WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Empathic Accuracy by William Ickes

This book is quite old (1997) but much of its content is still relevant today. It is an edited collection written by psychological researchers exploring empathic empathy from the USA (and one author from NZ). Much of the content has been synthesized into Icke’s later book Everyday Mind Reading, but this book is worth going back to if you want more detail from the original researchers.

The editor explains that understanding what others think and feel is an immensely present problem for us on a daily basis. We ask questions such as “What does she want?”, “What does he feel about that?”, “What do they think that will accomplish?” It’s something we take for granted, except when it doesn’t work! And it turns out we are much less effective at it than we tend to believe.

The book explores the psychology involved when we combine observation, memory, knowledge and reasoning to try to gain insights into the feelings of others.

There are two main ways to approach the concept of empathy. One is exploring accuracy (the degree to which, and the conditions in which, perceivers are accurate in the inference they make about others) and the other is exploring bias or error (the different types of biases or errors that perceivers display, the conditions in which these are most or least evident, and the degree of error they introduce into the perceiver’s inference making). This book focuses primarily on the first – how accurate we are, in what circumstances, and how we can improve our accuracy.

The chapters cover the evolutionary and social-development origins of empathic accuracy, its physiological aspects, its relation to gender and other individual difference variables, its dynamic role in the context of personal relationships, its relevance to applied domains such as clinical and counselling psychology, and its sensitivity to the processes of mental control.

Leave a Comment