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Behavioral responses to romantic rival threat

Walsh, Rebecca M. (2017) Behavioral responses to romantic rival threat. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The ways in which people (targets) behave in response to romantic rivals—people who may capture their romantic partner’s interest—may have implications for important relational processes. The present study examined the effects of romantic rival threat on targets’ responsiveness toward their partners. In accordance with risk regulation theory, I predicted that targets’ levels of trait self-esteem would modulate their responsiveness when faced with rival threat: I hypothesized that when under high (vs. low) rival threat, low self-esteem targets (LSEs) —who readily detect signs of relationship threat and subsequently self-protectively distance themselves from their partners (Murray, Holmes, & Collins, 2006)—would decrease their responsiveness, whereas high self-esteem targets (HSEs)—who typically maintain or even increase their connection with their partners when under threat (Murray et al., 2006)—would behave just as (if not more) responsively. I further predicted that an increase in state jealousy would explain why LSEs would reduce their responsiveness under high (vs. low) threat. One-hundred and thirty-seven couples participated in a lab study, in which I measured targets' trait self-esteem, experimentally manipulated rival threat, and examined the effects of rival threat condition on targets' feelings of state jealousy and on targets' responsiveness (coder-rated and self-reported) to a negative disclosure from their partner. As expected, LSE targets were more likely to report feeling jealous in the high (vs. low) threat condition; HSE targets’ likelihood of jealousy was unaffected by condition. However, target self-esteem did not interact with condition to predict responsiveness. Unexpectedly, targets who received a disclosure in which their partners expressed more positivity (while discussing a negative event) tended to behave more responsively than targets who received a disclosure in which their partners expressed less positivity, but this association only emerged in the high threat condition. Possible reasons for the observed pattern of results are discussed.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Walsh, Rebecca M.rew68@pitt.edurew68
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairForest,
Committee MemberBinning,
Committee MemberLevine,
Date: 30 November 2017
Date Type: Submission
Defense Date: 16 June 2017
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 23 January 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 68
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: No
Uncontrolled Keywords: romantic jealousy; partner responsiveness
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 18:52
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2022 20:10


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