Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 1–12 | Cite as

Recognition of Facial Expressions of Negative Emotions in Romantic Relationships

Original Paper


Previous research has demonstrated that individuals who were accurate at recognizing facial expressions of emotions reported better relationships with family and friends. The purpose of the present study was to test whether the ability to recognize facial expressions of negative emotions predicted greater relationship satisfaction with their romantic relationships and whether this link was mediated by constructive responses to conflict. Participants currently involved in a romantic relationship completed a validated performance measure of recognition of facial expressions and afterwards reported on the responses they engaged in during conflict with their romantic partner and rated their romantic relationship satisfaction. Results showed that accurate recognition of facial expressions of negative emotions (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, and sadness) predicted less conflict engaging behaviors during conflict with their romantic partners (but not positive problem solving and withdrawal), which in turn predicted greater relationship satisfaction. The present study is the first to show that the ability to recognize facial expressions of negative emotions is related to romantic relationship satisfaction and that constructive responses to conflict such as less conflict engaging behaviors, mediate this process.


Recognition of facial expressions Romantic relationships satisfaction Conflict engagement Negative emotions 



This research was supported in part by a Small Grant FOA 2012-02 from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at San Francisco State University awarded to the first author.


  1. Arellano, C. M., & Markman, H. J. (1995). The managing affect and differences scale (MADS): A self-report measure assessing conflict management in couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 9, 319–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron, R. B., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator–mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Boyatzis, C. J., & Satyaprasad, C. (1994). Children’s facial and gestural decoding and encoding—relations between skills and with popularity. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 37–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brackett, M. A., Warner, R. M., & Bosco, J. S. (2005). Emotional intelligence and relationship quality among couples. Personal Relationships, 12, 197–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carrère, S., & Gottman, J. M. (1999). Predicting divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion. Family Process, 38, 293–301.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cartensen, L. L., Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1995). Emotional behavior in long-term marriage. Psychology and Aging, 10, 140–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carton, J. S., Kessler, E. A., & Pape, C. L. (1999). Nonverbal decoding skills and relationship well-being in adults. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 23, 91–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caughlin, J. P., & Vangelisti, A. L. (2000). An individual differences explanation of why married couples engage in the demand/withdraw pattern of conflict. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 523–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cherniss, C. (2010). Emotional intelligence: Towards clarification of a concept. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 3, 110–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Christensen, A., & Walczynski, P. T. (1997). Conflict and satisfaction in couples. In R. J. Stenberg & M. Hojjat (Eds.), Satisfaction in close relationships (pp. 249–274). New York, NY: Gilford Press.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, M. S., & Finkel, E. J. (2005). Willingness to express emotion: The impact of relationship type, communal orientation, and their interaction. Personal Relationships, 12, 169–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Custrini, R. J., & Feldman, R. S. (1989). Children’s social competence and nonverbal encoding and decoding of emotions. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 18, 336–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1978). Facial action coding system: Investigator’s guide. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  14. Fitness, J. (2001). Emotional intelligence and intimate relationships. In J. Ciarrochi, J. P. Forgas, & J. D. Mayer (Eds.), Emotional intelligence in everyday life (pp. 98–112). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  16. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and marital satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 221–233.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Gottman, J. M., & Porterfield, A. L. (1981). Communicative competence in the nonverbal behavior of married couples. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 43, 817–824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Graham, S. M., Huang, J. Y., Clark, M. S., & Helgeson, V. S. (2008). The positives of negative emotions: Willingness to express negative emotions promotes relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 394–406.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hall, J. A., Andrzejewski, S. A., & Yopchick, J. E. (2009). Psychosocial correlates of interpersonal sensitivity: A meta-analysis. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 33, 149–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hall, J. A., & Bernieri, F. J. (2001). Interpersonal sensitivity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  22. Hanzal, A., & Segrin, C. (2009). The role of conflict resolution styles in mediating the relationship between enduring vulnerabilities and marital quality. Journal of Family Communication, 9, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hendrick, S. S. (1988). A generic measure of relationship satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50, 93–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, M. D., Cohan, C. L., Davila, J., Lawrence, E., Rogge, R. D., Karney, R. D., et al. (2005). Problem-solving skills and affective expressions as predictors of change in marital satisfaction. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 15–27.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3–34.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (1999). Social functions of emotions at four levels of analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 505–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kurdek, L. A. (1994). Conflict resolution styles in gay, lesbian, heterosexual nonparent, and heterosexual parent couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 56, 705–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leppanen, J. M., & Hietanen, J. K. (2001). Emotion recognition and social adjustment in school-aged girls and boys. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 42, 429–435.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Marsh, A. A., Kozak, M. N., & Ambady, N. (2007). Accurate identification of fear facial expressions predicts prosocial behavior. Emotion, 7, 239–251.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. S. (2011). Evidence for training the ability to read microexpressions of emotion. Motivation and Emotion, 35, 181–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D., & Sitarenios, G. (2003). Measuring emotional intelligence with the MSCEIT V2.0. Emotion, 3, 97–105.Google Scholar
  32. Myers, D. G., & Diener, E. (1995). Who is happy? Psychological Science, 6, 10–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Newton, T. L., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Glaser, R., & Malarkey, W. B. (1995). Conflict and withdrawal during marital interaction: The roles of hostility and defensiveness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 512–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Noller, P., & Feeney, J. A. (1994). Relationship satisfaction, attachment, and nonverbal accuracy in early marriage. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 199–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Noller, P., & White, A. (1990). The validity of the Communication Patterns Questionnaire. Psychological Assessment: A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2, 478–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nowicki, S., & Duke, M. P. (1994). Individual differences in the nonverbal communication of affect: The Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy Scale. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 9–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 879–891.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Sternberg, R. J., & Hojjat, M. (Eds.). (1997). Satisfaction in close relationships. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  39. Surcinelli, P., Codispoti, M., Montebarocci, O., Rossi, N., & Baldaro, B. (2006). Facial emotion recognition in trait anxiety. Anxiety Disorders, 20, 110–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Van Kleef, G. A. (2009). How emotions regulate social life: The emotions as Social Information (EASI) Model. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 184–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations