Original Report| Volume 13, ISSUE 2, P167-175, February 2012

How Do I Empathize With You? Let Me Count the Ways: Relations Between Facets of Pain-Related Empathy

Published:January 09, 2012DOI:


      This study examined the extent to which components of empathy (ie, empathic accuracy, empathic tendencies, and empathic responses) were correlated within the context of chronic pain couples. Additionally, the interrelationships between these empathy variables and spouse responses to pain were investigated. Participants were 57 couples in which at least 1 spouse reported chronic musculoskeletal pain. Each couple participated in a videotaped interaction about the impact of pain in their lives together, after which they completed an empathic accuracy procedure. The interactions were coded for the spouse’s use of empathic responses. Couples also completed surveys about pain severity, pain interference, empathic tendencies, marital satisfaction, and perceived spousal responses (ie, solicitous and punishing responses) to pain. Spousal empathic responses and empathic accuracy were not related to one another nor were they related to spousal empathic tendencies, or solicitous spouse responses. Spousal punishing responses were negatively related to empathic responses. The association between solicitousness and empathic responses was moderated by spousal marital satisfaction. The findings suggest that there are not clear associations among these empathy variables. The results also indicate that the climate in which solicitousness is provided may influence the extent to which spouses display empathic responses.


      The findings have implications for models of pain empathy and suggest that future research is needed to understand relations between aspects of empathy. Moreover, interventions aimed at addressing the empathic climate in which support is delivered may help spouses more empathically and effectively communicate with and assist partners with pain management.

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