Empathic Accuracy

Empathic accuracy can be characterized as the capacity of people by which they can accurately understand the feelings, thoughts, and intentions of other people.

What Is Empathic Accuracy?

It is a psychological concept that refers to the level of accuracy we have when trying to understand and decipher the thoughts and emotions of others. The concept is based on the notion of empathic inference 1 . It is believed to be associated with affect sharing and mentalizing 2 . “Empathic accuracy (EA) – the correct assessment of the affective states and thoughts of a social partner—affects social behavior and the outcome of interpersonal interactions,” explains a 2013 study 3 . Empathic accuracy is considered to be roughly associated with the concept of mind-reading. It refers to the capability of reading people’s minds and is often considered to be a fundamental skill. It may create a huge impact on people’s adjustments related to different aspects of everyday life.

The term was introduced by psychologists William Ickes and William Tooke 4 in 1988 for the first time. They introduced the term as empathic inference in conjunction. Further studies 5 explained the relationship between empathic accuracy and the concept of affect sharing, mentalizing. Research 6 suggests that a person is required to share a similar mental state to infer accurately about another person’s psychological state. According to neuroscience 7 , the brain activation system associated with empathy accuracy often overlaps with the areas responsible for affect sharing and mentalizing. William Ickes 8 suggested it as an essential aspect of everyday mindreading. It is important to accurately understand the state of others for successful social communication. Studies linked it with overall healthy adjustments for adolescents as it is considered to correspond with romantic relationship’s stability.

Empathic Accuracy Measurement

It is a field of study in psychology and a subarea of interpersonal perception research 9 , which refers to the study that begins with the concept of accuracy related to traits, attitudes and then turns to the concept of accuracy related to current thoughts and emotions. In the late 1980s, William Ickes and his colleagues invented a method to measure the capability of the research participants by which they could infer accurately the thoughts and feelings of other participants. The research 10 suggested that people made subjective judgments about the similarity between each thought and feeling. The accuracy can be measured by dividing the total accuracy points by a maximum number of possible accuracy points. The accuracy measure can range from 0 to 100. This method is considered to be valid and reliable. With this measurement technique, the study has found that some people are good at reading others’ minds, some people are quite average, and some people are extremely poor in this matter.

Determinants Of Empathic Accuracy

According to some studies 11 , empathic accuracy can be developed with the help of practices and feedback. The studies have shown that feedback facilities improve this accuracy. The determinants include:

1. Focusing on the eye

Studies 12 say that callous and unemotional children are not capable of gazing into their mothers’ eyes. Those children find it difficult to express affection also. This situation leads to them not being able to recognize if there is someone experiencing fear or any other emotion. But ability can be improved by encouragement.

2. Gender comparison

Researchers 13 found that females outperform men in this matter, especially when they know that the accuracy is being measured. It can happen even when gender stereotypes are salient.

3. Level of details comparison

It is related to verbal intelligence also as grade point average is associated with content accuracy. when people think about themselves, they are more likely to pay attention to details. This is known as concrete construal 14 . When it comes to infer and judge other people, they tend to pay attention to the overall pattern rather than the details.

Interesting Facts About Empathy Accuracy

With the help of many studies on this topic over the past decades, there are some beliefs or facts about empathic accuracy that have been evolved. The reasonable facts include:

  • Increasing acquaintanceship is responsible for empathy accuracy improvement.
  • Within different target persons, the perceiver’s level of empathy accuracy is more likely to be stable.
  • Inaccurate perceivers are more likely to maintain poor quality relationships than accurate perceivers.
  • Immediate and truthful feedback about the person’s actual thoughts helps in improving empathy accuracy.

There are some unreasonable fictional beliefs also that have no research-related support. The fictional beliefs include:

  • Newlywed couples tend to have less accuracy in inferring each other’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings than the longer-married ones.
  • Males are less empathetic than females.
  • Telepathy is considered to be the main reason behind everyday empathy accuracy.
  • One more belief about the existence of a few empathic icons who have the extreme power to infer into people’s minds with perfect accuracy.

The Impact Of Empathy Accuracy In Adolescents

Perspective-taking and experience sharing play 15 an important role in creating the capability of understanding other’s thoughts and feelings. Two underlying regions in the human brain promote experience sharing and perspective-taking. The regions include the inferior parietal lobule and the medial prefrontal cortex respectively. During adolescence, people utilize networks that are implicated in both experience sharing and perspective-taking to understand other’s emotions. It is very essential to maintain any adaptive peer relationship. Studies 16 have shown that adolescents who have lower scores on the behavioral measure of empathy tend to suffer bullying and other psychological issues like depression. However, it is very difficult to identify the processes that support successful empathy and adolescents’ well-being.

