Relationships glossary

The following page is simply a glossary of terms to assist students with the  psychology of human relationships unit.  If there is a term that is missing from this list and you would like a clear definition, please let me know.

To make the glossary a bit more readable, the terms are divided into terminology related to research, concepts in the psychology of human relationships and specific theories.

Terminology related to research

Cross-sectional design: Comparing two or more groups on a particular variable at a specific time. The opposite is a longitudinal design where the researcher measures change in an individual over time.

Double-blind testing: an experimental procedure in which neither the researcher doing the study nor the participants know the specific type of treatment each participant receives until after the experiment is over; a double-blind procedure is used to guard against both experimenter bias and placebo effects.

Longitudinal study:  research over a period of time using observations, interviews or psychometric testing.  (Similar to a repeated measures design in an experiment).

Meta-analysis: Pooling data from multiple studies of the same research question to arrive at one combined answer.

Prospective research:  A study that attempts to find a correlation between two variables by collecting data early in the life of participants and then continuing to test them over a period of time to measure change and development.

Single blind testing: an experiment in which the researchers know which participants are receiving a treatment and which are not; however, the participants do not know which condition they are in.

Concepts in the psychology of relationships

Altruism: When one helps another person for no apparent reward and potentially even at a cost to oneself.

Bystanderism: Not helping when one is in need of help.

Congruence: When comments made by others about you, match your perception of yourself - that is, your " self schema ." For example, using flattery which is not congruent with an individual's person of him/herself may result in the "ingratiating effect" and the person may find the flatterer unattractive or no longer a good partner.

Diffusion of responsibility: When members of a group assume that someone else will take action. The result is that no one ends up doing anything to help someone in need.

Egoism: The argument that each person has but one ultimate aim: his own welfare. With regard to helping behaviour, people high in egoism only help when it brings some benefit to them - including the lowering of distress caused by witnessing someone in need of help. This is the basis of Cialdini's theory of Negative State Relief.

Empathy: the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person.

Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC): a group of genes that play an important role in the immune system. MHC genes make molecules that enable the immune system to recognize pathogens; in general, the more diverse the MHC genes of the parents the stronger the immune system of the offspring.

Microexpressions: a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face of humans according to emotions experienced. They usually occur in high-stakes situations, where people have something to lose or gain. Microexpressions occur when a person is consciously trying to conceal all signs of how he or she is feeling, or when a person does not consciously know how he or she is feeling. Gottmann argues that microexpressions linked to contempt and disgust are predictors of the end of a relationship.

Passionate love: A state of intense longing for union with another. Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection. When these intense emotions are reciprocated, people feel elated and fulfilled. Unreciprocated love leads to feelings of despondence and despair. Hatfield suggests that passionate love is transitory, usually lasting between 6 and 30 months.

Pathogen stress: the level of disease causing agents within a community.

Pluralistic ignorance : This is a type of social comparison that results in a group adopting a false belief. For example, studies where smoke has come into a room and confederates don't react often results in an individual not taking action. Through informational social influence - a conformity effect - they assume that nothing is wrong, even though this is against all logic and previous learning.

Self-disclosure: Sharing facts about one's past as well as one's inner thoughts, feelings and emotions. Self-disclosure leads to deeper mutual understanding and demonstrates that one is willing to be vulnerable with someone that they love.

Theories in the psychology of relationships

The Empathy-Altruism Model: Batson's theory that helping behaviour may be motivated either by the need to get rid of distress or because of a feeling of empathy toward the person who is in need of help. Batson argued that one's level of "egoism" is a key factor in why they may or may not help.

Exchange theory: Argues that human behavior is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis of a situation. This may explain why people choose not to help - that is, they think about the safety involved in helping, whether they are able to help, the fear of the repercussions of failing to help someone or the cost to health or wealth. However, it is difficult to use this theory to explain snap decisions to help which are often seen in cases of altruism.

Kin Selection Theory: the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other. This is the basis of Dawkin's "Selfish Gene" theory. This is done to maximize the "inclusive fitness" of the individual - that is, to increase one's chance of reproduction and passing down genetic material.

Matching hypothesis: the idea that people are more likely to form successful relationships with and express liking for people whose level of physical attractiveness roughly equals their own.

Mere Exposure Effect: Feeling a preference for an individual because he or she is familiar. This is the basis for the the proximity principle - the tendency for individuals to form interpersonal relations with those who are close by.

Negative State Relief Model: Argues that we help in order to lower one's feeling of distress when seeing someone who is need of help. This is an argument that helping behaviour is not altruistic.

Social Penetration Theory (Taylor) argues that close relationships are formed by a gradual process of self-disclosure. Failure to disclose in a relationship leads to a lack of intimacy which eventually may lead to the end of the relationship.

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