Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 1548–1557 | Cite as

When Couples Disagree: Predicting Informant Differences in Adults’ Emotion Regulation

  • Doris F. Pu
  • Christina M. RodriguezEmail author
  • Levi R. Baker
Original Paper



Investigations of emotion regulation, which includes both subjective affect and observable behaviors, could benefit from widespread adoption of multi-informant approaches. Currently, informants are infrequently used when studying adults, due to the complexity of interpreting differences among multiple reports.


To identify factors that predict disagreement between informants, this study evaluated self-reported and partner-reported emotion regulation abilities for each member of 81 adult couples. Ratings of each partner’s perceived stress, symptoms of psychopathology, couple satisfaction, and intimate partner victimization were collected as potential sources of discordance.


Intrapersonal characteristics appeared to contribute most to diverging reports: women and men experiencing higher stress (and marginally their psychopathology) reported worse emotion regulation abilities in comparison to their partners’ ratings of their abilities, underscoring the value of having multiple reports. Additionally, women’s reports about their partners corresponded with their partners’ self-reports but men’s reports about their partners did not. Men with higher couple satisfaction reported better emotion regulation abilities compared to their partner’s reports.


More work is needed to understand multi-informant differences in adult reports of psychological functioning.


Multiple informants Emotion regulation Disagreement Report bias Couples 



The authors wish to thank the families who participated in this study and Jame Sullivan who assisted with data collection.

Author Contributions

DP led the writing of the paper; CR designed and oversaw the study and writing; LBR analyzed the data.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Ethical approval for this study was granted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all study participants.


