Cognitive and Behavioral Biases Toward Close Partners in Conflict with Others

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The current research explored whether people exhibited biased perceptions and behavioral responses to conflicts involving close partners relative to more psychologically distant relations. In Study 1, participants read a short vignette describing a conflict between two individuals in which one person (i.e., the perpetrator) upset or hurt another (i.e., the victim). Participants either imagined a close partner filling the role of perpetrator, victim, or neither role, in the conflict scenario. Results indicated that participants both attributed and communicated more blame for individuals who hurt or upset close partners relative to strangers – a “magnification” effect. Participants also communicated less blame for victims who were close partners relative to strangers. In Study 2, participants recalled actual conflicts where either close or distant partners served the role of perpetrator or victims in conflicts with other individuals. Results indicated that participants “magnified” the blame for individuals who hurt or upset close, but not distant, partners. Participants also attributed less blame to close partners that they empathized with, and this reduction in blame predicted biased behavioral responding, which included more favorable portrayals of partners, less favorable portrayals of adversaries, more consolation of close partners, and more validation of partners who were upset by adversaries when partners were close relative to distant. Implications for these results and suggestions for future directions are discussed.