Monday, 4 July 2016

Optimism and Love

Recently I have become interested in the effects of optimism on relationship satisfaction. Unrealistic optimism about romantic relationships is very widespread. Even people who are aware of divorce rates in the society in which they live tend to overestimate the longevity of their relationships.

Unrealistically optimistic predictions about the future of our romantic relationships may be supported by other positive illusions, for instance, the superiority illusion and the love-is-blind illusion. According to the superiority illusion, which is a form of self-enhancement, we tend to perceive our relationship as better than most relationships. According to the love-is-blind illusion, we tend to be blind to our partner’s faults, and perceive the partner as better than average in a number of domains including intelligence and attractiveness. 

But for Murray and colleagues (1996) such illusions are not obviously a bad thing, as people who have an optimistic disposition towards the future and idealise their partners have more satisfying and longer lasting relationships, where conflicts are resolved more effectively. 

According to the ‘self-fulfillment’ model they endorse, positivity has three main effects: 
  • partners are protected from the potentially disruptive effects of conflict and doubt; 
  • people deal with problems effectively and see the bright side in their partners’ faults; 
  • people live up to the high standards of their idealising partners, increasing their sense of their own self-worth and coming to perceive themselves as positively as their partners do. 

The empirical results discussed by Murray and colleagues support the self-fulfillment model: idealised conceptions of our partners help us overcome difficulties and are much better related to wellbeing and relationship satisfaction and stability (even in the long term) than more realistic evaluations. Satisfaction mediates the link between positive illusions and stability. 

Moreover, in the long run, due to the self-fulfilling nature of positive evaluations, the gap between idealisation and reality shrinks, and people start manifesting those qualities that partners always attributed to them. So it would seem that happiness in love does not always come at the expense of knowledge...

I will discuss optimism, love and agency at the British Society for the Philosophy of Science annual conference in Cardiff this Friday.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lisa, Thank you for the reference to the study by Murray. I think you'd find a lot to agree with in Troy Jollimore's book Love's Vision, where he defends love's epistemic (biased?) standpoint against Simon Keller. He argues it is far from evident that a detached, disengaged perspective should be the default standpoint in epistemology.


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