The Motivational Origins of Relationship Security
Relationship security refers to beliefs that relationship partners care for one's welfare, have positive regard for the self, and are committed to maintaining the relationship. These beliefs are important because they have a strong impact on satisfaction with relationships, relationship persistence, and personal well-being. Hence, it is important to understand how these beliefs are formed. Research in the Interpersonal Relationships Lab, directed by Dr. Edward Lemay, suggests that these beliefs are a result of motivated cognition. Motivated cognition, or "wishful thinking," is the tendency to see the world in ways that are consistent with one's desires.
Dr. Lemay's research suggests that people have biases to see others' care, regard, and commitment in ways that are congruent with their own desires to maintain social bonds. Those who strongly want a relationship with their romantic partner tend to see more care, positive regard, and commitment by their partner than is warranted by the partner's actual care, regard, and commitment as reported by the partner. This bias also occurs in friendships. Furthermore, behavioral observation studies suggest that those who strongly want a relationship with their romantic partner see their partner as more supportive during video-recorded interactions in the laboratory than is suggested by the judgments made by a panel of trained objective observers who viewed each of the interactions.
Research funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation suggests the operation of specific cognitive biases, such as biased memory and biased interpretation. People who strongly want to maintain a close bond with their romantic partner remember their partner's behavior as being more supportive than was really the case. They also interpret behaviors and situations in ways that enhance and protect security, seeing especially positive behavior and interactions as being diagnostic of the partner's sentiments, but denying the diagnosticity of behaviors and interactions that could threaten security. Recent work suggests the operation of this motivational bias in other contexts. For example, an experimental study involving interactions between strangers found that manipulated goals to bond with strangers biased perceptions of the stranger's behavior. In addition, this bias has been extended to romantic love and sexual desire. People with strong feelings of romantic love or sexual desire toward another person tend to perceive reciprocation of these feelings, even when reciprocation has not actually occurred. In turn, this illusion seems to give people courage to enact relationship initiation behaviors. This research suggests a pervasive and consequential tendency for people to read others' minds in ways that are congruent with their own interpersonal goals.