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Efficacy of outdoor adventure education in developing emotional intelligence during adolescence


Participation in outdoor adventure program by adolescent males leads to improved emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the capacity to manage personal, social, and environmental change effectively, and encompasses skills of emotional management, realism, flexibility, optimism, self-motivation, and resilience. EI affects one’s ability to adjust to life stresses and succeed in a variety of areas. Outdoor adventure education (OAE) programs are based on experiential learning (both group and individual) and involve physically- and mentally-demanding activities, often conducted in remote areas. OAE participation promotes individual growth and development, and there is evidence that OAE can contribute to enhanced EI. The purpose of this study was to determine if participation in an OAE program affects EI in adolescents and if any changes persist three months after program completion.

The OAE program attended by study participants is 23 days long and consists of structured activities and periods of reflection. The study sample (n=76) was all grade 10 students from a private male-only school in a large city in South Africa. The participants were primarily white (no percentage is reported). The authors presumably measured other variables including primary language and boarding (they mention comparing groups based on these), but no data is reported on these variables. The authors used the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory: Youth Version (Bar-On EQ-i:YV) to measure EI. The inventory is made up of five subscales: interpersonal abilities, intrapersonal abilities, stress management, adaptability, and general mood. EI was assessed before, immediately after, and three months after participation in the OAE program. The authors completed quantitative data analysis to compare EI levels before and after the OAE intervention.

Study results indicate that participation in the OAE program resulted in higher overall EI among participants, some dimensions of which were sustained over the three months following the program. At program completion, significant increases in all five subscales were reported. Improvements in intrapersonal abilities and adaptability were largest. By the three-month follow-up, improvements persisted in only three subscales: intrapersonal skills, adaptability, and general mood with improvements in adaptability the largest. This study provides evidence that OAE participation can contribute to improvements in emotional intelligence, certain aspects of which are sustained over time.

The paper is a brief report (no full research article could be found), so many details are lacking. There is little description of the OAE intervention and study sample. The EI measurement tool was reported to be reliable, but validity was not reported. Another limitation is that there was no control group. The sample was limited to students from one school in South Africa; generalizability is limited.


Opper, B., Maree, J. G., Fletcher, L., Sommerville, J., (2014). Efficacy of outdoor adventure education in developing emotional intelligence during adolescence. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 24(2), 193-196.


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