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Interpreting Experience
Intimate Relationships, 3rd edition
© 2019 by W. W. Norton & Company
Topics of Discussion

Processing Information
Functioning of Beliefs and Values
Origins of Beliefs and Values
Motivated Reasoning
Responding to Negative Experience
The Limits of Motivated Reasoning
Minal Hajratwala
Minal Hajratwala
This chapter starts off with an account of:
Minal Hajratwala
her fight for her beliefs and values as a Hindu Indian woman
Minal, although knowing it would be a great fight:
came out
she is a radical, bisexual feminist
Her ability to be authentic with who she is:
conflicted with her familial belief and values
cultural beliefs and values
Minal Hajratwala
As you can imagine, it pretty much Sucks!
From one generation to the next & across cultures:

standards for what makes a good or bad intimate relationship may
vary greatly
Even within a culture, aspects of human intimacy that may be
acceptable for some or even desirable may completely be intolerable
to others….
This diversity in relationships and how different people perceive it:
tells us that what makes it satisfying and fulfilling:

Its not necessarily that its universal and fixed—rather its relative.
It involves context and interpretation
Minal Hajratwala
One function about how people feel about their relationships
probably more related to how they think about their
not just what they experience
As we develop and grow into adulthood:
we increasingly gain an understanding of who we are as an
individual in this world
what we stand for or cant stand for
learn about the roles we will play in this life
This chapter address these issues as we look at our beliefs and
values and the role of this in intimate relationships
Questions of Interest
How do partners draw from their experiences to
evaluate their relationships?
How do our beliefs and values shape our
relationship experiences and where do they come
What are the motives and biases that affect our
Can we believe pretty much whatever we want
about our relationships or are there limits?
How objective are people about their relationship?
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
In an intimate relationship, understanding each other requires
partners to recognize:
specific events do not always have a single meaning
Every moment in a relationship provides us with a steady stream of
new info about:
our partner
• state of the relationship
We all use our experiences to evaluate and create meaning
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Information processing:
all the ways we organize our many perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs
about the world
Biggest challenge: deciding what means what
same specific behaviors can be interpreted in different ways
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Mary Jane is a young woman of 24 who has been exploring! Every
morning, she wakes up and goes down to the dock and spends
hours looking listlessly to the ocean
What do you read from Mary’s behavior?
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Self care?
Lost someone in a drowning accident?
Partner of a fisherman or woman?
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
With partners, we only get a portion of the story:
To really understand relationships we need to
connect the:
with some higher-order feelings
from each partner
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Chapman’s (1995) book The Five Love Languages-an
example of how behaviors and their meaning vary
in relationships
Lists five different ways that individuals have of
conveying love and care for each other
five ways to express love emotionally
Each person has a primary love language that their
partner must learn to speak if they want that person to
feel loved
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Chapman’s list

Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Receiving Gifts
Acts of Services
Physical Touch
What do these differences mean?
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Words of Affirmation:
A simple “thank you for your thoughtfulness” will
often suffice
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Quality Time:
Giving your partner your undivided attention is one of
the best ways you can show your love
Important to listen and interact
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Receiving Gifts
Gift giving in many cultures and society is perceived as
an expression of love
Remembering the birthdays and other holidays and not
so important days to give a small gift
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Act of Services:
Maxine: married for 15 years to David
she said: “I don’t understand David. Every day he tells
me that he loves me, but he never does anything to help
me. He just sits on the couch watching TV while I wash
the dishes, and the thought never crosses his mind to
help me. I’m sick of hearing ‘I love you.’ If he loved me,
he would do something to help me.”
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Physical Touch
Can include everything from hand holding, to an
embrace and sexual intimacy
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
The possibility that partners can have different love
languages presents:
the opportunity for miscommunication of love and
Also, it is one way that actions can be interpreted
differently between partners
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Our conclusions about the world are based on more than
others’ behavior
Many of our experiences are subject to multiple
We draw on our expectations to interpret others’ behavior
For example, did that person smile because he or she
likes us or because he or she is friendly?
People with different levels of self-esteem might arrive
at different answers
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
• For example:
• Did that person smile because he or she likes us?
• or because he or she is friendly?
• People with different levels of self-esteem might
arrive at different answers
Our Thoughts and Expectations Color . . .
Which behaviors we attend to
How we interpret those behaviors
How we react to those behaviors
Two people can come to very different conclusions after witnessing
the same event
Ex. Mary Jane’s story
Information Processing
How do we link our experiences to meaning
How we organize information about the world and come to
Things we know vary in how specific or general they are
Information Processing
Information about a relationship exists along a
continuum of very:
specific (daily occurrences)
to mid-level abstract (general beliefs about the
partner’s qualities)
to global (overall perceptions of the relationship)
Specific vs. Mid level vs. Global
Specific: Consists of daily occurrences
Example: “my partner makes great lasagna”
Mid level: Knowledge is in the form of general beliefs
Example: “my partner is a great cook”
Global: Most abstract level-broad feelings about whether
our rel. is worthwhile overall
Example: “this is the person I want to spend my time with
and I think this is the right rel. for me”
Assembling Relationship Knowledge
We used these three information processing to provide concrete

