Attentional biases toward attractive alternatives and rivals: Mechanisms involved in relationship maintenance among Chinese women

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Abstract

A long-term romantic relationship can offer many benefits to committed individuals. Thus, humans possess relationship maintenance mechanisms to protect against threats from those who serve as attractive alternatives or intrasexual rivals. Many studies have indicated that romantic love can act as a commitment device to activate these mechanisms. To examine the attentional bias associated with relationship maintenance among 108 college students (49 single and 59 committed females) in China, we used a semantic priming procedure to activate mental representations associated with romantic love and then asked participants to complete a dot-probe task for the purpose of making a distinction between the engage and disengage components of attention. No significant engaging effects toward attractive faces were observed among committed females, but the following significant disengaging effects were found: when primed with romantic love, single females showed increased attention toward and difficulty in disengaging from attractive male faces, whereas females already in a committed relationship did not alter their attention, remaining as inattentive to attractive alternatives as they were in the baseline condition. In addition, committed females responded to love priming by exhibiting difficulty in disengaging from attractive rivals. The present findings provide evidence in the Chinese cultural context for the existence of early-stage attentional processes in the domain of relationship maintenance that committed Chinese females protected an ongoing relationship by not only being inattentive to attractive males who could serve as attractive alternatives, but also being more attentive to attractive females who could be potential rivals when mental representations associated with romantic love were primed.

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Ma, Y., Zhao, G., Tu, S., & Zheng, Y. (2015). Attentional biases toward attractive alternatives and rivals: Mechanisms involved in relationship maintenance among Chinese women. PLoS ONE, 10(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0136662

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