Responses to comparisons in romantic relationships: Empathy, shared fate, and contrast

Authors

  • REBECCA T. PINKUS,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Western Sydney, Australia
      Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, Australia, 2757, e-mail: r.pinkus@uws.edu.au or Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 3G3, e-mail: lockwood@psych.utoronto.ca.
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    • Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Tara C. Marshall, Department of Psychology, Brunel University, London, UK; Hyea Min Yoon, Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

  • PENELOPE LOCKWOOD,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Toronto, Canada
      Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, Australia, 2757, e-mail: r.pinkus@uws.edu.au or Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 3G3, e-mail: lockwood@psych.utoronto.ca.
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Tara C. Marshall, Department of Psychology, Brunel University, London, UK; Hyea Min Yoon, Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

  • TARA C. MARSHALL,

    1. Brunel University, UK
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    • Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Tara C. Marshall, Department of Psychology, Brunel University, London, UK; Hyea Min Yoon, Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

  • HYEA MIN YOON

    1. University of Calgary, Canada
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    • Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Tara C. Marshall, Department of Psychology, Brunel University, London, UK; Hyea Min Yoon, Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


  • This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship to the first author, and a SSHRC Research Grant to the second author. We thank Christine Cabral, KaiTing Chang, Kim Chuong, HeeJoo Lim, and Laura Quick for their assistance with data collection. Portions of this article were presented at the annual conference of the Australian Psychological Society's Psychology of Relationships Interest Group in Brisbane, Australia, in November 2010.

Rebecca T. Pinkus, School of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, Australia, 2757, e-mail: r.pinkus@uws.edu.au or Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 3G3, e-mail: lockwood@psych.utoronto.ca.

Abstract

Individuals who empathize and share outcomes with their partner are likely to react more positively to upward comparisons (UCs) than downward comparisons (DCs). Three studies examined responses to comparisons in romantic relationships. Participants reported more positive affect following UCs than DCs; positive affect was also predicted by empathy and shared outcomes. Relationship-maintaining responses were predicted by empathy and shared outcomes: Participants who felt boosted by sharing their partner's success were less likely to report distancing themselves from the partner following UCs, and participants who felt concern for their partner's failure were especially likely to help the partner following DCs. Our findings suggest that individuals respond functionally to these comparisons by focusing on protecting the relationship rather than protecting the self.

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