It was useful to understand the pathways through which perceived stress may reduce the risk of developing anxiety and may foster greater well-being concerning hypothesis 1. We have proposed that male university students with higher EI efficacy may have a propensity to experience greater support within the university environment (for instance, from friends), contributing to a decreased possibility of stress and EI might interact significantly with perceived stress in the prediction of well-being because a low level of emotional intelligence skills was reported to be linked with ineffective coping strategies and a higher degree of distress.
We expected (hypothesis 1) that perceived stress would be a mediator in the longitudinal association between EI and well-being (our expectations were based on previous cross-sectional studies examining the mediating role of perceived stress in the relationship between EI and well-being); however, our results did not support hypothesis 1. The findings of the present study could be explained by the fact that our expectations were based on previous cross-sectional studies.
Our results are compatible only with a longitudinal study with a very specific sample of university workers, which found that burnout (chronic stress) was not a mediator of the relationship between EI and satisfaction with life (well-being). The lack of support for hypothesis 1 in this study may be because the variables of the socioeconomic status of the male students are missing and belonging to less or more affluent classes could influence certain perceived stress. There were no data on sources of stress in the family and therefore this data cannot be generalized concerning the EI or well-being concerning stress that may be in the family context.
A third potential explanation of the lack of support for hypothesis 1 could be related to the broadness of the perceived stress construct (PSS is a global measure of perceived stress) which was measured. Perhaps some aspects of perceived stress have increased, while others have decreased, leading to an overall insignificant longitudinal effect.
Hypothesis 2, that perceived social support would be a mediator in the longitudinal association between EI and well-being, was confirmed. The finding of the present study is that time-specific indirect effects were obtained. Consistently to previous studies, people with high trait EI are likely to perceive greater social support from others and report higher levels of well-being indicators. Our findings on the mediation of perceived social support in the association between EI and well-being support Gallagher and Vella-Brodrick’s claim that perceived social support functioned as a partial mediator of the relationship between EI and well-being. The explanation for the mediating effect of social support may be that individuals with higher EI can recognize and manage emotions in others and have better possibilities to enhance their social support, which also contributes to an increase in their well-being. These results are in line with previous findings that social support functioned as a mediator of the relationship between EI and well-being indicators, specifically life satisfaction and happiness. This is consistent with findings indicating that social support mediates the relationship between trait EI and life satisfaction, the relationship between trait EI and adaptive outcomes among college students, and the relationship between trait EI and psychological well-being. Thus, our findings are compatible with a social perspective on EI.
Previous studies have analyzed the mediating role of social support between EI and well-being using cross-sectional designs, which do not allow causal conclusions. In this study, however, we employed the three-month prospective longitudinal design to assess the time-specific mediators in the association between EI and well-being. Another strength of this study is its relatively large sample.
Several limitations of the present study should be noted. The first limitation was that our results were limited to male university students and the findings may not be generalized to the whole population of university students in Lithuania. This analysis did not examine female students, and as a result, the conclusions only apply to mediation effects among male students. The extended sample might be employed in further investigations and future research should include the female and male populations and analyze the existence of possible differences. To be able to see whether EI is differentially important for female and male students, a sample with both groups would be needed. Then, it could be possible actually to compare the coefficients between the groups like in the study by Kong et al., but this is just not possible in the dataset of this study. The second limitation of the present study was that we relied on self-report measures, so social desirability may likely have influenced the responses. The third limitation was that the stationarity assumption in the CLPM model may not hold. If the mediation assumption is false, the ab estimate will be biased. And without at least three waves of data, the stationarity assumption cannot be tested. Fourth, we decide to analyze data without subscales because we would like to obtain outcomes with the total indicators of variables. It has been stated that is a limitation that given that the SSRI measures intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects, it would be interesting from a theoretical perspective to see whether the two facets are differentially associated with social support (perhaps interpersonal aspects are more relevant) and stress and well-being (perhaps intrapersonal aspects are more relevant). Despite these shortcomings, we suspect that failing to control for prior levels of the dependent variables typically creates much greater problems than failure to consider violations of stationarity. The fourth limitation is that it was not possible to use a better alternative for the CLPM, i.e., the random intercept cross-lagged panel model (RI-CLPM) as proposed by Hamaker, Kuiper, and Grasman which decomposes each observed score into a between-person part and a within-person part and requires at least three waves of data. CLPM model has been used in the present study because it requires only two waves of data.
Future research will be warranted to examine the mediating effects of perceived social support and perceived stress between EI and well-being in the longitudinal mediation model with three or more waves of data because without at least three waves of data it is not possible to test the serial mediation hypothesis that perceived social support and perceived stress are sequential mediators in the longitudinal association between EI and psychological well-being. Indeed, more longitudinal studies with different and more varied time lags with different populations are needed. Further research should also investigate other possible mediators in the longitudinal association between EI and well-being. Other variables might mediate the effect of EI on well-being, for instance, optimism–pessimism, which is considered an important predictor of psychological well-being. While continued research is needed to support the evidence base for EI intervention, EI could be a potential focus for enhancing psychological well-being among male university students for fostering performance in a challenging study and work environment.