Attachment and the management of empathic accuracy in relationship-threatening situations

Jeffry A. Simpson, John S. Kim, Jennifer Fillo, William Ickes, W. Steven Rholes, M. Minda Oriña, Heike A. Winterheld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The current studies tested how attachment orientations are related to empathic accuracy (i.e., the accuracy with which one infers a partner's private thoughts and feelings) during attachment-relevant discussions. In Study 1, married couples were videotaped discussing a severe or a less severe relationship issue that involved intimacy or jealousy. In Study 2, dating couples were videotaped trying to resolve a relationship conflict. Consistent with the revised empathic accuracy model, highly avoidant individuals were less empathically accurate in both studies. Relative to less anxious persons, highly anxious individuals were more empathically accurate when discussing intimacy issues that posed a potential threat to their relationship (in Study 1) and when they were rated as more distressed when discussing a relationship conflict (in Study 2). The findings are discussed in terms of how highly anxious and highly avoidant people differentially manage empathic accuracy to regulate negative affect and facilitate their interpersonal goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-254
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Affect regulation
  • Attachment
  • Conflict
  • Empathic accuracy
  • Social interaction


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