Correlates of Spousal Empathic Accuracy for Pain-related Thoughts and Feelings

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Abstract

Objectives:

This study explored correlates of spousal ability to infer the thoughts and feelings of individuals with chronic pain (ICPs).

Methods:

Participant couples (N=57), who consisted of at least 1 couple member with chronic pain, engaged in a videotaped discussion about pain, after which they completed an empathic accuracy procedure where spouses of ICP were asked to infer thoughts/feelings of ICPs.

Results:

Overall levels of partner empathic accuracy were similar to other studies of couples. Several characteristics of the pain experience and the marital relationship correlated with empathic accuracy for thoughts and feelings. Specifically, partner catastrophizing about the ICP’s pain was associated with less empathic accuracy for thoughts, whereas ICP pain severity was related to a greater empathic accuracy for feelings. Several significant interactions were also found, with marital satisfaction and partner’s own pain experience acting as moderators.

Discussion:

These findings provide support for models of empathy that argue that characteristics of the pain condition and characteristics of the observer are important contributors to observers’ understanding of pain. In addition, the findings support previous research that suggests there are different processes for understanding the emotional versus the cognitive experience of others.

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