Skip to main content
Log in

Fast and Slow Empathic Perceptions in Couples’ Daily Lives Use Different Cues

  • Published:
Affective Science Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Empathic accuracy, the ability to infer another person’s emotions, thoughts, and other fleeting mental states, has been linked to assumed similarity (wherein the perceiver assumes that another person’s mental states are similar to their own) and direct accuracy (wherein the perceiver uses various external cues to reach their judgment). Previous research has linked this component model, as well as dual process models, to neuroscientific models of empathy, but has not linked these components with dual process accounts directly. Thus, we examined whether assumed similarity involves rapid (type-1) processing while direct accuracy involves slower (type-2) inferences. In three dyadic daily diary samples (total N = 262 romantic couples), we examined associations between both components and response times. As expected, direct accuracy, but not assumed similarity, was associated with slower response times. Our findings suggest links between previously disparate lines of research and identify situations which may tip the balance between the empathic components.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Detailing the differences between terminologies is beyond the scope of this article; for clarity, we use terms from Shamay-Tsoory’s (2011) review. We are grateful for Simone Shamay-Tsoory’s comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

  2. We are not aware of any research on the best number of entries to count as valid; We have used 6 as a cutoff in our earlier studies (e.g., Sened, Yovel, Bar-Kalifa, Gadassi, & Rafaeli, 2017), and it was pre-registered in sample 3.

  3. These analyses were performed on couple means for all samples to avoid dependence issues; performing them on each participant separately did not meaningfully change the results.

  4. There are two changes between the code used to produce the final results presented here and the pre-registered analytic code. The first is the data cleaning procedure reported below. The second is a small change to the encoding of the study 3 gender variable, done to correctly account for same-gender couples. The results with and without this second edit were similar; no non-significant effects became significant or vice versa.

  5. Following a question raised about an earlier draft of the manuscript, we ran all analyses on accuracy regarding positive emotions. As expected, results for positive emotions were generally similar to results for negative emotions, but weaker. Some effects failed to reach significance for some samples. Full results for positive emotions can be found at

  6. We also conducted our analysis without this adjustment, reaching similar results to those reported below.

  7. We wish to thank an anonymous reviewer of a previous version of the manuscript for pointing out this limitation.


  • Aguinis, H., Beaty, J. C., Boik, R. J., & Pierce, C. A. (2005). Effect size and power in assessing moderating effects of categorical variables using multiple regression: A 30-year review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(1), 94–107.

  • Bakdash, J. Z., & Marusich, L. R. (2017). Repeated measures correlation. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 456.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barrett, L. F., Tugade, M. M., & Engle, R. W. (2004). Individual differences in working memory capacity and dual-process theories of the mind. Psychological Bulletin, 1303(4), 553.

  • Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bethlehem, R. A., van Honk, J., Auyeung, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2013). Oxytocin, brain physiology, and functional connectivity: A review of intranasal oxytocin fMRI studies. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(7), 962–974.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bohl, V., & van den Bos, W. (2012). Toward an integrative account of social cognition: Marrying theory of mind and interactionism to study the interplay of type 1 and type 2 processes. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6.

  • Bolger, N., & Laurenceau, J.-P. (2013). Intensive longitudinal methods: An introduction to diary and experience sampling research. Guilford Press, New York.

  • Chaiken, S., & Trope, Y. (1999). Dual-process theories in social psychology. Guilford Press.

  • Cranford, J. A., Shrout, P. E., Iida, M., Rafaeli, E., Yip, T., & Bolger, N. (2006). A procedure for evaluating sensitivity to within-person change: Can mood measures in diary studies detect change reliably? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(7), 917–929.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dziobek, I., Preißler, S., Grozdanovic, Z., Heuser, I., Heekeren, H. R., & Roepke, S. (2011). Neuronal correlates of altered empathy and social cognition in borderline personality disorder. Neuroimage, 57(2), 539–548.

  • Evans, J. S. B. T., & Stanovich, K. E. (2013). Dual-process theories of higher cognition: Advancing the debate. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(3), 223–241.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Golland, Y., Arzouan, Y., & Levit-Binnun, N. (2015). The mere co-presence: Synchronization of autonomic signals and emotional responses across co-present individuals not engaged in direct interaction. PLoS One, 10(5), e0125804.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Green, P., & MacLeod, C. J. (2016). simr: An R package for power analysis of generalised linear mixed models by simulation. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 7(4), 493–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gyurak, A., Gross, J. J., & Etkin, A. (2011). Explicit and implicit emotion regulation: A dual-process framework. Cognition and Emotion, 25(3), 400–412.

  • Hall, J. A., & Schmid Mast, M. (2007). Sources of accuracy in the empathic accuracy paradigm. Emotion, 7(2), 438–446.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1993). Emotional contagion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2(3), 96–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hodges, S. D., Lewis, K. L., & Ickes, W. (2015). The matter of other minds: Empathic accuracy and the factors that influence it. In APA handbook of personality and social psychology, Volume 3: Interpersonal relations (pp. 319–348). American Psychological Association.

