Accurate Where It Counts: Empathic Accuracy on Conflict and No-Conflict Days

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Abstract

When we are accurate regarding our partners’ negative moods, are we seen as more responsive (and do we see them as such) as a function of the presence/absence of conflict? In 2 daily diary studies, empathic accuracy (EA) was assessed by comparing targets’ daily negative moods with perceivers’ inferences of these moods. We hypothesized that conflict will be associated with reductions in perceived partner responsiveness (PPR) for both parties; that on no-conflict days, EA will be positively associated with both parties’ PPR; that on conflict days, this positive association will be stronger for targets but will become negative for perceivers; and that regardless of conflict, overestimation (vs. underestimation) of negative moods will be tied with higher PPR for targets but with lower PPR for perceivers. Thirty-six (Sample 1) and 77 (Sample 2) committed couples completed daily diaries (for 21 or 35 days, respectively). We utilized multilevel polynomial regression with response surface analyses, a sophisticated approach for studying multisource data of this sort (Edwards & Parry, 1993). Results partially supported our hypotheses: conflict was tied to reduced PPR; on no-conflict days, EA was not consistently predictive of target or perceiver PPR; on conflict days, EA predicted increased target PPR but decreased perceiver PPR; finally, overestimation predicted increased target PPR on no-conflict days and decreased perceiver PPR regardless of conflict. These results highlight the double-edged effects of EA on conflict days, and the importance of investigating dyadic EA in a context-sensitive approach.

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