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (2006). As others see us: Clinical and research implications of cross-informant correlations for psychopathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 94–98.Google Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., Krukowski, R. A., Dumenci, L., & Ivanova, M. Y. (2005). Assessment of adult psychopathology: Meta-analyses and implications of cross-informant correlations. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 361–382.Google Scholar
  3. Ackerman, R. A., & Kenny, D. A. (2016). APIMPower: An interactive tool for Actor-Partner Interdependence Model power analysis [Computer software]. Available from
  4. Avolio, B. J., Yammarino, F. J., & Bass, B. M. (1991). Identifying common methods variance with data collected from a single source: An unresolved sticky issue. Journal of Management, 17, 571–587.Google Scholar
  5. Bardeen, J. R., Fergus, T. A., Hanna, S. M., & Orcutt, H. K. (2016). Addressing psychometric limitations of the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale through item modification. Journal of Personality Assessment, 98, 298–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brener, N. D., Billy, J. O., & Grady, W. R. (2003). Assessment of factors affecting the validity of self-reported health-risk behavior among adolescents: Evidence from the scientific literature. Journal of Adolescent Health, 33, 436–457.Google Scholar
  7. Busby, D. M., & Gardner, B. C. (2008). How do I analyze thee? Let me count the ways: Considering empathy in couple relationships using self and partner ratings. Family Process, 47, 229–242.Google Scholar
  8. Castro-Schilo, L., & Grimm, K. J. (2018). Using residualized change versus difference scores for longitudinal research. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35, 32–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Catanzaro, S. J., & Mearns, J. (1990). Measuring generalized expectancies for negative mood regulation: Initial scale development and implications. Journal of Personality Assessment, 54, 546–563.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Costa, Jr, P. T., McCrae, R. R., & Löckenhoff, C. E. (2018). Personality across the life span. Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 423–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cronbach, L. J., & Furby, L. (1970). How we should measure" change": Or should we? Psychological Bulletin, 74, 68–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. De Los Reyes, A., Augenstein, T. M., Wang, M., Thomas, S. A., Drabick, D. A., Burgers, D. E., & Rabinowitz, J. (2015). The validity of the multi-informant approach to assessing child and adolescent mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 141, 858–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Los Reyes, A., Goodman, K. L., Kliewer, W., & Reid-Quinones, K. (2008). Whose depression relates to discrepancies? Testing relations between informant characteristics and informant discrepancies from both informants’ perspectives. Psychological Assessment, 20, 139–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Los Reyes, A., & Kazdin, A. E. (2005). Informant discrepancies in the assessment of childhood psychopathology: A critical review, theoretical framework, and recommendations for further study. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 483–509.Google Scholar
  16. De Los Reyes, A., Thomas, S. A., Goodman, K. L., & Kundey, S. M. (2013). Principles underlying the use of multiple informants’ reports. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 123–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Derogatis, L. R. (1994). SCL-90-R: Administration scoring and procedures manual. Minneapolis: National Computer Systems.Google Scholar
  18. Dirks, M. A., De Los Reyes, A., Briggs‐Gowan, M., Cella, D., & Wakschlag, L. S. (2012). Annual research review: Embracing not erasing contextual variability in children’s behavior–Theory and utility in the selection and use of methods and informants in developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 558–574.Google Scholar
  19. Eldesouky, L., English, T., & Gross, J. J. (2017). Out of sight, out of mind? Accuracy and bias in emotion regulation trait judgments. Journal of Personality, 85, 543–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Extremera, N., & Rey, L. (2015). The moderator role of emotion regulation ability in the link between stress and well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1988). The relationship between coping and emotion: Implications for theory and research. Social Science & Medicine, 26, 309–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Funk, J. L., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). Testing the ruler with item response theory: Increasing precision measurement for relationship satisfaction with the Couple Satisfaction Index. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 572–583.Google Scholar
  23. Griffin, D., Murray, S., & Gonzalez, R. (1999). Difference score correlations in relationship research: A conceptual primer. Personal Relationships, 6, 505–518.Google Scholar
  24. Gross, J. J. (2015). Emotion regulation: Current status and future prospects. Psychological Inquiry, 26, 1–26.Google Scholar
  25. Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348–362.Google Scholar
  26. Gungor, S., Keskin, U., Gülsün, M., Erdem, M., Ceyhan, S. T., & Ergün, A. (2015). Concordance of sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction by self-report and those by partner’s perception in young adult couples. International Journal of Impotence Research, 27, 133–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hawkins, M. W., Carrère, S., & Gottman, J. M. (2002). Marital sentiment override: Does it influence couples’ perceptions? Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 193–201.Google Scholar
  28. Holmbeck, G. N., Li, S. T., Schurman, J. V., Friedman, D., & Coakley, R. M. (2002). Collecting and managing multisource and multimethod data in studies of pediatric populations. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 27, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hourigan, S. E., Goodman, K. L., & Southam-Gerow, M. A. (2011). Discrepancies in parents’ and children’s reports of child emotion regulation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, 198–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hoyt, W. T. (2000). Rater bias in psychological research: When is it a problem and what can we do about it? Psychological Methods, 5, 64–86.Google Scholar
  31. John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2004). Healthy and unhealthy emotion regulation: Personality processes, individual differences, and life span development. Journal of Personality, 72, 1301–1334.Google Scholar
  32. Kaurin, A., Egloff, B., Stringaris, A., & Wessa, M. (2016). Only complementary voices tell the truth: A reevaluation of validity in multi-informant approaches of child and adolescent clinical assessments. Journal of Neural Transmission, 123, 981–990.Google Scholar
