The Effects of Ethnicity on the Cross-Cultural Reliability of the Specific Affect Coding System



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The Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF; Gottman, McCoy, Coan, & Collier, 1996) is the most widely used observational coding system of interpersonal interactions. While emotions are universal, observers may introduce subtle racial bias into how they label emotions. This study intended to extend on previous findings that showed that White American coders viewed Black American couples’ interactions as less neutral and more affectively laden than did Black American coders. A second aim was to assess the effectiveness of a project designed global SPAFF coding protocol. Black and White American naïve coders (N = 100) coded videos of couples engaging in a conflict discussion using the Global SPAFF. There were significant race of coder by race of couple interactions on Neutral, Anger, Belligerence, Contempt, and Domineering. Specifically, White/Hispanic American coders coded the White Couple as being more angry, contemptuous, belligerent, and domineering than did the Black American Coders. Black coders did not see significant differences between Black American and White American couples’ interactions. This suggests that White/Hispanic coders are less able to identify these codes in Black couples and that Black coders are less discerning of in-group/out-group differences in these codes.



SPAFF, Specific Affect Coding System, Cross-cultural research, Reliability