A common assumption made by scientists who study close relationships is that people who have chronic insecurities about interpersonal acceptance tend to undermine their close relationships by engaging in destructive behaviors (e.g., criticism, hostility), which eventually elicit rejection by their partners. A limitation of this view is that it ignores how partners of people with chronic insecurities can actively improve and maintain their relationships with insecure individuals. Dr. Edward Lemay (University of New Hampshire) proposes and tests a model regarding how partners may shape insecure individuals thoughts and feelings about interpersonal acceptance, as well as the effects of insecure individuals on their partners own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Five studies will test the model using a combination of methods, including laboratory manipulations, longitudinal designs, behavioral observation studies, and reaction time measures. The studies answer several important questions: (a) How does having an insecure relationship partner affect attention to and memory for the partner's behavior? (b) What motivations do people have when they interact with an insecure partner? (c) What behaviors do people enact during such interactions? (d) Are people's efforts to make their insecure partners feel valued usually successful? (e) Do people's special efforts to make insecure partners feel accepted and valued predict long-term quality and survival of relationships? The studies also examine whether these processes depend on other relationship factors, such as the degree to which the partner feels dependent on the insecure individual, and the partner's cognitive abilities, such as their ability to control impulses and their memory functioning. Answers to such questions will represent important insights into the relationship dynamics that occur when one partner tends to be insecure about interpersonal acceptance. This includes the active role of partners in contributing to such relationships and the consequences of interpersonal insecurity for a partners psychological functioning.

With regard to broader impacts, the project will provide valuable training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, new measures of the main study variables will be further developed during the course of this project, which will be available for other researchers who are interested in studying interpersonal relationships. Finally, improved knowledge of the relationship dynamics associated with chronic insecurity has implications for a variety of important social issues including divorce, mental health (e.g., the mental health consequences of chronic insecurity), and the degree to which being in a close relationship is good for people's physical well-being. Finally, this work could have important implications for how to help people have happier relationships in that it will help identify what kinds of "supportive" behaviors are likely to be helpful when one has a chronically insecure partner and what kinds of supportive behaviors may yield little or no relationship benefits.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Sally Dickerson
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University of Maryland College Park
College Park
United States
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