Implicit and Explicit Relationship Attitudes

As romantic relationships progress from the early stages of infatuation into a more stable connection, people's relationship satisfaction has been demonstrated to decline (for reviews, see Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000; Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Stack & Eschleman, 1998). Recent research, however, has shown that these declines are attenuated for those who hold more positive implicit attitudes – automatic “gut feeling” associations – toward their romantic partners (Lee, Rogge, & Reis, 2010; McNulty, Olson, Meltzer, & Shaffer, 2013). By measuring the speed and ease with which individuals can pair their romantic partner with positive and negative words and pictures, this research opens doors to understanding the feelings individuals hold about their relationship which they may be unwilling or unable to report in the lab. Dating couples with more positive implicit partner attitudes had a significantly reduced risk of break-up at a one year follow-up (Lee, Rogge, & Reis, 2010). Similarly, newlywed couples with more positive implicit partner attitudes were more satisfied 3 years after marriage relative to partners who have more negative implicit partner attitudes (McNulty, et al., 2013). Implicit partner attitudes may offer an early indication of the future of romantic relationships which can be difficult to otherwise predict. Early detection of risk for declining relationship satisfaction is critical, as high-quality relationships are a highly correlated with both mental and physical health (Hold-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010). While the relationship between implicit partner attitudes and changes in relationship satisfaction is gaining traction in the literature, no mechanism has yet been outlined to account for this effect. Our lab's research aims to build on the recent surge of implicit relationship research by studying the potential mechanisms which can help explain why implicit partner attitudes might influence, or reflect, changes in relationship satisfaction over time.

Lab members who study this topic: Jason Anderson (this topic is the focus of his Ph.D. dissertation) & Shelly Gable.


Jason Anderson

My research is focused on how implicit attitudes and emotion regulation operate within relationships. More specifically, I am interested in how implicit relationship attitudes can shape our perception and emotional reaction to partner behaviors to ultimately influence the quality of the relationship. I am also interested in determining who individuals seek out in their social networks to regulation their emotions, and what factors drive specific relational partners to be more effective emotion-regulators than others.