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Empathy and spirituality: Can these constructs predict personal relationship stability?

Golburn, D. (2022). Empathy and spirituality: Can these constructs predict personal relationship stability?. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The field of relationships science, though relatively young has a body of research dedicated to understanding a range of factors and relational processes from onset to dissolution, yet little research has investigated factors that maintain personal relationships. Furthermore, the concepts of empathy and spiritualty have had some attention however, they have not been examined together as predictors of personal relationship stability while testing both self-report and physiological entities. The main objectives of the current study were to: investigate the predictive capacities of empathy and spirituality on the stability of personal relationships; investigate whether spirituality could influence any effect of empathy on relationship stability and; to further explore the constructs of empathy particularly emotion contagion and empathic accuracy in order to investigate whether there was a difference in self-report and physiological responses of empathy between males and females. 317 participants (111 males and 206 females) empathic and spiritual responses were examined (Stage 1). Using standard multiple regression analysis and follow-up analyses of variance (ANOVAs) on scores from four standardised measures: Stability of Relationship Questionnaire (SRQ); Relationship Satisfaction Measure (RSM); the Basic Empathy Scale in Adults (BES-A) and; the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES), results showed that only empathy significantly predicted relationship stability. Additionally, while spirituality was positively correlated to empathy and relationship stability, it did not influence the effect of empathy on relationship stability. The regression model was further extended with demographic variables including age, type of relationship, length of time in relationship, belief in God, and religion. Thirty participants’ (15 couples) physiological responses (Galvanic Skin Resistance - GSR & Heartrate-HR) were also measured against a socio-affective video stimulus (Stage 2). Consistent with the hypothesis for stage 2, Paired t-tests resulted in statistically significant differences between females and males self-report of empathy and actual/physiological responses. Males reported higher levels of empathy yet responded less physiologically, while females reported less subjectively but demonstrated higher levels of physiological reactivity post-test. The discrepancies suggest that there may be higher cognitive processes at play. The study has successfully contributed to bridging the biopsychosocial spiritual gaps in empirical research. Limitations and implications for clinical practice and future research are discussed.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Golburn Thesis 2022 PDF-A.pdf]
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