In the Eye of the Betrothed

Perceptual Downgrading of Attractive Alternative Romantic Partners

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

People in monogamous relationships can experience a conflict when they interact with an attractive individual. They may have a desire to romantically pursue the new person, while wanting to be faithful to their partner. How do people manage the threat that attractive alternatives present to their relationship goals? We suggest that one way people defend their relationships against attractive individuals is by perceiving the individual as less attractive. In two studies, using a novel visual matching paradigm, we found support for a perceptual downgrading effect. People in relationships perceived threatening attractive individuals as less attractive than did single participants. The effect was exacerbated among participants who were highly satisfied with their current relationships. The studies provide evidence for a perceptual bias that emerges to protect long-term goals. We discuss the findings within the context of a broader theory of motivated perception in the service of self-control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)879-892
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Volume42
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

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Conflict (Psychology)
Self-Control

Keywords

  • motivated perception
  • relationships
  • self-control
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

Cite this

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abstract = "People in monogamous relationships can experience a conflict when they interact with an attractive individual. They may have a desire to romantically pursue the new person, while wanting to be faithful to their partner. How do people manage the threat that attractive alternatives present to their relationship goals? We suggest that one way people defend their relationships against attractive individuals is by perceiving the individual as less attractive. In two studies, using a novel visual matching paradigm, we found support for a perceptual downgrading effect. People in relationships perceived threatening attractive individuals as less attractive than did single participants. The effect was exacerbated among participants who were highly satisfied with their current relationships. The studies provide evidence for a perceptual bias that emerges to protect long-term goals. We discuss the findings within the context of a broader theory of motivated perception in the service of self-control.",
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