INTRODUCTIONAs a society of people that thrives on romance, we are constantly influenced by relationships other than our own. Friends are constantly looking to other friends for romantic advice, but how often do we consider the basis for that advice? For the most part, our own personal experiences, as well as our own personality traits tend to largely influence the way we view relationships. Many people believe that the difference among relationship beliefs lies in the gender of the perceiver, but are there other personal factors as well that may impact the way a person views a relationship? Exactly what traits influence our perceptions? Men and women have been known to behave differently, but they also set different standards for the people around them. The way a person has been socialized may affect his or her goals within a relationship and consequently the satisfaction that person gets from the relationship. Vangelisti and Daly (1997) investigated whether or not certain standards that a person held for his or her relationship differed with gender and therefore affected their method of evaluating the other person. The theory was that women tend to hold higher standards for their partners, and therefore if these standards are not met, the woman is less satisfied in the relationship. They found that relationship satisfaction became stronger if the person within that relationship found that his or her standards were met and that women did feel that their standards were met less often than did men. Evaluation of one’s partner is not does not solely rely on that person’s gender. Self-evaluation may also play a role in determining happiness from a relationship. Standards within each person play a role in the satisfaction that person may or may not receive from his or her relationships (Wayment & Campbell, 2000). Researchers have found that people most often rely on their own experience and knowledge to evaluate the satisfaction brought by their relationships (Wayment & Campbell, 2000).Another factor that may contribute to the way a person views another romantic couple is his or her attachment style, or level of affection and bonding between the couple. As studied by Hazan and Shaver (1987) attachment is commonly seen as being of three different types. The first style is secure attachment. This style is the healthiest of the three, and is when one does not find it difficult to get intimately involved with others without relying solely on those people. A second type of attachment style is called an avoidant attachment. When someone attempts to evade close connections with others, they could be characterized as having an attachment style of this type. People that meet these criteria find it tough to open themselves to others. A third type is called anxious/ambivalent, which is characterized by obsessive attachments. People that fit into this category are often more involved in the relationships than are their counterparts (Weiten, 2001). Often a person’s attachment style may be key in determining the way that person is going to evaluate another person. In their study, Horppu and Ikonen-Varila (2001) looked at the way attachment style affected the person’s view of someone completely unknown to them. In this study, the researchers first examined the participant’s attachment style within a romantic relationship. They then conducted interviews with the subjects within the context of a relationship with someone they had never before met. The researchers found that participants who had healthy, secure attachment styles tended to evaluate the interviewers in a more positive light than did those with unhealthy attachment styles (Horppu & Ikonen-Varila, 2001). This information is important to the patient-therapist relationship as well. Secure attachment has also been found to correlate with more successful therapeutic treatment. In a review of the relationship that attachment plays in the psychotherapeutic relationship, Meyer and Pilkonis (2001) asserted that secure attachment practices were useful in foreseeing the success rate of therapy among patients. Secure patients responded better to therapy perhaps due to the lessened amount of anxiety in the therapist-patient relationship. In turn, therapists with more secure attachments tended to be more helpful to the patient. They were able to be more compassionate to the patient’s feelings, and therefore more able to assist the patient. With both the patient and the therapist, each was less judgmental toward the other and more able to form a relationship that was affective. Not only does attachment style affect the way we evaluate others with whom we are not intimately involved, but it also affects the way we are going to evaluate our romantic partners. Not only has research pointed to the fact that we evaluate people we don’t even know due to our style of interaction, but research has also pointed to the fact that our perception of our partners are influenced by the style of attachment we have. Partners who have insecure romantic attachments tended to assume the worst of their partners, whereas partners with secure attachments assumed more optimistic feelings of their partners. Participants with anxious/ambivalent styles tended to judge their partners more negatively (Young & Acitelli, 1998). Obviously, attachment style is dependant on the individual’s personal experiences. People are not born with an innate style. Styles tend to change with the person’s encounter with different relationships as well as the person’s individual situation (Davila, Burge, & Hammen, 1997). Clearly, if the individual has had a childhood full of unstable relationships, that person is more likely to adopt a style that is less secure than a person who has had healthy relationships that have taught him or her to be more independent. Sanford (1997) further studied the likelihood that experience tends to influence attachment style in a correlational study. He discovered that indeed the experience of being in a healthy, secure relationship reduced the apprehension of an insecure relationship style, whereas people with less attached relationships tended to illustrate more insecure attachment styles. He also found that people who reported feelings of loneliness tended to report in accordance with an anxious/avoidant style. Satisfaction seems to also be connected with attachment style within relationship settings. Jones and Cunningham (1996) looked to see if attachment played a role in predicting satisfaction within each couple. In this study, participants answered questions involving relationship satisfaction, romantic beliefs, attachment styles, gender roles, and self-esteem. The researchers found that attachment does indeed play a significant role in foreseeing how satisfied partners will be in a relationship. This information is important because it shows us that the attachment style plays a role in satisfaction within a couple setting and that satisfaction plays