Jealous Partners Become More Like Their Rival To Gain Attention
July 11, 2013

Jealous Partners Become More Like Their Rival To Gain Attention

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Seeing your partner flirt with someone might cause you to feel hurt, angry and jealous. You might not expect, however, that you would start thinking of yourself like your rival. A new study led by Villanova University suggests just that: jealousy can prompt people to change how they view themselves relative to competitors for their partner's attention.

Prior studies showed people will often change their self-view to be more similar to someone to whom they want to get closer, such as a romantic partner. "However, a rival isn't someone that individuals should like, let alone want to affiliate with," said Erica Slotter of Villanova University. "This work was really novel in that we were looking at whether individuals would be willing to shift their self-view to be more similar to a romantic rival."

Slotter and her colleagues published three related papers online in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The team tested what happens to people when in a jealous state, predicting that people would only change their self-view if they thought their partner was interested in someone else. "This meant that individuals should not change their self-view if someone flirts with their partner, but the partner doesn't respond with interest," Slotter said.

One of the three studies conducted a survey of 144 romantically involved men and women, who answered an online questionnaire about personal attributes, such as artistic, musical or athletic ability. The participants were asked to imagine either that their partner expressed romantic interest in someone else or not. Some of the scenarios had the other person expressing romantic interest in the participant's partner, but the partner did not return the interest.

In one scenario, the study participants would imagine walking through a shopping mall with their partner. An attractive individual of the opposite sex their partner would be attracted to would walk by, and the partner would say, "Did you see that guy/girl? That shirt looked really hot on him/her." Another scenario involved the partner noticing the attractive other, but not expressing any interest, saying "Don't you have that shirt? It looks much better on you than on him/her."

The participants were asked how jealous they felt in each scenario. Then they were showed a personality profile for the potential rival they had imagined in the scenario. "Importantly," Slotter noted, "one attribute from the beginning of the study that participants had said was not true of them was in this personality profile." The participants would then re-rate their own personal attributes.

The participants rated themselves as having personal attributes more like the perceived rival after the scenario than how they rated themselves before. "Individuals who thought their romantic partner was interested in someone who was athletic or musically inclined reported themselves as more athletic or musically inclined at the end of the study than they had at the beginning," Slotter explained.

To ensure participants were reporting on themselves "accurately" and without trying to change their results intentionally, the research team measured reaction times in their assessments as well.

"Because of the reaction time measure, we feel confident concluding that individuals in our study really were thinking of themselves differently -- not just presenting themselves in a particular way to the experimenter," Slotter said.

Slotter said the next step for this research is to look at whether jealousy not only changes a person's self-view but their corresponding behavior as well. How jealousy-based self-change may impact people's health and wellness is also of high interest to the team.

"If we change ourselves to keep a partner with a wandering eye, could this impact us negatively? We don't know," she said.

"We are also interested in looking into whether this self-change technique might actually help people to hold onto their partners," Slotter remarked. "The whole rationale behind this project is the idea that, if your partner is interested in someone else, he/she probably thinks that this other person has attractive traits. Thus, it might behoove us to take on these traits that our partner is attracted to. However, we have no idea yet whether or not changing yourself in this way would actually help keep a partner."