Interpersonal Sensitivity: Theory and Measurement

By Judith A. Hall; Frank J. Bernieri | Go to book overview

Preface

People spend most of their waking hours perceiving and making judgments about others. The natural ecology within which people must survive is primarily social in nature. They necessarily must notice and make judgments about others' emotions, physical states, attitudes, personality, truthfulness, intentions (and much else, too), using many sources of information—verbal, nonverbal, and contextual. Our relative success as a species implies that these judgments must be sufficiently accurate, on average, over the long haul. In short, people possess some capacity to know each other. We call this ability interpersonal sensitivity.

But we also know that interpersonal judgments are not always accurate. There are many possible reasons for such inaccuracy. Messages and cues could be misunderstood because they are intrinsically hard to convey, or “encode, ” whereas others could be misjudged because they were conveyed in a flawed or confusing manner. These two examples illustrate the operation of “message” and “encoder” (i.e., expressor) factors in interpersonal judgment, respectively. But a message could also be misjudged because the person doing the judging (the “decoder”) is not using the information in an optimal manner. Looking at the accuracy of inter-personal judgment from the perspective of the decoder is the main focus of this book. In other words, we discuss interpersonal sensitivity and its variability across individual decoders and across dyadic contexts.

The use of the terms “accuracy, ” “sensitivity, ” and “individual differences” naturally implies that the construct in question can be measured. We believe it can, as do the many investigators who have developed measurement techniques for doing so. The chapters of this book reveal the wide range of methods that have been developed as well as a wealth of validational findings for these methods.

You might ask, If interpersonal sensitivity is a single construct, why is there such a wide range of measurement approaches? Embedded within this question lies the fundamental motivation behind the present volume. The different methods that exist are certainly measuring something, but what are they measuring? A close look at different methods indeed reveals that different methods often imply different operational definitions of the interpersonal sensitivity construct. And if operational definitions differ, could not the underlying theoretical constructs also differ? And could there exist other definitions of interpersonal sensitivity that have not yet been captured in a measurement paradigm? Therefore, a main purpose of the present volume is to collect and systematize different theoretical definitions of interpersonal sensitivity, especially as these definitions are differently embodied in the tests and measurements available for empirical use.

Thus, our focus is on both theory and method. It is our hope that this volume will provide an integrated treatment of the interpersonal sensitivity construct, as

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