Emotional immunity? Emotion recognition, empathic concern, and leadership

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Hosie, Michael Patrick
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
September 27, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Rick R Jacobs, Dissertation Advisor
  • Alicia Ann Grandey, Committee Chair
  • Rick R Jacobs, Committee Member
  • Samuel Todd Hunter, Committee Member
  • David Manuel Almeida, Outside Member
  • Leadership
  • Emotion recognition
  • Empathy
  • Empathic Concern
  • Wellbeing
This study explores whether leaders benefit from being “immune” to changes in subordinate emotions. The author suggests there are two ways that a leader could have immunity against subordinate emotions: they lack the ability to read others’ emotions (ie., emotion recognition ability) and they lack the motivation to care about those emotions (i.e., dispositional empathic concern). When leaders lack both the ability and motivation to attend to and regulate other’s emotions they are “immune” to subordinate emotions, and this study explores whether immunity helps or hurts leader performance and wellbeing. Specifically, hypotheses predict that 1) leaders who are less immune (higher emotional ability and motivation) engage in support behavior to regulate the emotions of subordinates with downstream benefits to performance, yet 2) leaders who are less immune also perceive higher levels of emotional demands from their subordinates and thus feel more exhausted from their work. Set in U.S. Army infantry brigades preparing for combat deployment, this study examines the effects of leader emotional competencies in high demand/high stress environments for 169 Army staff sergeants. Findings do not support hypotheses. Exploratory analyses reveal that lower ability to recognize emotions (i.e., immunity to seeing others’ distress) resulted in higher levels of emotional exhaustion, via perceived job demands. Leaders with low levels of empathy (i.e., immunity to feeling others’ distress) had higher performance ratings. Results reveal that occupational role significantly influences the effects of leader emotional competencies on valued outcomes.