Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 765–775 | Cite as

Secure attachment and material reward both attenuate romantic jealousy

Original Paper

Abstract

Research has shown that social support and materialism can both serve as coping mechanisms, reducing individuals’ experiences of physical and social pain (Zhou and Gao in Psychol Inq 19(3–4):127–144, 2008). We extend this paradigm by testing the buffering effects of secure attachment and material reward on a specific form of social psychological pain: romantic jealousy. Two studies examined the effects of these variables after an imagined relational threat. Participants were primed with (a) secure attachment, (b) material reward, or (c) neutral control, and then responded to a hypothetical scenario involving their romantic partners behaving flirtatiously with a rival. Results from both studies showed that the secure attachment and material reward primes both attenuated jealous responses to the provoking stimuli, relative to the neutral control prime. Neither trait attachment styles nor chronic jealousy moderated the priming effects in Study 1, but attachment styles did slightly moderate the priming effects in Study 2.

Keywords

Attachment Emotion Jealousy Materialism Relationships 

Introduction

Researchers have conceptualized social support and material wealth as both having pain-buffering effects (see Zhou and Gao 2008). Social support has been documented as a primary pain buffer; increased social support is associated with decreased pain (e.g., Brown et al. 2003). In addition, lacking social support or experiencing social rejection is painful both psychologically and physically (MacDonald and Leary 2005). Researchers have also shown that economic success serves as a secondary pain buffer; when social support is not available, people turn to material wealth to alleviate pain. Materialism functions as a strategic coping mechanism that offsets fear and insecurity, and in some cases can assist in rebuilding social relationships (Zhou and Gao 2008).

The links between social pain, physical pain, social support, and economic/monetary success are well documented, but research thus far has focused primarily on physical pain and social rejection/exclusion. In the current research, we focused on threats to romantic relationships and the ensuing feelings of jealousy. More specifically, we examined emotional “buffering” mechanisms of secure attachment alongside materialism, as mitigating the effects of romantic jealousy.

Jealousy can be a very unpleasant, distressing, and destructive emotion, despite its evolutionary significance (Buss and Haselton 2005). It is typically linked with the real or imagined perception of a romantic rival or some external threat to the relationship (Buunk 1997; Rydell and Bringle 2007), and in some cases is linked with intense anger, harassment and violence (Chiffriller and Hennessy 2010; Wigman et al. 2008). Jealousy, like the negative feelings associated with rejection or abandonment, stem from the fundamental human need to belong and form attachments to others (Baumiester and Leary 1995).

Attachment theory (Bowlby 1969/1982) has been utilized to explain a myriad of behaviors, cognitions, and emotions within close relationships (see Mikulincer and Shaver 2007a), including jealousy. Broadly, the theory draws on evidence that early experiences with primary caregivers establish mental models for close relationships that remain relatively stable across the lifespan (Waters et al. 2000). When a relationship is under threat (either by a partner’s behavior or some external danger) the attachment system becomes active (Mikulincer et al. 2000). Insecure attachment is associated with distorted perceptions of others’ motivations and behavior, as well as misperception of relationship threats. Insecure attachment gives rise to negative expectations for partners’ behavior, specifically, a lack of trust and expectation for betrayal to occur (Simpson 1990). This partially explains why insecurely attached individuals (e.g., anxious, avoidant) experience chronic and often unwarranted romantic jealousy.

Supporting this theoretical viewpoint, several studies have investigated associations between attachment and romantic jealousy. Buunk (1997) found that those who classified themselves as anxious/preoccupied also reported experiencing the highest amounts of romantic jealousy, followed by avoidant/dismissing individuals, with secure individuals reporting experiencing the lowest amounts of jealousy. Other studies (Guerrero 1998; Marazziti et al. 2010; Rydell and Bringle 2007; Sharpsteen and Kirkpatrick 1997) reported similar results for self-reported insecure attachment attachment. In all of the aforementioned studies, the finding is consistent: insecure individuals experience more romantic jealousy than secure individuals, even while statistically controlling for other general personality and relational variables (e.g., self-esteem, relationship status), thereby demonstrating the unique importance of attachment security as a predictor of jealousy.

Despite compelling correlational evidence between increased jealousy and dispositional insecure attachment demonstrated in previous research, no study has demonstrated causality. That is, no research to date has provided experimental evidence that secure attachment causes attenuation in romantic jealousy. In order to accomplish this, an experimentally induced increase in secure attachment would need to be associated with an attenuated negative emotional reaction to a relationship threat.

In the two experiments reported here, we used procedures previously employed to “activate” thoughts of secure attachment in people’s minds, called “security priming” (Mikulincer and Shaver 2007b). This is independent from any effects from individual differences in attachment disposition. Although attachment styles have been conceptualized as stable trait-like personality dimensions, some experimental evidence has found that temporarily activating thoughts related to a specific attachment style in experimental manipulations can afford researchers the opportunity to examine the causal effects of attachment styles. Mikulincer and Shaver (2007a) have argued that individuals with a securely attached personality routinely experience “chronic activation” of security-related cognitions, whereas insecurely attached individuals do not (see Carnelley and Rowe 2010, for more discussion). Other experiments have shown that when individuals are repeatedly primed with thoughts of secure attachment, their personalities may change such that they become more dispositionally secure (Carnelley and Rowe 2007).

