Opposites detract

We seem to have a negative bias towards those whose relationship status is unlike ours


We seem to idealise the way we live as far as being in a relationship is concerned. Ever noticed, that single individuals proclaim that singlehood is the best because being in a relationship is like living in fetters? On the contrary, couples advocate being in relationship because of the bliss it brings.

Researchers Kristin Laurin of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and David Kille and Richard Eibach of the University of Waterloo studied this kind of rationalisation.

“We often become evangelists for our own lifestyles,” the researchers observed. “When it comes to our relationship status, we are rarely content to simply say ‘being single works for me’ or ‘being in a relationship suits my disposition.”

Their first study revealed that more permanent the participants believed their relationship status to be, the more they idealised that status as a standard for others to follow. Singles as well as couples, regardless of how personally happy they were with their status, believed their way of life should be the way others should live too.

For their second study, the team asked the participants to imagine a Valentine’s Day evening for a hypothetical person of the same gender, Nicole or Nick.

Single women said that Nicole would be happier on a Valentine’s Day if she was single. And, single men thought similarly for Nick. However, couples voted that Nicole or Nick would be happier in a relationship.

To investigate this bias further, Laurin and colleagues conducted two more studies. One study explored if this bias affects job hires. The results showed that a single job-seeker was viewed more positively by a single interviewer and not so positively by a married interviewer. Similarly a married applicant was seen in more positive light by married interviewers.

The last study explored if the bias affects the kind of political candidates we support. This too reflected that participants were more likely to vote for a same-status political candidate.

On analysing all these studies, perceived stability led both coupled and single participants to treat others like them more favourably.

“People may be aware of their own tendency to idealise being single or coupled, but they may not realise that this can impact how they respond to others — and how others respond to them,” the researchers citied.

Given well-documented cultural prejudice against singles, Laurin and her colleagues expected that coupled people would have no trouble rationalising their status, but they were more surprised to see that this effect was just as strong for single people.

According to the researchers, this study is ‘the first to show relationship-specific patterns of prejudice whereby both single and coupled people favour others who share their relationship status over those who don’t.’ As a next step, the researchers plan to explore whether people idealise other aspects of their lives, such as the decisions they’ve made, the type of community they live in, or the career path they’ve chosen.

The results significantly encourage us as well to introspect whether this relationship bias influences our behaviour towards others or not.



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