Empathic Accuracy and Relationship Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review

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Abstract

Empathic accuracy (EA; Ickes & Hodges, 2013) is the extent to which people accurately perceive their peers’ thoughts, feelings, and other inner mental states. EA has particularly interested researchers in the context of romantic couples. Reviews of the literature suggest a possible link between romantic partners’ EA and their relationship satisfaction (Ickes & Simpson, 2001; Sillars & Scott, 1983). To assess the magnitude of this association and examine possible moderators, we performed a meta-analytic review of 21 studies (total N = 2,739 participants) that examined the association between EA and satisfaction. We limited our review to studies measuring EA using the dyadic interaction paradigm (Ickes, Stinson, Bissonnette, & Garcia, 1990). We found a small but significant association between the two (r = .134, p < .05). Subsequent moderation analyses demonstrated that EA for negative emotions (one’s accuracy when assessing a partner’s negative emotions) was more closely related to satisfaction (r = .171, p < .05) than EA for positive ones (r = .068, p > .1). The association was also stronger in relationships of moderate length, suggesting that EA may be more meaningful when relationships are consolidating but before they become stable. Gender and procedural variations on the dyadic interaction paradigm did not moderate the association, and there was no difference depending on whether the association was between EA and perceivers’ or targets’ satisfaction (i.e., actor or partner effects). We discuss the implications of these findings and offer recommendations for future EA studies.

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