While attachment researchers (Mikulincer and Shaver 2005, 2007a, b) have reported a wide variety of psychological and behavioral effects stemming from security priming, including general psychological health and feelings of self-worth, researchers have also found that materialism serves a very similar function; people use materialism as a means to mitigate insecurity (e.g., feelings associated with rejection; Banerjee and Dittmar 2008), as well as existential threats (e.g., death anxiety; Arndt et al. 2004). In addition, Zhou and Gao (2008) have incorporated attachment theory as a framework for coping with stress and pain alongside materialism, arguing that the way in which individuals pursue social warmth and emotional comfort during times of stress is similar in many regards to the way in which people pursue material wealth and possessions as a means for facilitating close relationships (e.g., gift giving). Zhou and Gao (2008) also called for more research examining the effects of attachment and materialism side by side and how they affect different kinds of social pain.

Given this theoretical focus, it is worth examining any potential effects of experimentally induced feelings of attachment security and material gain on romantic jealousy. In addition, in the following experiments, we sought to control for stable individual differences in attachment styles, as well as trait levels of jealous thoughts, feelings, and behavior, which, according to past research, are implicated in the experience of romantic jealousy.

Hypothesis 1:

When secure attachment schemata are active, romantic jealousy will be less pronounced in people’s minds. In other words, secure attachment schema activation will yield significantly less romantic jealousy (compared to a neutral control) after imagining a scenario involving one’s romantic partner and a rival. In addition, activating thoughts of material gain will yield a similar effect on attenuating imagined romantic jealousy after the imagined threat.

Hypothesis 2:

The experimental effects of priming attachment security will remain significant even when controlling for trait-like individual differences in attachment style and chronic jealousy.

Experiment 1

Participants

Ninety-six undergraduate students at Stony Brook University (52 women, 43 men, 1 unknown, Mage = 19.68 years, age range: 17–31 years) participated in the study for extra credit through the psychology department subject pool. Since the focus of the current research was on heterosexual romantic jealousy, 6 participants (3 reporting bisexuality, 2 reporting homosexuality, and 1 abstaining) were removed from the sample (final N = 90).

The reason for excluding non-heterosexual participants was part theoretical and part logistical. Previous studies on differences in sexual orientation and romantic jealousy have yielded mixed results (see Buunk and Dijkstra 2001; Dijkstra et al. 2001; Harris 2002), and we decided to treat that as a separate research question from the current study. Second, we assessed demographic differences following the experimental procedure. Thus, it was impossible to determine whether to give participants scenarios with same or opposite-sex pronouns, given that we did not have access to their demographic information. All participants received heteronormative stimuli (a potential limitation in the study, but reason enough to exclude participants who did not identify as heterosexual).

Materials and procedure

After gathering consent and giving a brief overview of the procedures involved in the study, the experimenter led each participant individually with a guided visualization task in which participants were assigned to 1 of 3 randomly assigned conditions: (a) secure attachment, (b) material reward, or (c) neutral control. The visualization scenarios and instructions were taken from previous related research (e.g., Mikulincer and Arad 1999; Mikulincer and Shaver 2001). The secure attachment condition involved the participant encountering a problematic situation and receiving assistance from caring others. The neutral condition involved the participant shopping for groceries. The material reward condition involved the participant winning a brand new computer, with “state-of-the-art features” (which undergraduate research assistants endorsed as more realistic and more relevant to college students). Ostensibly worth thousands of dollars, this represented a large financial gain for young adults. Aside from this minor revision, everything else regarding the visualization procedure was identical to previous research.

Following the guided visualization, participants were then presented with 1 of 4 randomized pictures of physically attractive individuals (same sex as the participant), along with a written scenario, that were designed to induce romantic jealousy. Participants were instructed to imagine that their romantic partner was flirting intensely with the person in the picture. For participants not currently in a romantic relationship, they were instructed to imagine a hypothetical romantic partner (someone they would like to be in a relationship with). The photographs of attractive romantic rivals were taken from previous related research (Maner et al. 2007). Participants were then allowed to reflect on this scenario and then rate on 7-point scales how much jealousy they would experience if this were happening to them (1 = none; 7 = a lot). Participants were not given any time restraints for responding, they were allowed as much time as needed to reflect on the scenario and indicate their anticipated level of jealousy.

Being that mood changes could have been a confounding effect of the priming manipulations, we measured momentary positive and negative affect as a control. After the jealousy-inducing scenario, participants completed the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS; Watson et al. 1988), with 22 total items (11 for each affect dimension), immediately after completing the imagined jealousy-provoking scenario.

Participants then completed an unrelated task (as part of an unrelated study on color perception) that also served as a filler task to eliminate priming effects before participants completed personality measures. The procedure lasted approximately 15 min. Afterwards, participants were given a general survey on demographics and personality with measures of trait attachment (a primary variable of interest) and chronic jealousy. Participants completed the Experiences in Close Relationships-Revised Scale (ECR-R; Fraley et al. 2000), which measures attachment-related avoidance and anxiety. A well-validated measure of attachment styles, ECR-R asks questions such as “I get uncomfortable when a romantic partner wants to be very close” (tapping the avoidance dimension) and “I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me” (tapping the anxiety dimension). Reliability was strong for both subscales (α = .88 for avoidance; α = .91 for anxiety).

