Accuracy and Bias in Vulnerability Perceptions of Partners Undergoing Emotion-Focused Therapy for Couples

Ido Wiesel, Ben Shahar, Rhonda N. Goldman, Eran Bar-Kalifa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The primary mechanism of change in emotion-focused couples therapy (EFT-C) is described as one partner accessing and expressing vulnerability, with the other partner responding affiliatively, with compassion, acceptance, validation, and support. These interactions are assumed to restructure the negative, rigid interactional cycle that usually brings couples to therapy and helps build a positive emotional bond. The primary aim of this study was to test whether for this process to occur, partners need to accurately perceive their spouse’s experiences of vulnerability during therapy. Specifically, it examined the factors (i.e., tracking accuracy, assumed-similarity bias, and directional bias) shaping partners’ perceptions of their spouse’s vulnerability and whether accurate perceptions predict positive session outcomes during EFT-C. Data from 36 couples who took part in the York Emotional Injury Project were analyzed. Following each session, clients reported their own experience of vulnerability as well as their perceptions of their partners’ vulnerability. Session outcome was defined as the extent to which clients reported resolution. Using a multilevel Truth and Bias model, the results indicated that partners accurately perceived changes in their spouses’ expressions of vulnerability (i.e., significant tracking accuracy). Interestingly, partners’ perceptions were also tied to their own expressions of vulnerability (i.e., significant assumed-similarity bias) and tended to underestimate the level of their partners’ vulnerability expressions (i.e., significant negative mean-level bias). Using a multilevel Response Surface Analysis, we found that accuracy regarding partners’ vulnerability was associated with higher levels of resolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-392
Number of pages16
JournalFamily Process
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Accuracy and Bias
  • Emotion-Focused Therapy for Couples
  • Emotional Injury
  • Resolution
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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