July 10, 2013 - If you see your partner
flirt with someone else, you may feel hurt, angry, and jealous. The
last thing you might expect is to start thinking of yourself more
like your rival. New research suggests just that: that jealousy can
prompt people to change how they view themselves relative to
competitors for their partners' attention.
Previous research has shown that
individuals often will change their self-views 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,” 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-views to be
more similar to a romantic rival.”
Across three studies published online
today in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Slotter
and colleagues tested what happens to people when in a jealous state.
They predicted that individuals would only change their self-views if
they thought their partner was interested in someone else. "This
meant that individuals should not change their self-views if someone
flirts with their partner, but the partner doesn't respond with
interest,” Slotter says.
In one of the studies, 144 romantically
involved men and women completed an online survey about personal
attributes, such as artistic, musical, or athletic ability .
The researchers then asked the participants to imagine either that
their partner expressed romantic interest in someone else or not. In
some of the scenarios, the other person expressed romantic interest
in their partner, but the partner did not respond.
In one of the scenarios, for example,
the participants would imagine walking through a shopping mall with
their romantic partner when an attractive individual – of the sex
their partner would be attracted to – walked by. The partner would
then say "Did you see that guy/girl? That shirt looked really hot
on him/her.” In another condition, the partner would notice the
attractive other but not express any interest, saying "Don’t you
have that shirt? It looks much better on you than on him/her.”
The researchers then asked the
participants how jealous they felt and then showed them a personality
profile for the potential rival they had imagined in the scenario.
"Importantly,” Slotter says, "one attribute from the beginning
of the study that participants had said was not true of them was in
this personality profile.” Finally, the participants would re-rate
their personal attributes.
The researchers found that participants
rated themselves to have personal attributes more like the perceived
romantic rival than how they rated themselves before the scenario.
"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 explains.
To help ensure that people were
reporting on themselves "accurately” – without trying to
intentionally change their results, the researchers measured reaction
times in people's 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,”
A next step, Slotter says, is looking
at whether jealousy not only changes people's views of themselves but
also their corresponding behavior. Her team is also interested in
exploring how jealousy-based self-change may impact people's health
and wellness. " If we change ourselves to keep a partner with a
wandering eye, could this impact us negatively? We don't know,” she
"We are also interested in looking
into whether this self-change technique might actually help people to
hold onto their partners,” Slotter says. "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
"Changing Me to Keep You: State Jealousy Promotes Perceiving
Similarity Between the Self and a Romantic Rival,” Erica
B. Slotter, Gale M. Lucas, Brittany Jakubiak, and Heather Lasslett,
was published online on July 10, 2013*, and is forthcoming in print in
October 2013 in Personality and
Social Psychology Bulletin, a
journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology
*Please note that due to a publishing error, the date listed online for publication of this paper is June 27, 2013, but the full paper was not actually posted online until July 10, 2013.
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