We assessed chronic jealousy using Pfeiffer and Wong’s (1989) 24-item Multidimensional Jealousy Scale, which taps 3 distinct dimensions of jealousy: cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. The cognitive subscale contains items such as, “I think that some members of the opposite sex may be romantically interested in X” (with “X” being the respondent’s romantic partner). The emotional subscale prompts respondents to rate how they would “emotionally react” to various situations (e.g., “X is flirting with a member of the opposite sex”). The behavioral subscale contains items such as “I question X about his or her whereabouts.” All three subscales had good reliability; cognitive (α = .92), emotional (α = .89), and behavioral (α = .86).

We also sought to control for trait neuroticism, one of the Big Five personality traits, which previous research has shown to be associated with romantic jealousy (e.g., Buunk 1997), in addition to being associated with insecure attachment (Mikulincer and Shaver 2007a, b). Participants completed a short-form measure of the Big Five Inventory (Rammstedt and John 2007), with 2 items assessing neuroticism. We also assessed relationship status, for the same purpose. Following the personality survey, participants were debriefed and the experiment concluded.

Results and discussion

We performed two checks for confounds related to our experimental manipulations. First, we sough to check whether positive or negative affect differed based on experimental condition. A one-way ANOVA with experimental condition as the independent variable and affect (measured by the PANAS scale) as the dependent variables yielded no significant effects (both Fs ≤ 1, ns). Although negative affect was somewhat associated with dependent variable, jealousy (r = .15) this effect was small and non-significant (p = .20). The association between positive affect and jealousy was null (r = .03). Thus, positive and negative affect were excluded from analyses reported below. In addition, because the personality assessments were completed during the same procedure as the experimental manipulations, we wanted to ensure that reports of trait attachment (our variables of interest) were not influenced by the primes. A one-way ANOVA with experimental condition as the independent variable and attachment avoidance and anxiety as the dependent variables yielded no significant effects (both Fs ≤ 1, ns). Thus, the filler task was effective at eliminating any effect of the experimental primes on personality assessment.

It was hypothesized that secure attachment and materialism primes would result in less romantic jealousy relative to the neutral prime. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) tested mean differences in jealousy ratings. The analysis yielded a significant main effect based on visualization condition F (2,87) = 3.75, p < .03, η2 = .08, with participants in the neutral condition reporting the highest amount of jealousy (M = 6.16, SD = 1.03), followed by the secure attachment (M = 5.39, SD = 1.40) and material reward (M = 5.27, SD = 1.41) conditions. Using Fisher’s Least Significant Difference (LSD) procedure, pairwise comparisons revealed that jealousy in the attachment condition was significantly lower than the neutral condition (Mdifference = −.77, p < .04, d = .50), and jealousy in the material reward condition was significantly lower than the neutral condition (Mdifference = −.89, p = .01, d = .55). The attachment and material gain conditions did not differ significantly from each other. Means and standard deviations are displayed in Table 1. Taken together, the experiment revealed that secure attachment and material reward primes both attenuated feelings of romantic jealousy.
Table 1

Means and standard deviations of emotional reactions to jealousy-provoking scenario as a function of attachment, material reward, and neutral primes (Studies 1 and 2)

Reaction

Priming condition

Attachment

Neutral

Material

M

SD

M

SD

M

SD

Jealousy (Study 1)

5.39a

1.40

6.16b

1.03

5.27a

1.41

Upset (Study 2)

3.67a

1.20

4.22b

0.87

3.41a

1.06

Hurt (Study 2)

3.64a

1.15

3.94a

1.19

3.16b

1.14

Angry (Study 2)

3.37a

1.24

3.97b

1.23

3.25

1.05a

A mean is different from other means in its row at p < .05, according to Fisher (LSD) tests, if their subscripts differ. The scale used in Study 1 was 1–7; the scale used in Study 2 was 1–5

To examine the associations between romantic jealousy and personality/demographics (alongside the experimental priming effects), we conducted a hierarchical multiple regression analysis by sets. The purpose of this analysis was to gauge whether individual factors would outweigh the effect of the experimental primes. The criterion variable in this analysis was the experience of jealousy. The first set of predictors included the dummy coded experimental priming effects for secure attachment and materialism (the neutral condition was the reference category for this variable). The second set of predictors (serving as controls) contained trait neuroticism as measured by the Big-Five questionnaire, and relationships status (dummy coded to indicate whether the participant reported currently being single or in a relationship). The third set of predictors included trait attachment avoidance and anxiety. Attachment anxiety and avoidance correlated significantly with each other r = .35, p = .001. In addition, attachment anxiety also correlated with neuroticism r = .38, p < .001 as well as all three chronic jealousy variables: cognitive r = .65, p < .001, emotional r = .34, p = .001, and behavioral r = .61, p < .001. Attachment avoidance also correlated with neuroticism and cognitive jealousy (r = .22, p < .04 and r = .31, p < .01, respectively) and neuroticism also correlated with cognitive and emotional jealousy (r = .35, p = .001 and r = .33, p = .001, respectively).

