Willingness to express emotion: The impact of relationship type, communal orientation, and their interaction


  • Margaret S. Clark, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University; Eli J. Finkel, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University.

    This research was supported by a pilot grant from the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center, funded itself by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) (grants HL65111 and HL 65112), by National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant BCS-9983417, and by National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) Training Grant T32 MH 19953. The ideas and conclusions expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NHLBI, the NIMH, or the NSF.

  • We thank Steve Graham for comments on a previous draft of this article, and Kristin Boyd, Asia Eaton, Tara Hannan, and Khurram Naik for assistance with data collection and data entry.

should be addressed to Margaret S. Clark, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Psychology, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 or Eli J. Finkel, Northwestern University, Department of Psychology, Evanston, IL 60208.


This research examines the effects of relationship type (close vs. business), a personality variable (dispositional communal orientation), and the interaction of these two variables on individuals’ willingness to express emotions to relationship partners. Results supported our predictions that (a) people are willing to express more emotion in relationships likely to be high in communal strength than in relationships likely to be low in communal strength, (b) individuals high in communal orientation are willing to express more emotion than those who are low in communal orientation, and (c) relationship type and communal orientation interact to influence willingness to express two emotions that reveal weakness and vulnerability (fear and anxiety). Specifically, communal orientation had little effect on willingness to express fear and anxiety in business relationships, whereas high relative to low communal orientation was associated with willingness to express more fear and anxiety within close relationships.