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Expressing the good in bad times: Examining whether and why positive expressivity in negative contexts affects romantic partners’ responsive support provision

Walsh, Rebecca M. (2022) Expressing the good in bad times: Examining whether and why positive expressivity in negative contexts affects romantic partners’ responsive support provision. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Receiving high-quality, responsive support in times of distress is highly important, yet notoriously challenging. Although emotion and relationship scholars have long extolled the value of expressing positivity (e.g., gratitude, optimism), the potential value of positive expressivity within distress-related support-seeking contexts remains largely unexplored. In a recent theoretical review (Walsh & Forest, 2021), I proposed a conceptual process model that explains why support-seekers’ positive expressivity can often elicit—but may sometimes suppress—supportive responses from partners (providers) within negative event contexts. The purpose of the current work was to test direct and indirect pathways of the conceptual model linking seeker-expressed positivity to provider support. Using a combination of correlational in-lab behavioral observation studies of romantic couples and online experiments with manipulations of seeker-expressed positivity, I examined the effects of positive expressivity on partner responsiveness. Studies considered positivity as a broad, unitary construct and also explored three different types of positivity—partner-oriented positivity (e.g., gratitude), stressor-oriented positivity (e.g., optimism), and unspecified positivity (e.g., pleasant demeanor). Findings indicated that when disclosing about a recent upsetting event via video-message (Study 1) or about their greatest fear in a face-to-face discussion (Study 4), seekers’ positive expressivity (coder-rated) was a robust predictor of provider responsiveness (coder-rated), even when controlling for seeker-expressed negativity and several other plausible third variables. Experimental work (Study 2) provided causal evidence of a support-eliciting direct effect of seeker-expressed positivity on a coded behavioral measure of provider responsiveness. Regarding the value of particular types of positivity, partner-oriented positivity showed the strongest and most consistent support-eliciting potential in both correlational (Studies 1 and 4) and experimental work (Study 3). Stressor-oriented and unspecified positivity also appeared to be valuable in some contexts. Additionally, these studies yielded evidence supporting several of my conceptual model’s indirect pathways, shedding light on why positivity often enhances (but may sometimes suppress) responsive support. This work highlights the active role of support-seekers in obtaining support, provides empirical evidence linking positive expressivity to responsiveness in support-seeking contexts, and provides insight into the mechanisms through which positivity operates. These findings lay the groundwork for further research on positive expressivity’s effects in support-seeking contexts.


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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 MemberLevine,
Committee MemberSchumann,
Committee MemberHelgeson,
Date: 20 July 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 April 2022
Approval Date: 20 July 2022
Submission Date: 6 April 2022
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 213
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: expressed positivity; support-seeking; support elicitation; negative disclosure; close relationships; partner responsiveness
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2022 18:30
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2022 18:30


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