Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 403–418 | Cite as

The manageability of empathic (in)accuracy during couples’ conflict: Relationship-protection or self-protection?

  • C. Hinnekens
  • T. Loeys
  • M. De Schryver
  • L. L. Verhofstadt
Original Paper


The current study sought to expand upon research on motivated empathic (in)accuracy by testing assumptions underlying the empathic accuracy model, namely if a perceiver’s level of empathic accuracy is variable and might be associated with different outcomes depending the situation. More specifically, the model assumes that (a) the perception of threat in the thoughts/feelings of an interaction partner can result in a lower level of empathic accuracy, and (b) empathic accuracy can both improve and harm situational well-being on the personal and relationship level. These assumptions were tested in a laboratory-based study in which couples participated in a conflict interaction task and reported on their thought processes during a video-review task. All participants also completed a similar standard-stimulus task. A shift in participants’ motivation to be accurate to a motivation to be inaccurate in response to perceived threat could not be detected. Men’s higher levels of empathic accuracy for non-threatening feelings of their female partner were predictive of an increased feeling of closeness in men. Women’s higher levels of empathic accuracy for non-threatening feelings of the male partner were predictive for a better mood in women. A harmful effect of empathic accuracy for threatening thoughts/feelings on situational well-being was not found.


Empathic accuracy Understanding Couple conflict Motivation Perceived threat 



This study was funded by Research Foundation - Flanders, Grant Number: 11Q9516N (first author).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that he/she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent (written) was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental Clinical and Health PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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