Article

Bias in perception of relationship behavior: Sex differences and rejection sensitivity

Article

Bias in perception of relationship behavior: Sex differences and rejection sensitivity

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Abstract

Idealization – a positive bias in perception of the romantic partner is common and usually helps sustain the relationship, but in case of closeness perception the negative bias might be a more secure option. The present study examined whether spouses are more inclined to be negatively biased about the characteristics of their relationship and whether sex and rejection sensitivity (tendency to overperceive and overreact to even slight or ambiguous rejection) might foster this negative bias even more. Based on a model for understanding the process of relationship functioning, involving two independent dimensions, closeness, related to high self-other differentiation, and intrusiveness, related to blurring of self-other boundaries, we conducted a study among 50 married couples. The results indicated that participants underestimated their partner's closeness and intrusiveness. Women were more negatively biased than men when judging closeness of the partner. Furthermore, rejection sensitivity was associated with more negative bias in Closeness. These results were discussed with respect to error management theory, and models of ostracism and rejection.

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In this chapter we present some of the work that we have conducted to explore the impact of rejection sensitivity on people's reactions to the real or imagined threat of rejection, as well as to actual experiences of rejection. We will show evidence in support of the idea that the rejection sensitivity (RS) processing dynamic can serve as a defense motivational system (DMS) that impacts and sometimes dictates what the individual thinks is the appropriate response to the possibility of rejection and to an actual rejection experience. Much of the work on social exclusion shows the existence of systems that allow individuals to monitor and process information about acceptance and belongingness (Pickett & Gardner, this volume; Williams & Zadro, this volume). These systems also impact the way that people respond to their social environment. We believe that rejection sensitivity is one of these systems, one that has developed from a history of repeated rejection. Rejection sensitivity generally leads to maladaptive responses to rejection, responses that ultimately bring about exclusion and rejection. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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The foundations of practice and the most recent discoveries in theintriguing newfield of evolutionary psychology. Why is the mind designed the way it is? How does input from the environment interact with the mind to produce behavior? By taking aim at such questions, the science of evolutionary psychology has emerged as a vibrant new discipline producing groundbreaking insights. In The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, leading contributors discuss the foundations of the field as well as recent discoveries currently shaping this burgeoning area of psychology. Guided by an editorial board made up of such luminaries as Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Don Symons, Steve Pinker, Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, and Helena Cronin, the text's chapters delve into a comprehensive range of topics, covering the full range of the discipline: Foundations of evolutionary psychology; Survival; Mating; Parenting and kinship; Group living; Interfaces with traditional disciplines of evolutionary psychology; And interfaces across disciplines.
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Rejection sensitivity is the disposition to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and intensely react to rejection. In response to perceived social exclusion, highly rejection sensitive people react with increased hostile feelings toward others and are more likely to show reactive aggression than less rejection sensitive people in the same situation. This paper summarizes work on rejection sensitivity that has provided evidence for the link between anxious expectations of rejection and hostility after rejection. We review evidence that rejection sensitivity functions as a defensive motivational system. Thus, we link rejection sensitivity to attentional and perceptual processes that underlie the processing of social information. A range of experimental and diary studies shows that perceiving rejection triggers hostility and aggressive behavior in rejection sensitive people. We review studies that show that this hostility and reactive aggression can perpetuate a vicious cycle by eliciting rejection from those who rejection sensitive people value most. Finally, we summarize recent work suggesting that this cycle can be interrupted with generalized self-regulatory skills and the experience of positive, supportive relationships.
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The Cognitive-Affective Processing Systems or CAPS theory (Mischel & Shoda, 1995) was proposed to account for the processes that explain why and how people's behavior varies stably across situations. Research on Rejection Sensitivity is reviewed as a programmatic attempt to illustrate how personality dispositions can be studied within the CAPS framework. This research reveals an if … then … (e.g., if situation X, he does A, but if situation Y, he does B) pattern of rejection sensitivity such that high rejection sensitive people's goal to prevent rejection can lead to accommodating behavior; yet, the failure to achieve this goal can lead to aggression, reactivity, and lack of self-concept clarity. These situation-behavior relations or personality signatures reflect a stable activation network of distinctive personality processing dynamics. These dynamics link fears and expectations of rejection, perceptions/attributions of rejection, and affective/behavioral overreactions to perceived rejection. Self-regulatory and attentional mechanisms may interact with these dynamics as buffers against high rejection sensitivity, illustrating how multiple processes within a CAPS network play out in behavior.
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Many prominent theorists have argued that accurate perceptions of the self, the world, and the future are essential for mental health. Yet considerable research evidence suggests that overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought. Moreover, these illusions appear to promote other criteria of mental health, including the ability to care about others, the ability to be happy or contented, and the ability to engage in productive and creative work. These strategies may succeed, in large part, because both the social world and cognitive-processing mechanisms impose filters on incoming information that distort it in a positive direction; negative information may be isolated and represented in as unthreatening a manner as possible. These positive illusions may be especially useful when an individual receives negative feedback or is otherwise threatened and may be especially adaptive under these circumstances.
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A theory was proposed to reconcile paradoxical findings on the invariance of personality and the variability of behavior across situations. For this purpose, individuals were assumed to differ in (a) the accessibility of cognitive-affective mediating units (such as encodings, expectancies and beliefs, affects, and goals) and (b) the organization of relationships through which these units interact with each other and with psychological features of situations. The theory accounts for individual differences in predictable patterns of variability across situations (e.g., if A then she X, but if B then she Y), as well as for overall average levels of behavior, as essential expressions or behavioral signatures of the same underlying personality system. Situations, personality dispositions, dynamics, and structure were reconceptualized from this perspective.
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People who are sensitive to social rejection tend to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to it. This article shows that this cognitive-affective processing disposition undermines intimate relationships. Study 1 describes a measure that operationalizes the anxious-expectations component of rejection sensitivity. Study 2 provides experimental evidence that people who anxiously expect rejection readily perceive intentional rejection in the ambiguous behavior of others. Study 3 shows that people who enter romantic relationships with anxious expectations of rejection readily perceive intentional rejection in the insensitive behavior of their new partners. Study 4 demonstrates that rejection-sensitive people and their romantic partners are dissatisfied with their relationships. Rejection-sensitive men's jealousy and rejection-sensitive women's hostility and diminished supportiveness help explain their partners' dissatisfaction.
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This article analyzes the concepts of "enmeshment" and "cohesion" and their entanglement in the field of family therapy. Early theories in this area were concerned primarily with processes of self/other differentiation. More recent theories have favored spatial metaphors that emphasize closeness-distance. We contend that self/ other differentiation and closeness-distance are different classes of behavior and that their linkage in the literature has obscured useful distinctions. Our analysis reveals two separate dimensions that clinicians and researchers should consider: Intrusiveness (including coercive control, separation anxiety, possessiveness/jealousy, emotional reactivity, and projective mystification); and Closeness-Caregiving (including warmth, time together, nurturance, physical intimacy, and consistency). We give definitions of these constructs and briefly examine their clinical and gender-related implications.
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