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Empathic Accuracy in Romantic Couples: A Video Recall Study of Adolescents with Same and Other Sex Partners Nancy Darling, Sara Clarke, Louisa Thompson.

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Presentation on theme: "Empathic Accuracy in Romantic Couples: A Video Recall Study of Adolescents with Same and Other Sex Partners Nancy Darling, Sara Clarke, Louisa Thompson."— Presentation transcript:

1 Empathic Accuracy in Romantic Couples: A Video Recall Study of Adolescents with Same and Other Sex Partners Nancy Darling, Sara Clarke, Louisa Thompson & Alex J. Baker Abstract Introduction Methods Recruitment: Romantically involved late adolescent couples were recruited from two liberal arts colleges. To restrict age range, at least one member of each couple was required to be a traditionally aged college student (18-23) and the couple must have been together for at least four weeks. Recruitment posters were designed to reflect the complexities of how adolescents talk about their romantic relationships and to be inclusive of sexual minority youth. For example, one poster stated: Are you currently dating together or perhaps seeing each other or romantically involved? Whatever you call it, you can participate! Advertisements were distributed across campus and in campus newspapers. In addition, because we were interested in recruiting couples that included sexual minority youth, recruitment announcements were sent to organizations focusing on GLTB youth (e.g., Queer Alliance) and presentations were made to these groups. Because of the very few gay male couples recruited, additional efforts were made to recruit gay male couples through word of mouth, college organizations and social network contacts. Although many individual men appeared willing to participate, none were currently involved with a partner for the required four weeks and thus could not participate. Protocol: Couples were invited to come to the observational laboratory. After introductions, each couple engaged in a five minute video-recorded conversation in which they were asked to plan a vacation that they would take together. Participants were asked to consider destination, cost, duration, and joint activities and to take the task as realistically as possible. Participants then viewed the videorecorded interaction using a computer driven Video Recall procedure (Welsh, Galliher, Kawaguchi, & Rostosky, 1999). The video was played back to the participant in 30 second increments. At the end of each 30 second, participants were asked 7 questions about how they were feeling and 7 questions about how their partner was feeling during that interval. Thus each individual rated themselves and their partners on 7 attributes for fourteen interaction segments (196 ratings per person). In addition, participants completed a series of questionnaires about demographic background information, attachment style, empathy, and conflict in close relationships. Measures: The focus of these analyses is on adolescents ratings of themselves and their partners on five attributes: How connected do you feel to your partner? How connected does your partner feel to you? How conflictual were you being towards your partner? How conflictual was your partner being towards you? How frustrated are you with your partner? How frustrated is your partner with you? How sarcastic are you being towards your partner? How sarcastic is your partner being towards you? How uncomfortable are you? How uncomfortable is your partner? Youth rated themselves and their partners on a 5 point scale from 0 (low) to 4 (high) Results Does the affective quality of interactions with romantic partners differ when partners are of the same or of different sex? Does the accuracy of adolescents judgments of their partners emotions differ depending upon whether their partners are of the same or of a different sex than themselves? Fifty-five late adolescent/early adult couples were videorecorded engaging in a 5 minute neutral vacation planning task that requiring negotiation and discussion. The sample included 30 male:female couples, 4 male:male couples, 19 female:female, and 1 female:androgynous couples (defined by biological sex). Using a video recall procedure (Welsh & Dickson, 2005), individuals watched the recorded interaction and reported their own and their partners emotions for each 30 second interval of the recording. Results indicate that: There were no gender differences in self-reported emotions or in empathic accuracy. Gender differences did emerge when one looked at the gender makeup of the dyad. Males in male:male couples reported the lowest feelings of connection and the highest negative feelings. Females in male:female couples reported the most connection and the lowest negative feelings. Males in male:male couples were most accurate in assessing partners emotions, with the exception of conflict. When the small sample of male:male dyads was excluded: Males with female partners were relatively more accurate than women at perceiving partners feelings of connection and sarcasm. Females with female partners were relatively more accurate at perceiving partner conflict and frustration. The majority of research on adolescent romantic relationships has focused on couples in which one partner is male and the other female. This is particularly true in studying romantic relationships during adolescence and early adulthood. Much of what we know about the functioning of romantic relationships, the differences between interactions in romantic relationships and peer relationships and gender differences in the affective tone of interactions and in relationship functioning confounds the gender of the target and the gender of their partner. The current study addresses two questions: Does the affective quality of interactions with romantic partners differ when partners are of the same or of different sex? Does the accuracy of adolescents judgments of their partners emotions differ depending upon whether their partners are of the same or of a different sex than themselves? Empathic accuracy is the ability to accurately assess others emotions (Ickes, 1993) and has the potential to enhance the ability of romantic partners to build and maintain a close, intimate relationship. During adolescence and early adulthood, many romantic relationships tend to be relatively short-lived (Brown, Feiring, & Furman, 1999), particularly among youth who are college-bound or currently attending college. The relative availability of other potential partners may be one factor contributing to adolescents and young adults willingness to leave current partners when problems arise. On college campuses, which are heavily populated with unmarried same-aged peers, the cost of terminating a relationship that has unsatisfactory elements may be relatively low. Thus when conflict occurs, it may be easier for youth with still developing intimacy and conflict resolution skills to terminate a relationship rather than to work it through. Although this same normative trend in partner availability may hold for individuals who are interested in same- and other sex romantic