a role in the way one couple may view another. Furthermore, relationship satisfaction is also related to the personal beliefs of the individual. If a person tends to hold relationship beliefs of a more positive nature, than he or she is more likely to be less disappointed when their partner makes a mistake. People that tend to hold optimistic views about relationships tended to have more optimistic feelings and experiences (Sprecher & Metts, 1999). Similar to the research that has been conducted on cancer patients and optimism, people who tend to look at the brighter side of situations tend to handle traumatic or stressful events with more ease (Robinson-Whelen, Kim, MacCallum, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1997). Consequently, when a person faces a problem in a relationship, if he or she has a more optimistic outlook on situations, he or she will be more able to work through these types of situations and therefore experience more relationship satisfaction. Although the previous research has looked at the factors of gender, attachment style, relationships status, and optimism separately, research has not yet been done to show the connection between these variables. In the present study, we attempted to confirm the role that all of these variables play together in the prediction of relationship satisfaction among couples unknown to the participant. We gave our participants fictitious stories about couples in the midst of a severe relationship crisis and asked them to choose how the story ended in order to determine if the person’s personal characteristics were a basis for his or her judgment on the other couple’s fate. Our hypothesis was that because males and females tend to have different standards in relationships, females would tend to believe the other couple would work their problems out. Therefore, we also hypothesized that if the participants were in a committed relationship, he or she would be more likely to believe that the fictitious couple would work out their problems. Because of the key factor that attachment style plays in determining relationship satisfaction of a couple, we hypothesized that it too would play a key role in determining the way the person perceived the fictitious couple, and that healthier attachments would result in more optimistic outlooks of the couples’ fate. Finally, we predicted that the more optimistic that the person was, the more likely he or she would be to predict the couple as fixing the problems that the relationship has encountered.
METHODParticipantsEighty-seven undergraduate students, 31 males and 56 females, from Loyola University New Orleans participated in the study. All participants voluntarily took part in the study, were recruited through convenience sampling, and some received course credit for participation. The students’ ages ranged from 17 years to 32 years, with the median age at 19.7 years. Our sample included 44 people who were not in a committed relationship and 43 people who were in some form of a committed relationship. Materials Consent forms were given to the participants, one for the participant to keep for his or her records and one for the records of the researchers. Three stories developed by the researchers were also used in the experiment (see Appendixes A, B, and C). Stories consisted of fictitious couples, each in a different stage of their relationship, dating, engaged, and married. Each couple was in the midst of a relationship problem that could possibly lead to the end of that relationship. Each story was approximately 200 words and they were followed by an average of 7 questions each to answer after reading each story. Questions were formatted in a yes-no or multiple-choice form. A reformatted version of the Attachment Style Survey (Love, 2001) was also used in the experiment (see Appendix D). There were thirty questions from three categories of attachment, secure, anxious ambivalent, and insecure. The response scale followed a likert scale format from 1, strongly disagree, to 5, strongly agree. Some examples of these questions are, “I am open with my feelings,” and, “I can be demanding in relationships.” The scores on the questions then measured the category of attachment style unique to the participant. The participants also filled out the Life Orientation Test (Scheier, 1985). This survey consisted of 10-questions about the optimistic or pessimistic tendencies of the participant (see Appendix E). Again, answers ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Some examples of the questions contained in this survey are, “It is easy for me to relax,” and “I enjoy my friends a lot.” Optimistic or pessimistic outlooks were then rated from the answers given. Finally, the participant answered a demographic questionnaire about his or her age, sex, and relationship status (see Appendix F).Design and Procedure The study was a quasi-experimental study, because variables were not manipulated. It was formatted as a 2 X 2 X 2 X 3 experiment. The first independent variable studied was gender, with two levels: male and female. The second independent variable was relationship status, with two levels: involved or uninvolved. The third independent variable was optimistic tendencies, defined as either optimistic or pessimistic. The last independent variable measured was attachment style, categorized as securely attached, anxious/ambivalently attached, or avoidant. The dependant variable was the way the participant perceived the fictitious couple. Upon arrival to participate in the study, the participants were given two copies of the informed consent, one for the experimenters’ records and one for the participant’s records. The participant was then given the 3 fictitious stories. All three stories were given to participants in different, random orders in order to ensure that the participant’s personal life need not affect responses to a particular story, as well as to control for sequencing. Upon completion of the stories, the participant was asked to answer questions pertaining to his or her opinion about the couple’s relationship and his or her opinion about the future of the couple described in the study. Once finished with this task, the participant was given the Life Orientation Test in order to evaluate optimistic tendencies. Afterwards, the adapted Attachment Style Survey was completed. Finally, the participant was asked to complete a questionnaire, which contained questions pertaining to the demographic variables of the participant. On the same survey, the participant was also asked to reveal his or her relationship status, and how long the participant has been involved in that relationship. One final question was asked in reference to the last relationship the person was in, whether it was ended positively or negatively. Upon finishing the final survey, participants were then debriefed on the details that the study was examining. They were then thanked and permitted to leave.
