Interpersonal Sensitivity: Theory and Measurement

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

12
Measuring Empathic Accuracy
William Ickes
University of Texas at Arlington

Q: Can you really measure people's ability to “read” other people's minds?

A: Yes.

Q: Is it a lot of work to do that?

A: Yes.

Q: Is it worth all the effort?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you answer a question without saying “Yes”?

A: Yes.

Is the person who answered “Yes” to this series of questions being flippant? Or merely factual? Or is the answerer just responding affirmatively to whatever question he is asked? Perhaps the questioner can decide among these possibilities by drawing on information acquired in previous interaction with the answerer, on the answerer's reputation as a smart-aleck, or on the answerer's ironic smile or tone of voice. It is difficult, however, for the rest of us to decide, having to rely only on the few short lines of conversation that are available. The point of this example is that knowing the answerer's words (or, in this case, word) isn't always sufficient for us to determine what our next response should be. To make that decision, we would want to know what the answerer meant or intended by saying “Yes” to every question. In other words, we would want to “read” the answerer's mind.

Empathic inference is the “everyday mind reading” that people do whenever they attempt to infer other people's thoughts and feelings. Empathic accuracy is the extent to which such mind reading attempts are successful (Ickes, 1993, 1997). According to Goleman (1995), the ability to accurately “read” other people's thoughts and feelings is an important skill that affects people's social

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