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Psychol Sci. 2010 Jun;21(6):857-64. doi: 10.1177/0956797610371342. Epub 2010 May 11.

Assessing the seeds of relationship decay. Using implicit evaluations to detect the early stages of disillusionment.

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University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0266, USA.


Using two longitudinal samples, we sought to identify the beginnings of relationship decay by validating the partner-focused go/no-go association task (partner-GNAT), an implicit measure assessing evaluations of romantic partners. In Study 1, we assessed positive and negative attitudes using generic positive and negative stimulus words (e.g., gift and death, respectively) as targets, whereas in Study 2, we used relationship-specific positive and negative stimulus words (e.g., accepting and attacking, respectively) as targets. Results from both samples showed that positive implicit partner evaluations were associated with a reduced risk of breakup over the following 12 months, even after controlling for self-reported relationship satisfaction, hostile conflict, and neuroticism. This suggests that the earliest seeds of relationship decay might be found within attitudes that subjects might be unaware of or are unable or unwilling to report. Both studies also offered support for the importance of negative implicit partner evaluations. In Study 1, this support was in the form of an interaction (revealing that individuals with both low positive and high negative evaluations were at greatest risk for breakup). In Study 2, this support was in the form of a main effect (negative implicit partner evaluations marginally predicted increased risk of breakup).

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