RESULTS Because males and females tend to have different standards within their own relationships, we expected that females would predict that the fictitious couple would work things out. We conducted a t-test to examine the difference between the predictions of the males and the females and found no significant difference between the two (t (85) = .504, n. s.). We believed that participants that were in a committed relationship would predict that the couple would work out their problems and remain together, and participants that were not in a committed relationship would be more likely to predict that the couple would separate. We conducted a t-test and found no significant differences between the responses of the participants who were in committed relationships and the participants who were not in committed relationships, (t (85) = .017, n. s.) We predicted that attachment style would play a key role in determining whether a participant believed that the couple would mend their problems, or go their separate ways. We found no support that participants who scored higher on the secure attachment scale would predict that the couple would work things out more often than did participants who had an insecure attachment style. (r = .132, n. s.) Anxious/ambivalent and avoidant attachment styles tended to negatively correlate with the prediction of the couple mending their problems although not significantly. (r = -.133, n. s. and r = -.075, n. s.) We also hypothesized that optimism would play a key role in determining whether or not the participant would predict a happier outcome for the couple or predict that the couple would break up. We found that indeed the more optimistic that the person was, the more likely he or she would be to predict the couple would be able to stay together. There was a significant correlation between happiness prediction and optimism (r = .281, p < .01). Although not hypothesized, our study indicated the presence of a strong relationship between secure attachment style and level of optimism. We found that those participants who scored highly on the secure attachment style also tended to have higher levels of optimism (r = .567, p < .01). Lower levels of optimism were found among those participants who scored higher on the anxious/ambivalent and avoidant attachment styles (r = -.339, p < .01, and r = -.487, p < .01). Participants who scored higher on the secure attachment style were also more likely to be in a relationship (r = .230, p < .05). However, participants who scored higher on the avoidant attachment style were less likely to be in a relationship (r = -.275, p < .05). Finally, we found that participants who had higher scores on the anxious/ambivalent style tended to be in their relationships for a shorter period of time (r = -.390, p < .01). For descriptive statistics, refer to Table 1.
