Linguistic Markers of Empathic Accuracy in Everyday Life for Romantic Couples
Empathy, or understanding another’s thoughts and feelings, is a quintessential construct in society. How accurately one empathizes (i.e., empathic accuracy; EA) relates to well-being. EA is especially important in romantic relationships to maintain understanding and closeness. One construct crucial to both romantic relationships and EA is language because it fosters communication. However, specific word use categories have never been empirically related to EA. First-person plural pronoun use (we-talk) and language style matching (LSM) should reflect the cognitive and emotional components of EA and also covary with well-being. Therefore, this dissertation associated we-talk and LSM with EA, and all of these constructs to well-being. Seventy-seven committed romantic couples were assessed through retrospective and momentary self-report as well as the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) to record everyday word use. Chapter I explains the conceptual parallels between word use and EA. Chapter II focuses on we-talk, EA, and well-being at the individual level. Own we-talk negatively related to own EA, while partner’s we-talk positively related to EA. Further, negative EA (i.e., correctly empathizing with partner’s negative emotions) was the strongest predictor of well-being, though this was also found for positive EA. Chapter III focuses on LSM, EA, and well-being at the couple level. The most likely association was between cognitive LSM (matching cognition words such as pronouns) and negative EA. Negative emotion LSM (matching negative emotion words) positively related with well-being, along with both positive and negative EA. Again, negative EA most strongly related to well-being. Relations between word use and EA were partially supported directing research toward better understanding under what conditions demonstrate this association. Importantly, the current study was naturalistic, meaning participants engaged in any conversations they desired. However, the topic of conversation can change word use and its subsequent relation with EA. This was the first study to attempt relating word use and EA and doing so in a naturalistic setting. As such, more work is needed to further guide under what contexts and conditions it occurs and its relation to downstream well-being. Empathy permeates most any social context and further research on it can have widespread, and positive, consequences.