Following Cohen et al. (2003), significance tests for increments in variance accounted for as each set was added used “Model 2” error terms (when using Model 2 error terms, the error at each step of the hierarchical analysis is based on error remaining after all variables at all steps have been entered). All continuous predictor variables were centered prior to the analyses. Coefficients are displayed in Table 2. As can be seen in the table, the experimental prime for secure attachment β = −.23, p = .04 and material reward β = −.22, p < .05 accounted for a significant amount of the variance accounted for, R2 = .09, p = .02. The addition of neuroticism β = −.04, ns and relationship status β = −.00, ns as predictors resulted in a small and non-significant change in the variance accounted for, R2 = .02, ns. However, the addition of attachment avoidance β = −.15, ns and anxiety β = .29, p < .02 as predictors increased the total variance accounted for by a significant amount, R2 = .07, p < .04. Lastly, the addition of chronic cognitive jealousy β = .02, ns, emotional jealousy β = .51, p < .001, and behavioral jealousy β = .13, ns also increased the total variance accounted for by a significant amount, R2 = .23, p < .001, which diminished the effects for attachment anxiety and avoidance diminished (β = .03, ns; β = −.06, ns, respectively). The overall regression model accounted for approximately 40 % of the variance in jealousy scores, R2 = .40; F (9, 79) = 5.93, p < .001. No significant interactions emerged between the experimental primes and the personality variables.
Table 2

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses (by sets) predicting romantic jealousy, based upon experimental attachment and material reward primes, trait neuroticism, relationship status, and trait attachment avoidance and anxiety (Study 1; N = 89)

Step

Variables

Overall model

Increment

β

R2

F

sR2

F

Jealousy

1.

Primed attachment security

−.27*

.09

4.07*

.09

4.07*

Primed material reward

−.34**

    

2.

Primed attachment security

−.26*

    

Primed material reward

−.30*

    

Neuroticism

.14

    

Relationship status

.05

.11

2.54*

.02

1.00

3.

Primed attachment security

−.28*

    

Primed material reward

−.29*

    

Neuroticism

.07

    

Relationship status

.08

    

Attachment avoidance

−.15

    

Attachment anxiety

.29*

.18

2.93*

.07

3.42*

4.

Primed attachment security

−.23*

    

Primed material reward

−.22*

    

Neuroticism

−.04

    

Relationship status

.00

    

Attachment avoidance

−.06

    

Attachment anxiety

.03

    

Cognitive jealousy

.02

    

Emotional jealousy

.51***

    

Behavioral jealousy

.13

.40

5.93***

.23

10.00***

*** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05, + p < .10

In sum, Hypotheses 1 and 2 were supported in Study 1, which revealed that experimentally induced feelings of secure attachment as well as materialism uniquely resulted in less self-reported romantic jealousy relative to the control condition. Jealous thoughts were less pronounced in participants’ minds after being prompted to think about material gain or secure relationships. Independent from those effects (and consistent with prior research), trait insecurity (attachment anxiety) was associated with greater feelings of jealousy, however, those effects vanished when chronic emotional jealousy was accounted for. Nevertheless, the addition of trait variables did not diminish the effects of experimental attachment and materialism primes. Relationship status and trait neuroticism were unrelated to the imagined experience of jealousy.

Experiment 2

The second study was designed to expand on these results, as well as adjust for some limitations. First, the secure attachment prime was very general with respect to attachment figures; participants were instructed to think of “people,” despite research suggesting that parents and peers might evoke different cognitive responses (e.g., Rowe and Carnelley 2005). The procedure in Study 2 specifically prompted participants to think of a peer (significant other or close friend) to help them with their problematic/stressful situation. The material gain prime remained the same as Study 1. Second, the use of visual imagery in the first experiment (participants saw one of 4 randomized pictures of a romantic rival with specific features) may or may not have produced a substantial effect beyond the scenario itself. The student population at Stony Brook University is ethnically diverse, and some participants in Study 1 anecdotally remarked that images of rivals with different racial backgrounds than the participants were “not threatening” as romantic rivals. Study 2 removed the photos and prompted participants to think about the scenario without additional imagery. Third, the experience of jealousy is one specific negative emotion that could be elicited in the imagined scenario. In Study 2, rather than focusing exclusively on jealousy, we asked participants to rate other distressing emotions (e.g., feeling “upset,” “hurt,” and “angry”) when imagining their partner flirting with a rival, using 5-point scales (1 = none; 5 = a lot).

As with Study 1, we measured positive and negative affect using the PANAS scale (Watson et al. 1988), and employed a filler task that was used to eliminate the effects of experimental primes on personality reports. Being that neuroticism and chronic jealousy were not of theoretical interest and did not diminish the experimental effects reported in Study 1, we excluded these variables from the second study, but we retained trait attachment styles as predictors given that they were of theoretical interest and related to the attachment prime manipulation.

Participants

One-hundred and seventeen (117) undergraduate students at the University of Maryland (86 women, 31 men) participated in the study for extra credit through the psychology department subject pool.1 As with Study 1, all non-heterosexual participants (7 reporting bisexuality, 4 reporting homosexuality, and 1 abstaining) were removed from the sample (final N = 105).

Materials and procedure

The methods, design, and protocol were identical to Study 1 save for the modifications listed above. In addition, the experiment was completed via the Internet using Qualtrics software. In this experiment, attachment dimensions were assessed using the 12-item, short-form ECR scale (Wei et al. 2007). Reliability was good for both dimensions; α = .79 for avoidance; α = .84 for anxiety.