Empathy Accuracy In Romantic Relationships

Empathy accuracy plays a very essential role in romantic relationships. Researchers 17 found that both men and women tend to have high levels of empathy which is positively related to their relationship satisfaction. The accuracy for conflict and discomfort is related to their partner’s satisfaction. Three possible determinants are considered to be present in any romantic relationship which includes mindreading by mind-reading by femininity, perspective-taking, and commitment level. A higher level of empathy accuracy in husbands towards their wives promotes marital satisfaction improvement. Aggressive and less sensitive men tend to have limited empathy accuracy in understanding the emotions and feelings of their partners. Thus, the relation between relationship and empathy accuracy is very critical to understand.

Importance Of Empathic Accuracy

Though empathy accuracy is a complex topic to unfold, the importance of it is vital. It helps people to understand the feelings and thoughts of others so that they can react appropriately to the circumstances. Greater accuracy leads to more helping behavior in social life. But it is not always the case. For example, if a person witnesses something extremely overwhelming, they might be less likely to respond at the correct time. Strong empathetic emotions can cause hatefulness or aggression towards others. People with excellent mind-reading skills like manipulators or fortune-tellers can use their capabilities for their benefit to deceive others.

A Word About Empathic Accuracy

This specific accuracy allows people to build social connections. People gain the capability of understanding other’s thoughts and emotions and responding appropriately in social situations. It helps to see and understand a situation from a different perspective which creates a huge impact on our social lives. Empathy accuracy compels people to respond in a way that can relieve another person’s suffering.

  1. Ickes, W., & Tooke, W. (2015). (PDF) The observational method: Studying the interaction of minds and bodies. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232492326_The_observational_method_Studying_the_interaction_of_minds_and_bodies []
  2. Luyten P, Campbell C, Allison E, Fonagy P. The Mentalizing Approach to Psychopathology: State of the Art and Future Directions. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2020 May 7;16:297-325. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-071919-015355. Epub 2020 Feb 5. PMID: 32023093. []
  3. Bombari, D., Schmid Mast, M., Brosch, T., & Sander, D. (2013). How interpersonal power affects empathic accuracy: differential roles of mentalizing vs. mirroring?. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 375. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00375 []
  4. Haut, K. M., Dodell-Feder, D., Guty, E., Nahum, M., & Hooker, C. I. (2019). Change in Objective Measure of Empathic Accuracy Following Social Cognitive Training. Frontiers in psychiatry, 10, 894. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00894 []
  5. Mast, M. S., & Ickes, W. (2007). Empathic accuracy: Measurement and potential clinical applications. Empathy in Mental Illness, 408-427. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511543753.023 []
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  7. Zaki, J., Weber, J., Bolger, N., & Ochsner, K. (2009). The neural bases of empathic accuracy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(27), 11382–11387. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0902666106 []
  8. Marangoni, C., Garcia, S., Ickes, W., & Teng, G. (1995). Empathic accuracy in a clinically relevant setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(5), 854-869. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.68.5.854 []
  9. South, S. C., Oltmanns, T. F., & Turkheimer, E. (2005). Interpersonal perception and pathological personality features: consistency across peer groups. Journal of personality, 73(3), 675–691. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00325.x []
  10. Howington, D. E. (2016). CORE – Aggregating the world’s open access research papers. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/84755511.pdf []
  11. Pohontsch, N. J., Stark, A., Ehrhardt, M., Kötter, T., & Scherer, M. (2018). Influences on students’ empathy in medical education: an exploratory interview study with medical students in their third and last year. BMC medical education18(1), 231. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-018-1335-7 []
  12. Fawcett, C., Wesevich, V., Truedsson, E., Wåhlstedt, C., & Gredebäck, G. (2016). Callous-unemotional traits affect adolescents’ perception of collaboration. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 57(12), 1400–1406. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12588 []
  13. Christov-Moore, L., Simpson, E. A., Coudé, G., Grigaityte, K., Iacoboni, M., & Ferrari, P. F. (2014). Empathy: gender effects in brain and behavior. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 46 Pt 4(Pt 4), 604–627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.001 []
  14. Trope, Y., Liberman, N., & Wakslak, C. (2007). Construal Levels and Psychological Distance: Effects on Representation, Prediction, Evaluation, and Behavior. Journal of consumer psychology : the official journal of the Society for Consumer Psychology, 17(2), 83–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1057-7408(07)70013-X []
  15. Riess H. (2017). The Science of Empathy. Journal of patient experience, 4(2), 74–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/2374373517699267 []
  16. Gleason KA, Jensen-Campbell LA, Ickes W. The role of empathic accuracy in adolescents’ peer relations and adjustment. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2009 Aug;35(8):997-1011. doi: 10.1177/0146167209336605. Epub 2009 Jun 4. PMID: 19498068. []
  17. Crenshaw AO, Leo K, Baucom BRW. The effect of stress on empathic accuracy in romantic couples. J Fam Psychol. 2019 Apr;33(3):327-337. doi: 10.1037/fam0000508. Epub 2019 Feb 28. PMID: 30816779. []
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