DISCUSSION The purpose of this study was to further evaluate the relationships between gender, relationship status, attachment style, and optimistic tendencies. Our findings did not indicate that attachment style influences the beliefs and opinions that people have about others, as did previous research (Horrpu & Ikonen – Varila, 2001). Although we did not find support for three of our hypotheses, we did find other significant results that relate to a better understanding of the relationship between the variables studied. Consistent with previous research (Hazan & Shaver, 1987), we found that participants who scored higher on the secure attachment style tended to have more optimistic personalities. Along with these findings, we found that participants who had anxious/ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles had significantly less optimistic personalities. These strong correlations may indicate that attachment style indeed does have an influence on the personality of the person, although our study did not find that it relates to perceptions of others. Our results also indicated that people who tended to have secure attachment styles were significantly more likely to be in a committed relationship. People with more avoidant attachment styles were significantly less likely to be in any relationship. Because participants who were more secure also tended to be more optimistic and in a relationship, and participants who were less secure tended to be less optimistic and less likely to be in a relationship, we can conclude that there is a connection between attachment style, relationship status, and optimism. Although the variables studied in the present research did not reveal a significant relationship, it is obvious from these other correlations that the variables are related. Additional research should take into account the relationships revealed in this study and formulate future research accordingly. Another significant finding was that the less time a person has been dating someone, the less secure he or she is in attachment style. In other words, anxious/ambivalent attachment styles tended to be more commonly found among those who were in their relationships for less time than those who had longer relationships. People who had been in their relationship for a longer period of time tended to report a more secure attachment style. Although our study was able to find some significant correlations, it was limited in a few ways. First, our pool of participants was limited to only college undergraduate students who voluntarily took part in the study. Also, we had only 87 participants, 64% of which were females. This limits our study in that it restricts the population to which our study may generalize. The slight differences that we observed in our results may have been more significant had we received more participants and a more equal proportion of males to females. There is also the possibility that because of the closeness in proximity that the participants took the questionnaires in, perhaps some of the participants felt that they needed to respond to the attachment questionnaire in a socially acceptable way. The problem of social desirability could have been addressed by allowing participants to take the survey in a more private area. Perhaps by allowing each person to sit in a different part of the room, the participants would have felt more of a sense of privacy. Future studies could consider our limitations when conducting further research on these topics. Even though our study had some limits, the results are indicative of the importance that personality plays in the evaluation of other people. Our study validates the importance of optimism in our lives, as did previous studies done on optimism (Sprecher & Metts, 1999). It also may explain the interactions and relationships that we have because we may be more likely to form satisfying relationships if we are more optimistic people. We found no other studies that researched the relationship of the variables studied in this research. The insights offered by our research indicate that the characteristics of a person plays a vital role in the way that his or her relationships are, and that situations that occur within a relationship may perhaps be explained by examining the person rather than the situation alone. This information could be further applied to relationship therapy. Therapists could use techniques that help couples to understand one another through looking more deeply into their personalities, and understanding the importance of security and optimism to their relationship.
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APPENDIX Appendix AStory 1 – The Dating CoupleThey first met in a bar and were each drawn to the other. They’ve been dating for about a year and a half, and except for a few bumps in the road, have been pretty much happy. Since she was a teenager, she’s had several casual relationships, but only one serious one before him. Even though she has commitment problems, probably as a result from her parents’ bitter divorce when she was a child, she didn’t really have problems when it came to committing with him. On the other hand, he’s never had problems committing to a relationship, but was much less experienced in the dating field compared to her. He always assumed that he would one day have a serious romantic relationship similar to his parents’ marriage of thirty-three years and had feelings that she was “the one.” One day, completely out of the blue, her ex, the one she had thought was her true love, suddenly showed up at her home. He explained that he thought they had made a mistake and that he still misses her after all this time. They talked for a while longer and she eventually told him that she needed time to think about everything he had said. While getting up to leave, he leaned over and kissed her, catching her by complete surprise. Her boyfriend, who had just arrived and was standing by unnoticed, saw their kiss. After her ex left, they had a heated argument, but decided that they needed to talk things over.1. Did she and her boyfriend decide to: a) go their separate waysb) try to work things outc) take a break2. Should she and her boyfriend decide to:a) go their separate waysb) try to work things outc) take a break3. Did she get back together with her ex-boyfriend? Yes No4. Should she get back together with her ex-boyfriend? Yes No5. Did she ever get married? Yes No6. Do you think that she should get married? Yes No7. If so, who did she marry? Her current boyfriend Her ex-boyfriend Someone she later meets8. Who do you think she should marry? Her current boyfriend Her ex-boyfriend Someone she later meets
