Partner Support May Negatively Impact Success

This study reports the results of three different experiments that show that if a person relies on another to achieve something, such as a health or career target, he might lose the drive to work towards the goal. In the first experiment, volunteers considered spending less effort on reaching their health goals when they had partners to help them. In the second experiment, subjects who had someone to help them work towards their academic goals displayed a greater tendency to put off the tasks, compared with those who did not have support. In the third experiment, subjects who depended more on another person to achieve their goals were found to be more committed to the person.

It is believed and proven in past studies that having a supportive partner who is willing to help an individual reach goals is considered motivationally bolstering, pushing individuals to work harder. However, the authors of this study hypothesize that having such a partner may make the individual complacent and reduce the motivation that he has towards achieving a goal. It is also possible that when a person begins to rely on a supportive partner, he also feels a deeper commitment toward the partner. In this study, “self-regulatory outsourcing” has been defined as “an effect in which individuals exert less effort to achieve a goal after considering ways in which a significant other is instrumental in helping them achieve that goal.”

* For the first experiment, 56 female subjects with an average age of 33 years were selected. The women were given questionnaires regarding their plans towards a health goal like staying fit and losing weight. They were asked about the support that they received from their partners in achieving their goal.
* The second experiment involved 42 female and 35 male participants. The subjects were informed that they would have to perform two sets of academic tasks. The first test would be simple and the second, more difficult.
* One group was told that their resources would be exhausted if they took too long to complete the first task; the other group had no such instructions. The first task ended at seven minutes and there was no second task. All the participants were asked initially about their partner support in the tasks.
* For the third experiment, a total of 99 females with an average age of 32 years were selected. All the participants were given questionnaires related to how much support they received from their partners in achieving health and career goals. They rated their commitment to this supportive partner at the conclusion of the experiment.

* Results from the first experiment showed that women who received adequate support from their partners in achieving a health goal planned on spending less effort and time on achieving the goal.
* Results from experiment two showed that subjects who relied on their romantic partners’ support for achieving the second difficult task spent more time on the simpler first task and consequently exhausted their resources.
* Results from the third experiment showed that when women assumed that their partners would help them reach their goals, they planned less on working toward them; they were more committed to the partners.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors admit that the participants in each experiment may have had different focus on different goals naturally. This means that participants in the first experiment who were asked questions regarding their health goals may be more focused on their career or academic goals. The authors suggest that these experiments may set the stage for further studies on how partners in a relationship can help in self regulation and provide motivational support.

The results of the study suggest that “after thinking about how their partner helped them achieve their health and fitness goals, participants planned to spend significantly less time and effort pursuing those goals in the upcoming week.” Similarly, when reassured of a partner’s support, “undergraduate participants spent significantly more time procrastinating, leaving themselves less time to pursue a subsequent academic task that they believed could increase their academic success.” This phenomenon was true for both community participants as well as students. The authors suggest that this interdependence on partners, which on the surface may seem to be harmful for self control, might be made more productive. This can be achieved if a couple shares the responsibility of self control and regulation.

For More Information:
Outsourcing Self-Regulation
Publication Journal: Psychological Science, February 2011
By Gráinne M. Fitzsimons and Eli J. Finkel; Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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