When Temptations Aren’t Tempting: The Autonomy and Derogation of Alternatives Model



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The perception of attractive alternative partners is a major threat to people’s commitment to their romantic relationships. In response, people derogate the attractiveness of such alternatives in an attempt to maintain commitment, which researchers refer to as derogation of alternatives. Relationships researchers have amassed a considerable body of work on this phenomenon which finds that derogation occurs as a function of commitment, such that higher commitment is associated with more derogation. This dissertation sought to integrate self-determination theory with the derogation literature by both proposing and testing the Autonomy and Derogation of Alternatives Model (ADAM). In sum, this research tested whether people high in relationship autonomy are not as threatened by attractive alternatives, and thus do not exhibit the same pattern of derogation as people low in relationship autonomy. Additionally, the research tested the potential moderating role of relationship autonomy regarding the effects of defensive mechanisms on commitment. In three studies, people were asked to judge the attractiveness of people in photographs. Study 1 employed a cross-sectional design that examined the possible moderating role of relationship autonomy in college students. Study 2 employed an experimental design that manipulated relationship autonomy in order to test the causal role of motivation. Finally, Study 3 used a cross-sectional design to test the generalizability of these effects in a non-college student sample. Results largely did not support the ADAM, finding limited evidence that relationship autonomy moderated the association between commitment and ratings. Of notable exception is Study 2, in which experimentally manipulated relationship autonomy marginally moderated the interaction between commitment and threat condition. Further, relationship autonomy was unexpectedly found to predict lower perceptions of attractiveness, suggesting that relationship autonomy may itself increase derogation of alternatives



Relationship autonomy, Derogation, Self-determination theory, Commitment