Implicit Desires vs. Explicit Standards: What Matters More for Partnering Behaviors?

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Dr. Carrie Bredow

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Most research on mate selection has focused on people’s self-reported (explicit) measures of mate criteria, which are assumed to guide partnering decisions and behaviors (Buss et al., 2001; Fletcher et al., 1999). However, while some evidence has found that greater correspondence between mate standards and partner characteristics predicts greater relationship satisfaction (Eastwick, Finkel, & Eagly, 2011), other work has found little connection between people’s reported mate criteria and the partners they select. This discrepancy may be explained by the conscious inaccessibility of some attitudes influencing partnering behaviors. In the present study, we examined whether (a) implicit measures of mate criteria are distinct from explicit standards, and (b) implicit and explicit preferences uniquely predict current and future relationship choices and evaluations. Unmarried undergraduate students (n=203) completed three SC-IATs (Karpinski & Steinman, 2006), representing three major trait dimensions: attractiveness/vitality, warmth/trustworthiness, and status/resources. Participants also completed a questionnaire assessing their self-reported mate standards, relationship evaluations, and partner’s characteristics. Participants were contacted 7-10 months later and invited to complete questionnaires similar to that used at T1. Results revealed a negative correlation between implicit and explicit preferences for attractiveness/vitality (r=-.15, p< .05) and no significant correlations for warmth/trustworthiness and status/resources. Regression analyses showed different ways that implicit and explicit standards predicted relationship evaluations. For warmth/trustworthiness, greater correspondence between people’s explicit preferences and their partner’s traits predicted greater relationship satisfaction (p< .01) and lower ambivalence (p< .05), whereas greater implicit preference-partner fit predicted greater perceived partner fit (p< .01) and relationship commitment (p< .10). Neither implicit nor explicit preference-partner fit on status/resources predicted relationship evaluations. For attractiveness/vitality, gender moderated the associations: explicit preference-partner correspondence predicted men’s evaluations, but implicit preference-partner correspondence predicted women’s evaluations. Preliminary follow-up analyses provided suggestive evidence that implicit preferences at T1 may also have implications for people’s relational evaluations of later-formed relationships.

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