Do people realize how their partners make them feel? Relationship enhancement motives and stress determine the link between implicitly assessed partner attitudes and relationship satisfaction

Lindsey Hicks, J.K. McNulty, Ruddy Faure, Andrea L. Meltzer, F. Righetti, Wilhelm Hofmann

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Do people realize the evaluative feelings that are spontaneously activated by their partner? If so, do they use those evaluations when judging their romantic relationships? To answer these questions, we investigated the association between automatic partner attitudes and judgments of relationship satisfaction in 7 studies. Study 1 was a meta-analysis of 86 correlations that revealed a very weak association between implicitly and explicitly assessed relationship evaluations, and Studies 2a–2c revealed that people failed to accurately report their automatic partner attitudes even when specifically asked to do so. Consistent with the idea that such inaccuracy emerged in part because motivational factors led people to override their automatic attitudes, Studies 3 and 4 demonstrated that automatic partner attitudes better aligned with relationship judgments when people were incentivized with money (Study 3) and had dissolved their relationship (Study 4). Nevertheless, consistent with the idea that overriding automatic attitudes requires the opportunity to deliberate, Studies 4 and 5 demonstrated that automatic partner attitudes better aligned with relationship judgments when people experienced more stress at the daily level (Study 4) and yearly for two years (Study 5). In Study 5, the interaction between stress and automatic attitudes emerged controlling indicators of negativity and was further moderated by relationship enhancing motivations among wives. These studies (a) help explain why automatic partner attitudes predict self-reported relationship satisfaction over time and (b) provide support for theories of social cognition suggesting that people have access to implicitly assessed attitudes that is obscured by motivations and opportunities to deliberate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-369
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume120
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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