  • 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(3), 439–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kouros, C. D., & Papp, L. M. (2019). Couples’ perceptions of each other’s daily affect: Empathic accuracy, assumed similarity, and indirect accuracy. Family Process, 58(1), 179–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lorr, M., & McNair, D. M. (1971). The profile of mood states manual. San Diego: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ma-Kellams, C., & Lerner, J. (2016). Trust your gut or think carefully? Examining whether an intuitive, versus a systematic, mode of thought produces greater empathic accuracy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(5), 674.

  • Nezlek, J. B. (2017). A practical guide to understanding reliability in studies of within-person variability. Journal of Research in Personality, 69, 149–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Powers, S. R., Rauh, C., Henning, R. A., Buck, R. W., & West, T. V. (2011). The effect of video feedback delay on frustration and emotion communication accuracy. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1651–1657.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmid Mast, M., & Hall, J. A. (2018). The impact of interpersonal accuracy on behavioral outcomes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(5), 309–314.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Selya, A. S., Rose, J. S., Dierker, L. C., Hedeker, D., & Mermelstein, R. J. (2012). A practical guide to calculating Cohen’s f2, a measure of local effect size, from PROC MIXED. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sened, H., Lavidor, M., Lazarus, G., Bar-Kalifa, E., Rafaeli, E., & Ickes, W. (2017a). Empathic accuracy and relationship satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(6), 742–752.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sened, H., Yovel, I., Bar-Kalifa, E., Gadassi, R., & Rafaeli, E. (2017b). Now you have my attention: Empathic accuracy pathways in couples and the role of conflict. Emotion, 17(1), 155–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sened, H., Bar-Kalifa, E., Pshedetzky-Shochat, R., Gleason, M., & Rafaeli, E. (2019). Mom-and-pop narcissism: The impact of attention seeking and grandiosity on couples’ experience of the transition to parenthood. Journal of Personality Disorders, 67–86.

  • Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2011). The neural bases for empathy. The Neuroscientist, 17(1), 18–24

  • Shenhav, A., Rand, D. G., & Greene, J. D. (2012). Divine intuition: Cognitive style influences belief in God. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(3), 423.

  • Shrout, P. E. (1998). Measurement reliability and agreement in psychiatry. Statistical Methods in Medical Research, 7(3), 301–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simpson, J. A., Ickes, W., & Blackstone, T. (1995). When the head protects the heart: Empathic accuracy in dating relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 629–641.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singer, T. (2006). The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading: Review of literature and implications for future research. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 30(6), 855–863.

  • Spunt, R. P., & Lieberman, M. D. (2013). The busy social brain: Evidence for automaticity and control in the neural systems supporting social cognition and action understanding. Psychological Science, 24(1), 80–86.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185(4157), 1124–1131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • West, T. V., & Kenny, D. A. (2011). The truth and bias model of judgment. Psychological Review, 118(2), 357–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wicherts, J. M., Veldkamp, C. L., Augusteijn, H. E., Bakker, M., Van Aert, R., & Van Assen, M. A. (2016). Degrees of freedom in planning, running, analyzing, and reporting psychological studies: A checklist to avoid p-hacking. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1832.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilhelm, P., & Perrez, M. (2004). How is my partner feeling in different daily-life settings? Accuracy of spouses’ judgements about their partner’s feelings at work and at home. Social Indicators Research, 67(1–2), 183–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wyer Jr, R. S., & Srull, T. K. (Eds.). (2014). Advances in social cognition, volume I: A dual process model of impression formation. Psychology Press.

  • Zaki, J., & Ochsner, K. (2011). Reintegrating the study of accuracy into social cognition research. Psychological Inquiry, 22(3), 159–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Haran Sened.

Ethics declarations

Funding Information

This work was supported by a grant from the US-Israel Binational Science Fund (BSF) awarded to the fourth and fifth authors and by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation awarded to the fifth author. The first author is grateful to the Azrieli Foundation for the award of an Azrieli Fellowship supporting his work.

Data Availability

De-identified data used in the study and analysis code are openly available at Hypotheses, analyses and code for Sample 3 were pre-registered before data collection began at

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All study procedures were approved by the appropriate institutional IRBs.

Informed Consent

Participants gave their informed consent to enlist in the study.

Additional information

Handling editor: Ruth Feldman

Open Practices Statement

De-identified data used in the study and analysis code are openly available at See the Method sections for links to full procedure for each study, including information gathered but not used in the current study. Hypotheses, analyses, and code for sample 3 were preregistered before data collection began at

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sened, H., Bar-Kalifa, E., Pshedetzky-Shochat, R. et al. Fast and Slow Empathic Perceptions in Couples’ Daily Lives Use Different Cues. Affec Sci 1, 87–96 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: