Interpersonal Sensitivity: Theory and Measurement

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

As was mentioned, it is likely that respondents will acquiesce to self-report skill items that ask directly about skill or ability (“I am easily able to read others' emotions”; “I can usually tell what others are feeling”). In addition, interpersonal competence is, by its very nature, socially desirable. Therefore, it is imperative that self-report measures of interpersonal sensitivity be constructed carefully to minimize distortion due to social desirability. This might require finessing items through careful wording and encouraging respondents to admit shortcomings (“I have to admit it, I often completely misread the feelings of a close friend”; “Although I disagree, people close to me have sometimes called me “aloof”, and “insensitive” [both reverse-scored for interpersonal sensitivity]).

As a fourth guideline, if items require respondents to report on the frequency of social behaviors, then (a) these behaviors must be theoretically relevant to interpersonal sensitivity; (b) the respondents must be aware of these behaviors when they occur; and (c) the respondents must be able to accurately recall and properly quantify or scale their frequency of occurrence.

As a fifth guideline, if items require respondents to report on feedback that they have received from others, then (a) the opportunity to receive such feedback needs to be typical (i.e., feedback about an aspect of interpersonal sensitivity must typically occur; e.g., “People have told me that I am a good listener”), and (b) respondents must be able to accurately recall and properly quantify or scale this feedback.

The final guideline suggests that items that require respondents to report on the behavioral consequences or outcomes of interpersonal sensitivity, as opposed to its manifestations, should be theoretically derived. For example, the item “I am easily able to calm a person who is agitated or distressed” might be appropriate if this outcome (i.e., calming others down) is theoretically linked to being empathically sensitive to others' distressed states.

Interpersonal sensitivity is a broad and important construct—one that is relevant to all facets of social life. Clearly, there are many ways to assess interpersonal sensitivity. One method that has received surprisingly little attention is the use of self-reports. It is anticipated that as research on interpersonal sensitivity moves away from the laboratory and into applied settings, the demand for sound self-report measures of interpersonal sensitivity will increase. Careful attention to the construction and validation of self-report measures of interpersonal sensitivity will not only lead to better measurement of this interesting phenomenon, but encourage the breadth and scope of interpersonal sensitivity research.


REFERENCES

Archer, D., & Costanzo, M. (1988). The Interpersonal Perception Task (IPT), Berkeley, CA: University of California Extension Media Center.

Boyce, P. M., & Parker, G. (1989). Development of a scale to measure interpersonal sensitivity. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 23, 341–351.

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