Results and discussion

As with Study 1, we performed two checks for confounds related to our experimental manipulations. As predicted, there were no differences in the experimental condition groups on positive or negative affect or chronic jealousy (all Fs ns). It was hypothesized that secure attachment and material reward priming would result in less negative emotion (e.g., feeling “upset,” “hurt,” or “angry”) compared to the neutral control, following a jealousy-inducing scenario. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) tested mean differences in feeling “upset.” The analysis yielded a significant main effect based on visualization condition F (2,102) = 5.70, p < .01, η2 = .10. Participants in the neutral condition reported the highest “upset” feelings (M = 4.22, SD = .87), followed by the secure attachment (M = 3.67, SD = 1.20) and material reward (M = 3.41, SD = 1.06) conditions. Using Fisher’s Least Significant Difference (LSD) procedure, pairwise comparisons revealed that the attachment condition was significantly lower than the neutral condition (Mdifference = −.55, p < .03, d = .49), and the material reward condition was also significantly lower than the neutral condition (Mdifference = −.81, p = .001, d = 1.00). The attachment and material reward conditions did not differ significantly.

A second one-way ANOVA tested mean differences in “hurt” feelings. There was a significant main effect of visualization condition, F (2,102) = 3.96, p < .03, η2 = .07, with participants in the neutral condition reporting highest “hurt” feelings (M = 3.94, SD = 1.19), followed by the secure attachment (M = 3.64, SD = 1.15) and material reward (M = 3.16, SD = 1.14) conditions. Using Fisher’s Least Significant Difference (LSD) procedure, pairwise comparisons revealed that the mean ratings for “hurt” feelings differed significantly only between the material reward and neutral conditions (Mdifference = −.78, p < .01, d = .58). No other effects reached significance.

A third one-way ANOVA tested mean differences in feeling “angry,” and yielded a significant main effect of visualization condition, F (2,102) = 3.57, p < .04, η2 = .07. Participants in the neutral control condition reporting highest “angry” feelings (M = 3.97, SD = 1.23), followed by the secure attachment (M = 3.37, SD = 1.24) and material reward (M = 3.25, SD = 1.05) conditions. Using Fisher’s Least Significant Difference (LSD) procedure, pairwise comparisons revealed that the secure attachment condition was significantly lower than the neutral condition (Mdifference = −.60, p = .04, d = .39), and the material reward condition was significantly lower than the neutral control (Mdifference = −.72, p = .01, d = .55). The attachment and material reward conditions did not differ significantly. Means and standard deviations for these 3 analyses are displayed in Table 1. Taken together, the experiment revealed that secure attachment and materialism primes both attenuated feeling “upset” and “angry,” although only the materialism prime attenuated feeling “hurt.”

To examine the role of trait attachment styles as predictors of distressing reactions to the jealousy-provoking scenario, we performed hierarchical multiple regression analyses (by sets) identical to the one performed in Study 1, with the exception that we excluded neuroticism and chronic jealousy from the study design and analyses. The criterion variable for the first analysis was feeling “upset,” and the first set of predictors in this analysis included the dummy coded experimental priming effects for secure attachment and material reward. The second set contained relationship status, and the third set included attachment avoidance and anxiety. Coefficients are displayed in Table 3. As can be seen in the table, the experimental primes accounted for a significant amount of the variance accounted for, R2 = .10, p < .01. The addition of relationship status β = .08, ns as a predictor resulted in a small and non-significant change in the variance accounted for, R2 = .02, ns. However, the addition of attachment anxiety β = .24, p = .01 and avoidance β = −.20, p = .05 as predictors increased the total variance accounted for by a significant amount, R2 = .07, p < .02. When entered into a regression equation simultaneously at Step 3, the effect of experimentally primed secure attachment was reduced to marginal-significance β = −.19, p = .08, but the effect of experimentally primed material reward remained significant β = −.30, p < .01. The overall regression model was significant and accounted for approximately 20 % of the variance in “upset” scores, R2 = .20; F (5, 99) = 4.82, p = .001. No significant interactions emerged between the experimental primes and the attachment variables.
Table 3

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses (by sets) predicting feeling “upset,” “hurt” and “angry,” based upon experimental attachment and material reward primes, relationship status, and chronic emotional and behavioral jealousy (Study 2; N = 105)

Step

Variables

Overall Model

Increment

β

R2

F

sR2

F

Upset

1.

Primed attachment security

−.25*

.10

5.70**

.10

5.70**

Primed material reward

−.37**

    

2.

Primed attachment security

−.25*

    

Primed material reward

−.36**

    

Relationship status

.15

.12

4.73**

.02

2.60

3.

Primed attachment security

−.19+

    

Primed material reward

−.30**

    

Relationship status

.08

    

Attachment avoidance

−.19+

    

Attachment anxiety

.24*

.20

4.82***

.07

4.47*

Hurt

1.

Primed attachment security

−.12

.07

3.96*

.07

3.96*

Primed material reward

−.31**

    

2.

Primed attachment security

−.12

    

Primed material reward

−.31**

    

Relationship status

.15

.11

3.52*

.02

2.54

3.

