scores on the BPAQ indicate higher engagement in aggressive behaviors. We conducted a mixed ANCOVA to assess changes in self-reported aggression pre and post program intervention (EIT and PAT) while controlling for participant stress and trait antisocial behavior.


There was a statistically significant interaction effect of program (EIT vs PAT) on aggression scores (F(1,185)=4.059, p=.045, ηp2 = .021. Bonferroni post-hoc analyses indicated that Servicemembers that were assigned to EIT program (N=105) significantly decreased in self-reported aggressive behaviors post-intervention (M=61.260, SD=19.166) compared to pre-intervention (M=66.860, SD=22.013) (p<.001). However, Servicemembers assigned to the PAT program (N=85) did not show a significant decrease (p=.174) in aggression post-training (M=60.680, SD=18.881) from baseline (M=62.390, SD=19.178). Participants who were assigned to EIT did not significantly differ in aggression at baseline from those who were assigned to the PAT (p>.05); suggesting that the significant reduction of aggression was uniquely observed for those within the EIT program.


Servicemembers who were assigned to the EIT training program reported a significant reduction in aggression post-training relative to placebo training. This suggests that training in EI and related domains may help Servicemembers to better regulate and manage their emotions, particularly emotions that are associated with suicidal ideation and other social difficulties. Future research should also examine the effect EIT in improving feelings of aggression for military Servicemembers who incur mTBIs during their service. Servicemembers report increasing numbers of mTBIs each year and one of the frequently reported effects of mTBIs is increased aggression and hostility along with higher likelihood of suicidal ideation. EIT can be integrated into post-injury rehabilitation plans by providing critical emotional regulation skills training.

Category: Emotion Regulation

Keyword 1: aggression
Keyword 2: awareness
Keyword 3: social processes