partners, it is not true to the same extent (Diamond & Dube, 2002). Non-bisexual sexual minority youth have relatively fewer potential partners than their peers. Due to the relative scarcity of potential partners available to sexual minority youth, adolescents with same-sex partners experience a relatively higher cost to terminating a current relationship. We hypothesized that: Individuals with same-sex romantic partner would experience more negative emotions, but not fewer positive emotions, in their interactions. Individuals with same-sex romantic partners would be more accurate in their perception of partner emotions. The latter hypothesis was based both on the greater experience sexual minority youth would have in maintaining relationships and in more direct carryover of social skills from peer to romantic contexts. Do the emotional qualities of the interaction vary by sex of self, partner, and dyad type? Preliminary analyses were undertaken to examine whether the emotional qualities of interactions varied by dyad type. In these analyses, self-reported emotional state was predicted from biological sex of the reporter, biological sex of the partner, and the interaction of partner and reporter sex. The latter term tests for differences by dyad type. Biological gender was chosen as the predictor for two reasons: theory and parsimony. Because all of the individuals in the study were raised in accordance to their biological gender, it was thought that their learned social experiences would be more consistent with their biological sex than with their identified gender. Second, the variety of gender identifies provided and the small number of each made this variable untenable as a predictor. In these data, ratings of individual video segments were nested within individuals who were nested within dyads. Hierarchical linear models (HLM) were used to analyze differences. Results are reported in Table 3 & 4 and presented graphically in Figure 1. Males with male partners were most divergent from their peers, reporting less connection but more conflict, sarcasm, frustration, and discomfort. Females with male partners showed the opposite pattern, reporting the greatest closeness, but the lowest negative emotions. Participants in the study ranged from 17-29, with at least one member of each dyad being a traditionally-aged college student (18-23). Because of the sample population, classification of biological gender, identified gender, or sexual orientation were not straightforward. These problems were magnified when we moved to the classification of dyads. Individual characteristics: Biological gender: 38 males, 69 females, 1 physically androgynous individual Gender identity: 37 males, 65 females, 5 transgender (1 male>female, 4 female>male), 1 androgynous Sexual identity: 51 heterosexual, 7 gay, 14 lesbians, 19 bisexual, 17 other. The other category included answers such as queer or pansexual as well as those who explicitly preferred not to classify themselves. Dyadic characteristics: Characteristics of the dyads are described below. Pairing of biological sex within dyads is reported in Table 1. Pairings of gender identity by dyad: 29 male:female dyads where both members identify with their biological sex 18 female:female dyads where both members identify with their biological sex 4 male:male dyads where both members identify with their biological sex 1 female>male transgender: female queer couple 1 female>male transgender: androgynous couple 1 male>female transgender: female queer couple Sexual orientation by dyad: Pairings of sexual orientation by had are described in Table 2 (below). Interestingly, only 26 of the 54 couples were composed of individuals both of whom matched the default classifications: 2 heterosexuals, 2 gay males, or 2 lesbians (see Diamond & Savin-Williams, 2002). Sample Does empathic accuracy vary by sex of self, sex of partner and dyad type? In order to assess empathic accuracy, self-reported emotion of the target partner was predicted from partner reports of the target partners emotions. Biological sex of reporter and target and the interaction of reporter and target sex predicted between-person differences in targets emotion. Partner reports were used to predict target emotions. Reporter sex, target sex, and the interaction of reporter and target sex were used to predict differences in the association of partner and target reports of emotions. Hierarchical linear models were used to allow for the nested nature of the data (segment within individual within couple). Results of the HLM are reported in Table 5. Correlations between partner and target ratings of emotions by dyad type are reported in Table 6 and presented graphically in Figure 2. In each case, partner reports of emotions were associated with targets self-reported emotions. The association of partner and target reported emotions varied depending upon dyad type (p<.05). As can be seen in Table 6 and Figure 2, the accuracy of males in male:male relationships is markedly higher than in other groups for all emotions except for conflict. Brown, B. B., Feiring, C., & Furman, W. (1999). Missing the Love Boat: Why researchers have shied away from adolescent romance. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge studies in social and emotional development. (pp. 1-16). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press. Diamond, L. M., & Dube, E. M. (2002). Friendship and attachment among heterosexual and sexual-minority youths: Does the gender of your friend matter? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31(2), Diamond, L. M., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2000). Explaining diversity in the development of same-sex sexuality among young women. Journal of Social Issues, 56(2), Ickes, W. (1993). Empathic Accuracy. Journal of Personality, 61, Welsh, D. P., Galliher, R. V., Kawaguchi, M. C., & Rostosky, S. S. (1999). Discrepancies in adolescent romantic couples' and observers' perceptions of couple interaction and their relationship to mental health. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28, Conclusion Results partially confirmed the hypothesis. Interaction qualities vary by dyad type, with males interacting with male partners reporting the lowest level of connection and the highest level of negative emotions. Females interacting with male partners show the opposite pattern, reporting the most connection and the lowest negative emotion. Males with male partners were strikingly better at accurately reading all partner emotions save for conflict. Females with female partners were more accurate at reading partners feelings of conflict and frustration. Results concerning male:male couples should be viewed with caution both because late adolescent dating male dyads were relatively unusual and because they were poorly represented in this sample. References Figure 1 Figure 2 Thanks to both the many participants who shared their lives with us and to the students who worked to collect these data: Jessica Greenberg, Rebecca Noonan, David Perlman, Maura Selenek & Olivia Winter. This poster can be downloaded from


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