Primed attachment security

−.06

    

Primed material reward

−.24*

    

Relationship status

.09

    

Attachment avoidance

−.12

    

Attachment anxiety

.30**

.18

4.42**

.09

5.31**

Angry

1.

Primed attachment security

−.24*

.07

3.57*

.07

3.57*

Primed material reward

−.29*

    

2.

Primed attachment security

−.23*

    

Primed material reward

−.28*

    

Relationship status

.10

.08

2.76*

.01

1.13

3.

Primed attachment security

−.18

    

Primed material reward

−.21+

    

Relationship status

.02

    

Attachment avoidance

−.23*

    

Attachment anxiety

.23*

.16

3.61**

.08

4.58*

*** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05, + p < .10

The criterion variable for the second analysis was feeling “hurt,” and predictors were identical to those used in the previous analysis. Coefficients are displayed in Table 3. As can be seen in the table, the experimental primes accounted for a significant amount of the variance accounted for, R2 = .07, p = .02. The addition of relationship status β = .09, ns as a predictor resulted in a small and non-significant change in the variance accounted for, R2 = .02, ns. However, the addition of attachment anxiety β = .30, p < .01 and avoidance β = −.12, ns as predictors increased the total variance accounted for by a significant amount, R2 = .09, p < .01. When entered into a regression equation simultaneously at Step 3, the effect of experimentally primed secure attachment was no longer significant β = −.06, ns, but the effect of experimentally primed material reward remained significant β = −.24, p < .05. The overall regression model was significant and accounted for approximately 18 % of the variance in “hurt” scores, R2 = .18; F (5, 99) = 4.42, p = .001.

An interaction emerged between trait attachment avoidance and the materialism prime β = .42, p = .01. Simple slopes analyses revealed that when avoidance was high (1 SD above the mean) the effect of the materialism prime was negligible and non-significant β = .02, ns, but when avoidance was low (1 SD below the mean) the effect of the materialism prime was significant β = −.55, p = .001. These results demonstrate that the materialism prime was only effective at attenuating “hurt” feelings in participants with low attachment avoidance.

The criterion variable for the third analysis was feeling “angry,” and predictors were identical to those used in the previous analyses. Coefficients are displayed in Table 3. As can be seen in the table, the experimental primes accounted for a significant amount of the variance accounted for, R2 = .07, p = .03. The addition of relationship status β = .02, ns as a predictor resulted in a small and non-significant change in the variance accounted for, R2 = .01, ns. However, the addition of attachment anxiety β = .23, p < .03 and avoidance β = −.23, p = .02 as predictors increased the total variance accounted for by a significant amount, R2 = .08, p < .02. When entered into a regression equation simultaneously at Step 3, the effect of experimentally primed secure attachment was no longer significant β = −.18, p = .11, and the effect of experimentally primed material reward was reduced to marginal-significance β = −.21, p = .06. The overall regression model was significant and accounted for approximately 16 % of the variance in feeling “angry,” R2 = .16; F (5, 97) = 3.61, p < .01. No significant interactions emerged between the experimental primes and the attachment variables.

In sum, Hypothesis 1 was supported and Hypothesis 2 was partially supported. The results from Study 2 revealed that experimentally induced feelings of secure attachment as well as material reward uniquely resulted in a decrease in self-reported distress for the imagined scenario. Independent from those effects, attachment anxiety was associated with greater “upset,” “hurt,” and “angry” feelings, whereas attachment avoidance was associated with feeling less upset (though this effect was marginally significant) and less angry. Relationship status was unrelated to outcome variables. However, when the experimental effects were examined in simultaneous regression equations with trait attachment styles, their predictive power was diminished, suggesting that primed attachment security does not consistently predict imagined “upset,” hurt,” and “angry” feelings over and above trait attachment anxiety and avoidance. In addition, an interaction emerged for “hurt” feelings, such that for those participants scoring low in attachment avoidance, a material mindset reduced that particular negative affect, but for those high in avoidance, the prime effect was not significant.

General discussion

The current research showed that romantic jealousy and other related distressing emotional reactions were less pronounced in the minds of participants as a function of primed secure attachment and materialism. In other words, after being prompted to think about material gain or secure and supportive relationships, participants imagined themselves experiencing less jealousy and feeling less upset, hurt, and angry relative to the control group. Based on these results, attachment theory and research on jealousy are bolstered with the knowledge that secure attachment causes a reduction in anticipated negative affect due to a relationship threat, which partially explains why secure individuals report experiencing less jealousy relative to insecure individuals in their relationships. Dispositional (chronic) thoughts of security decrease the intensity of romantic jealousy and other related emotions seemingly due to the fact that secure individuals do not perceive severe threats to their relationships (e.g., betrayal, abandonment, intimidating rivals) as insecure individuals are prone to do.

