Bringing Everyday Mind Reading Into Everyday Life: Assessing Empathic Accuracy With Daily Diary Data


  • The authors contributed equally to this work.
    We would like to thank Peter Wilhelm, Joe Rausch, Jeff Simpson, Traci Mann, Minda Oriña, Masumi Iida, Marci Gleason, Niall Bolger, Patrick Shrout, and the members of the Barnard College Affect and Relationships Lab for their helpful comments on drafts of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Maryhope Howland, Psychology Department, University of Minnesota, N218 Elliott Hall, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0344. Email: Eshkol Rafaeli, 415-J Milbank Hall, Psychology Department, Barnard College, Columbia University, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Email:


ABSTRACT Individual differences in empathic accuracy (EA) can be assessed using daily diary methods as a complement to more commonly used lab-based behavioral observations. Using electronic dyadic diaries, we distinguished among elements of EA (i.e., accuracy in levels, scatter, and pattern, regarding both positive and negative moods) and examined them as phenomena at both the day and the person level. In a 3-week diary study of cohabiting partners, we found support for differentiating these elements. The proposed indices reflect differing aspects of accuracy, with considerable similarity among same-valenced accuracy indices. Overall there was greater accuracy regarding negative target moods than positive target moods. These methods and findings take the phenomenon of “everyday mindreading” (Ickes, 2003) into everyday life. We conclude by discussing empathic accuracies as a family of capacities for, or tendencies toward, accurate interpersonal sensitivity. Members of this family may have distinct associations with the perceiver's, target's, and relationship's well-being.