  33. Kenny, D. A., & Acitelli, L. K. (2001). Accuracy and bias in the perception of the partner in a close relationship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 439–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A., & Cook, W. L. (2006). Dyadic Data Analysis. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  35. Kraemer, H. C., Measelle, J. R., Ablow, J. C., Essex, M. J., Boyce, W. T., & Kupfer, D. J. (2003). A new approach to integrating data from multiple informants in psychiatric assessment and research: Mixing and matching contexts and perspectives. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 1566–1577.Google Scholar
  36. Laird, R. D., & De Los Reyes, A. (2013). Testing informant discrepancies as predictors of adolescent psychopathology. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Laird, R. D., & Weems, C. F. (2011). The equivalence of regression models using difference scores and models using separate scores for each informant: implications for the study of informant discrepancies. Psychological Assessment, 23, 388–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Löckenhoff, C. E., Chan, W., McCrae, R. R., De Fruyt, F., Jussim, L., De Bolle, M., & Nakazato, K. (2014). Gender stereotypes of personality: Universal and accurate? Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 45, 675–694.Google Scholar
  39. Loeber, R., Green, S. M., & Lahey, B. B. (1990). Mental health professionals’ perception of the utility of children, mothers, and teachers as informants on childhood psychopathology. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 19, 136–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Machado, M. P. A., Opaleye, D. C., Pereira, T. V., Padilla, I., Noto, A. R., Prince, M., & Ferri, C. P. (2017). Alcohol and tobacco consumption concordance and its correlates in older couples in Latin America. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 17, 1849–1857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McCrae, R. R., & Costa, Jr, P. T. (2013). Introduction to the empirical and theoretical status of the five-factor model of personality traits. In T. A. Widiger & P. T. Costa, Jr. (Eds), Personality disorders and the five-factor model of personality (pp. 15–27). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  42. Measelle, J. R., John, O. P., Ablow, J. C., Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (2005). Can children provide coherent, stable, and valid self-reports on the big five dimensions? A longitudinal study from ages 5 to 7. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 90–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mezulis, A. H., Abramson, L. Y., Hyde, J. S., & Hankin, B. L. (2004). Is there a universal positive bias in attributions? A meta-analytic review of individual, developmental, and cultural differences in the self-serving attributional bias. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 711–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Moore, M. T., Dawkins, Jr, M. R., Fisher, J. W., & Fresco, D. M. (2016). Depressive realism and attributional style: Replication and extension. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 9, 1–12.Google Scholar
  45. Möricke, E., Buitelaar, J. K., & Rommelse, N. N. (2016). Do we need multiple informants when assessing autistic traits? The degree of report bias on offspring, self, and spouse ratings. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 164–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peleg, O. (2008). The relation between differentiation of self and marital satisfaction: What can be learned from married people over the course of life? The American Journal of Family Therapy, 36, 388–401.Google Scholar
  47. Renk, K. (2005). Cross-informant ratings of the behavior of children and adolescents: The “gold standard”. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 14, 457–468.Google Scholar
  48. Richters, J., & Pellegrini, D. (1989). Depressed mothers’ judgments about their children: An examination of the depression-distortion hypothesis. Child Development, 60, 1068–1075.Google Scholar
  49. Rodriguez, C. M., Tucker, M. C., & Palmer, K. (2016). Emotion regulation in relation to emerging adults’ mental health and delinquency: A multi-informant approach. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1916–1925.Google Scholar
  50. Stern, C., & West, T. V. (2018). Assessing accuracy in close relationships: A truth and bias approach. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35, 89–111.Google Scholar
  51. Straus, M. A., & Douglas, E. M. (2004). A short form of the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales, and typologies for severity and mutuality. Violence and Victims, 19, 507–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., Boney-McCoy, S., & Sugarman, D. B. (1996). The Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2): Development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 283–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Thompson, R. A. (1994). Emotion regulation: A theme in search of a definition. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, 25–52.Google Scholar
  54. Trudel-Fitzgerald, C., Qureshi, F., Appleton, A. A., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2017). A healthy mix of emotions: Underlying biological pathways linking emotions to physical health. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 15, 16–21.Google Scholar
  55. van der Ende, J., Verhulst, F. C., & Tiemeier, H. (2012). Agreement of informants on emotional and behavioral problems from childhood to adulthood. Psychological Assessment, 24, 293–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vazire, S. (2006). Informant reports: A cheap, fast, and easy method for personality assessment. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 472–481.Google Scholar
  57. Weiss, R. L. (1980). Strategic behavioral marital therapy: Toward a model for assessment and intervention. In J. P. Vincent (Ed.), Advances in family intervention, assessment, and theory (pp. 229–271). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  58. Wolinsky, F. D., Ayres, L., Jones, M. P., Lou, Y., Wehby, G. L., & Ullrich, F. A. (2016). A pilot study among older adults of the concordance between their self-reports to a health survey and spousal proxy reports on their behalf. BMC Health Services Research, 16, 485–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zimmermann, P., & Iwanski, A. (2014). Emotion regulation from early adolescence to emerging adulthood and middle adulthood: Age differences, gender differences, and emotion-specific developmental variations. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38, 182–194.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  2. 2.University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA

Personalised recommendations