In addition, the effect of materialism on romantic jealousy was statistically indistinguishable from the effect of secure attachment; the two experimental groups displayed equivalent levels of romantic jealousy. These results indicate that the psychological boost resulting from secure attachment (with respect to jealousy) is functionally equivalent to the boost from material reward. This finding is consistent with previous research and theoretical underpinnings. Researchers have explored the similarities between attachment support and materialism in terms of their effect on affect regulation (e.g., Creasey 2008; Mikulincer and Shaver 2008; Mikulincer et al. 2003; Zhou and Gao 2008). Specifically, social pain can be offset by both social support and material wealth; in times of psychological distress, people turn to attachment figures for comfort (the safe haven mechanism) as well as turning to resources, possessions, or money as a secondary coping mechanism. Perhaps because people conceptualize money and material possessions as having a relationship-boosting quality, that leads to the idea that jealousy-provoking scenarios can be dealt with more easily and with less intense negative affect.

Trait levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance showed divergent patterns with regards to the outcome variables, although not all effects were significant. Attachment anxiety was associated with increased jealousy, upset feelings, hurt feelings, and anger, while attachment avoidance was associated with non-significant decreases in jealousy, upset feelings, hurt feelings, and a significant decrease in anger. The effects for anxiety are entirely consistent with previous research showing that insecurity correlates with more negative affect (e.g., Buunk 1997), although the effect of attachment related anxiety on jealousy did not remain significant over and above the effect of chronic emotional jealousy. This follows logically given that the Multi-Dimensional Jealousy Scale includes questions specifically pertaining to jealous experiences. Although attachment anxiety is associated with jealousy, it is unlikely that there is a specific mechanism within anxious attachment that independently predicts jealousy above and beyond variables that explicitly tap into jealous feelings.

The imagined experience of feeling comfort and support from attachment figures and newly acquired material wealth both resulted in less jealous emotion after an imagined relationship threat relative to the neutral control. Although the two mechanisms are not equivalent, under certain circumstances (and in the absence of an attachment figure), increased wealth appeared to mitigate the social pain associated with romantic jealousy. This suggests a causal framework for understanding the association between attachment, wealth, and romantic jealousy. Presumably those who experience “chronic activation” of secure attachment cognitions feel less jealousy as a result, and those who chronically experience gains in material wealth also feel less jealousy as a result. Furthermore, these effects did not vary depending on general positive or negative mood, which were not significantly different across conditions. Relationships status (being single or in a committed relationship) also did not affect the results.

Aside from the experimental effects for attachment security and material wealth, trait personality variables also played a role in imagined jealous reactions. In Study 1, attachment anxiety predicted increased jealousy over and above the primes, but this effect vanished when chronic emotional jealousy was included as a predictor. This suggests that independent of experimentally induced attachment security, trait attachment anxiety had little predictive power above and beyond trait levels of chronic emotional jealousy. But neither of those variables negated the experimental priming effects in Study 1. In Study 2, however, the experimental effects were diminished when trait attachment anxiety and avoidance were added as independent predictors. While the material reward prime remaining a significant predictor of feeling upset, hurt, and angry, the secure attachment prime’s effect dropped below significance, suggesting that primed secure attachment does little to affect hurt, upset, or angry feelings above and beyond trait levels of attachment insecurity. This subtle difference in the wording of the items following the jealousy-provoking scenario highlight a discontinuity in how people experience romantic emotions depending on attachment. Previous research has yielded similar findings (e.g., Sharpsteen and Kirkpatrick 1997). In addition, a significant interaction revealed that the materialism prime reduced “hurt” feelings only for those participants low in attachment avoidance (the experimental prime did not alter “hurt” feelings for those high in avoidance). Finally, the associations between attachment and jealousy were not explained by trait neuroticism, thus ruling out another alternative explanation.

The use of a filler task after the dependent measures and before the personality measures was necessary to wash out priming effects (and it proved successful), but nonetheless, one notable limitation of this design was that we were unable to measure mood ratings, attachment styles, or chronic jealousy before the experimental manipulations or the dependent measures. Future studies might include a pre-experiment personality assessment (before arriving to the laboratory), as well as a mood rating survey before the priming occurs. In this way, all notable individual-differences and possible confounding variables can be assessed prior to the experimental manipulations.

Some researchers have noted this type of research methodology (utilizing hypothetical, imagined situations) may be lacking in external validity (DeSteno et al. 2002). However, most if not all of the research in this area utilizes this methodology. Laboratory manipulations are limited given the ethical boundaries of evoking or experimenting with the actual experience of jealousy in romantic relationships. In addition, the controlled nature of experimentation allowed us to extract a fair degree of confidence in causality, in contrast to previous studies that are correlational and subject to reverse-causality or third variable concerns. The current studies permit us to conclude that in the case of imagined jealousy, causal effects of primed attachment security and material reward are independent of more stable individual differences (although when participants responded to “upset,” “hurt,” and “angry” items, the results were somewhat more nuanced).

In sum, this research represents an advance in understanding romantic jealousy as a form of social psychological pain, with respect to attachment representations and material wealth. These studies provided evidence that jealous thoughts were less pronounced in people’s minds following prompts for secure and supportive relationships or materialism. Researchers in the future can address the similarities between secure attachment schemas and materialism, and disentangle the relative effects of each on the experience of jealousy.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Participants’ age was not assessed in this sample.

Notes

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Art Aron for his feedback on the manuscript, and the undergraduate research assistants who helped with the project: Corey Herth, Jenn Loya, Monica Margulis, Stephanie Nandoo, Greg Vosits, and Danielle Wischenka.

