Reciprocity is often considered a precondition for sacrificial behaviors, with people being willing to make sacrifices in their relationships to better their collective interests and expecting their partners to do the same. However, whether relational sacrifices exist in a zero-sum game, wherein reciprocity cannot be established, remains unclear. Therefore, this study utilized the cold pressor task (CPT) to explore communal sacrificial behavior among romantic partners and to examine any possible gender differences in these behaviors in a laboratory setting. Seventy-two college students (36 men and 36 women, all currently in romantic relationships) were instructed to place their sub-dominant hand into cold water (2°C) as long as possible (baseline), for their romantic partners (romantic partner-beneficiary condition) or for their opposite-sex friends (friend-beneficiary condition; enduring it longer so that their friend/romantic partners may endure it for a shorter duration) in a counterbalanced order. Data on pain tolerance time were collected in the CPTs, with sacrificial behaviors indexed by how much longer participants endured pain for their romantic partners or friends than the baseline. The data indicated that participants demonstrated a longer pain tolerance time in partner-beneficiary condition than the baseline (and friend-beneficiary). No significant difference was found between friend-beneficiary condition and baseline. Moreover, a gender difference was noted, with male participants having a longer pain tolerance increment rate than female participants. These results provide a foundation for experimental research of relational sacrificial behaviors and suggest that relational sacrifices exist beyond reciprocity in romantic relationships, but not within opposite-sex friendships.
Yan, K., Wang, X., Wang, X., Uquillas, F. d’Oleire, He, Q., Cheng, L., & Zou, Z. (2022). Beyond reciprocity: Relational sacrifices in romantic partners. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 39(8), 2507–2527. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075221080997