Appendix BStory 2 – The Married CoupleHaving been happily married now for quite a few years, they had decided that they wanted to have a baby and start a family of their own. After a few months of trying, they had gotten pregnant. They were both a little nervous and unsure about becoming new parents, but mainly, they were happy, especially her. A few weeks after their baby arrived, tension was starting to mount between them. With the demands of the new baby, neither were able to keep the intimacy and closeness going that their marriage previously had. Their marriage was slowly falling apart. She focused her energy on their new baby and he focused his on a woman he had met at work. He started telling his wife that he had to work late on a new project that his boss assigned him. She stayed at home nights, taking care of the baby alone. Eventually, it got to the point that he was never home and they never even talked anymore. Through mutual friends, she had found out that all this time she thought he was working late, he was really spending time with the woman from work. She felt hurt and angry, but mainly betrayed. They were always so happy and both had taken their marriage vows very seriously. She decided to confront him about it.1. Did they decide to:a. work on their marriageb. get a trial separationc. get a separation, eventually leading to a divorce2. Should they decide to:a. work on their marriageb. get a trial separationc. get a separation, eventually leading to a divorce3. If you were her, would you want to:a. work on your marriageb. get a trial separationc. get a separation, eventually leading to a divorce4. Did she ever forgive him? Yes No5. Should she ever forgive him? Yes No
Appendix CStory 3 – The Engaged Couple A man and his fiancé have been together for two years, one of which they have been engaged. In the beginning of the relationship, she was more devoted to him than he was she, but eventually he opened his eyes and realized that she was the one. They then got engaged. At first, her family was against the relationship because he was quite a bit older than was she, as well as a divorced father. They felt that she was too young and naïve to be committed to someone. Eventually, her family stopped fighting her on the issue and, against their judgment, accepted the relationship. Being a businessman, He then was forced to move out of town. The two argued about the situation and decided that they should part for a while. She had a tough time coping with his leaving and after careful thought, realized that she wanted to try again. She then moved to be closer to him, leaving her family. After a few months, she had trouble finding work, and found herself getting lonely due to the amount of time he worked. The relationship began to grow distant. She began to look for comfort in alcohol. He came home one night to her completely drunk and angry. A heated argument arose, and she packed up and left. What happened next?1. Did the couplea.) break up after a long intimate talkb.) work things out later onc.) break up and not see one another again2. Should the couplea.) break up after a long intimate talkb.) work things out later onc.) break up and not see one another again3. Did she . . .a.) go out that night and find comfort in another man, forgetting him foreverb.) go home to her familyc.) leave for a few hours and decide to return to him4. Should she have . . ?a.) go out that night and find comfort in another man, forgetting him foreverb.) go home to her familyc.) leave for a few hours and decide to return to him5. Does she get treatment for the alcohol? Yes no
Appendix DThe Attachment Style Survey 1 2 3 4 5Strongly Disagree Neutral Agree StronglyDisagree Somewhat Somewhat Agree1. I show love clearly and regularly to the people I care for.2. I openly accept the love and care of others. 3. I ask for help freely and often. 4. I have at least three people I trust and confide in regularly.5. I feel calm and secure on a daily basis.6. I am known for my patience and tolerance. 7. People view me as a warm, caring person.8. I am open with my feelings.9. My lifestyle shows that relationships are a priority.10. I initiate and maintain contact with people in my life.11. I generally take care of others better than myself.12. I need a lot of contact time with my close relationships. 13. I get anxious when separated from people I love. 14. I am the one who initiates most contact in my relationships.15. I sometimes come across as critical or pushy.16. People see me as impatient. 17. I can be demanding in relationships.18. I have had several relationship disappointments.19. I can be pretty intense in relationships.20. Much of my thinking involves close relationships.21. I often lose myself in work or projects.22. I tend to be quiet or uncomfortable in social situations.23. I am generally a private person.24. I tend to be quite self-sufficient.25. I get uncomfortable with extended periods of closeness.26. I think too much is made of relationships and closeness.27. My partner has complained about my distancing behaviors.28. People sometimes see me as over-involved in work.29. At times I consciously avoid contact with others.30. I can be withdrawn in relationships.
Appendix EThe Life Orientation TestPlease read each statement carefully and circle the answer that applies to you the best, where: SD= strongly disagree D= disagree N=neutral A= agree SA= strongly agree.1. In uncertain times I usually expect the best.
2. It is easy for me to relax.3. If something can go wrong for me, it will.4. I am always optimistic about my future.5. I enjoy my friends a lot.6. It is important for me to keep busy.7. I hardly ever expect things to go my way.8. I do not get upset too easily.9. I rarely count on good things to happen to me.10. Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.
Appendix FBackground Information QuestionnaireAge: ____________Sex: Male FemaleI am currently:a) singleb) dating, but not exclusivelyc) exclusively datingd) engagede) marriedIf you circled b-e, how many months have you been involved in this relationship? ________________________If you circled a, how many months has it been since your last relationship?________________________
Table 1Descriptive Statistics________________________________________________________________________ Mean SD Months Dating * 20.158 28.987Months Single ** 8.031 6.442 Optimism Score 3.4517 .5350Secure Score 3.6312 .5679Anxious/Ambivalent Score 3.2759 .5464Avoidant Score 3.0364 .6144 Happiness Prediction .1766 .3006
Note. N = 87* N = 48, ** N = 32