References

  1. Arndt, J., Solomon, S., Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2004). The urge to splurge: A terror management account of materialism and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 198–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Banerjee, R., & Dittmar, H. (2008). Individual differences in children’s materialism: The role of peer relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 17–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumiester, R., & Leary, M. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, J. L., Sheffield, D., Leary, M. R., & Robinson, M. E. (2003). Social support and experimental pain. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 276–283.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buss, D., & Haselton, M. (2005). The evolution of jealousy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(11), 506–507.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buunk, B. (1997). Personality, birth order, and attachment styles as related to various types of jealousy. Personality and Individual Differences, 23(6), 997–1006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buunk, B. P., & Dijkstra, P. (2001). Evidence from a homosexual sample for a sex-specific rival-oriented mechanism: Jealousy as a function of a rival’s physical attractiveness and dominance. Personal Relationships, 8(4), 391–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carnelley, K. B., & Rowe, A. C. (2007). Repeated priming of attachment security influences later views of self and relationships. Personal Relationships, 14(2), 307–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carnelley, K. B., & Rowe, A. C. (2010). Priming a sense of security: What goes through people’s minds? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(2), 253–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chiffriller, S., & Hennessy, J. (2010). An empirically generated typology of men who batter. Victims and Offenders, 5, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S. G., & Aiken, L. S. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  13. Creasey, G. (2008). Social support, money, and pain management mechanisms: An attachment perspective. Psychological Inquiry, 19(3–4), 161–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DeSteno, D., Bartlett, M., Braverman, J., & Salovey, P. (2002). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolutionary mechanism or artifact of measurement? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1103–1116.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dijkstra, P., Groothof, H. K., Poel, G. A., Laverman, T. G., Schrier, M., & Buunk, B. P. (2001). Sex differences in the events that elicit jealouosy among homosexuals. Personal Relationships, 8(1), 41–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fraley, R., Waller, N. G., & Brennan, K. A. (2000). An item response theory analysis of self-report measures of adult attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 350–365.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Guerrero, L. (1998). Attachment-style differences in the experience and expression of romantic jealousy. Personal Relationships, 5, 273–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harris, C. R. (2002). Sexual and romantic jealousy in heterosexual and homosexual adults. Psychological Science, 13(1), 7–12.Google Scholar
  19. MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 202–223.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maner, J. K., Gailliot, M. T., Rouby, A., & Miller, S. L. (2007). Can’t take my eyes off you: Attentional adhesion to mates and rivals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(3), 389–401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marazziti, D., Consoli, G., Albanese, F., Laquidara, E., Baroni, S., & Dell’Osso, M. C. (2010). Romantic attachment and subtypes/dimensions of jealousy. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 6, 53–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mikulincer, M., & Arad, D. (1999). Attachment working models and cognitive openness in close relationships: A test of chronic and temporary accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(4), 710–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mikulincer, M., Birnbaum, G., Woddis, D., & Nachmias, O. (2000). Stress and accessibility of proximity-related thoughts: Exploring the normative and intraindividual components of attachment theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 509–523.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2001). Attachment theory and intergroup bias: Evidence that priming the secure base schema attenuates negative reactions to out-groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(1), 97–115.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2005). Mental representations of attachment security: Theoretical foundation for a positive social psychology. In M. W. Baldwin (Ed.), Interpersonal cognition (pp. 233–266). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  26. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007a). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  27. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007b). Boosting attachment security to promote mental health, prosocial values, and inter-group tolerance. Psychological Inquiry, 18(3), 139–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2008). ‘Can’t buy me love’: An attachment perspective on social support and money as psychological buffers. Psychological Inquiry, 19(3–4), 167–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Pereg, D. (2003). Attachment theory and affect regulation: The dynamics, development, and cognitive consequences of attachment-related strategies. Motivation and Emotion, 27(2), 77–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pfeiffer, S. M., & Wong, P. T. (1989). Multidimensional jealousy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6(2), 181–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rammstedt, B., & John, O. P. (2007). Measuring personality in one minute or less: A 10-item short version of the big five inventory in English and German. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(1), 203–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rowe, A. C., & Carnelley, K. B. (2005). Preliminary support for the use of a hierarchical mapping technique to examine attachment networks. Personal Relationships, 12, 499–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rydell, R., & Bringle, R. (2007). Differentiating reactive and suspicious jealousy. Social Behavior and Personality, 35(8), 1099–1114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sharpsteen, D., & Kirkpatrick, L. (1997). Romantic jealousy and adult romantic attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(3), 627–640.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 971–980.Google Scholar
  36. Waters, E., Merrick, S., Treboux, D., Crowell, J., & Albersheim, L. (2000). Attachment security in infancy and early adulthood: A twenty-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 71(3), 684–689.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063–1070.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wei, M., Russell, D. W., Mallinckrodt, B., & Vogel, D. L. (2007). The Experiences in Close Relationship Scale (ECR)-short form: Reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 88(2), 187–204.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wigman, S. A., Graham-Kevan, N., & Archer, J. (2008). Investigating sub-groups of harassers: The roles of attachment, dependency, jealousy and aggression. Journal of Family Violence, 23, 557–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Zhou, X., & Gao, D. (2008). Social support and money as pain management mechanism. Psychological Inquiry, 19(3–4), 127–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.University of MunichMunichGermany

Personalised recommendations