as a reflection of the partner’s qualities
as a reflection of the overall state of the relationship
When describing others, we tend to gravitate toward the mid-level
Despite a period of behaviorism in relationship science focusing on
couple behaviors:

we now know understanding beliefs and values is important to
understanding how partners act in relationships
Assembling Relationship Knowledge
How Do We Link Experience to Meaning?
Information processing refers to all the ways in which we organize
our many perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs about the world
Among the most useful tools we have for information processing
are our beliefs and values.
Belief: simple descriptions about the world and reflect our ideas
about what the world (and relationships) is like

Example: “Couples who fight are probably unhappy.”
Value: an opinion or attitude about what relationships should be

Example: “Couples should agree more often than they disagree.”
Information Processing:
Linking Experience to Meaning
Biggest challenge: deciding what means what
Same specific behaviors can be interpreted in different ways
Areas of Flexibility and Implication
The same specific behavior can support different
A punctual partner may be reliable
Lover who wants to be around you all day is either
affectionate and loving
Or clingy
This flexibility explains why partners each perceive
same events very differently
Areas of Flexibility and Implication
Imagine your impression of :
someone you have just met

someone you have known for a long time
Imagine that you saw each of these people give
money to a homeless person
specific behavior can support your conclusion that
someone is kind
Areas of Flexibility and Implication
Imagine that you saw each of these people:
say something sarcastic to a friend
Behavior is more likely to change :
global perception of the person you don’t know from
being kind to unkind
than to change their global perception of their friend
For our friend–presumably, many other specific
behaviors to support global conclusion that the
friend is kind
Areas of Flexibility and Implication
When more specific behaviors support the same
general conclusion, that conclusion will be more
resilient to new information
Evaluating Our Relationships
When we are in a relationship:

We constantly evaluate whether our relationship meets our
When it does, we are satisfied

People vary in their beliefs about what makes a relationship
people’s actual relationship frequently falls somewhere in
between their standards and their ideals
Ideal standards model
The more people’s current relationship differs from
their ideals:

the less satisfied they are with the relationship.
Evaluating Our Relationships
When the outcome exceed or approach ideal level

Partners react positively
view the relationship positively
This positive estimation of the relationship works as a:

filter through which interactions are evaluated

Benign comments
are interpreted positively & feed the cycle of a positive view of the
relationship in general
partners are more likely to view the others’ behavior as consistent
with their preconceived notion
Interpreting Relationship Events
Perceptual confirmation: occurs when people use
their existing relationship beliefs and values to
interpret ambiguous behaviors of their partners
Example: “a partner who is late to dinner”
How would it be interpreted?
Relationship interpretations usually confirm our
existing beliefs.
Behavior in Relationships
Behavioral confirmation: People’s behavior
toward their partner matches their specific
relationship beliefs and values.
For example,
do people respond to their partner’s lateness with
an understanding smile or an accusing question?
Their partner will likely respond in accordance with
their behavior, resulting in a self-fulfilling
The Bottom Line
People’s relationship beliefs and values affect:
How they evaluate their relationship satisfaction
How they interpret their partner’s behaviors
How they behave toward their partner
Origins of Beliefs and Values
defined as a set of beliefs and attitudes shared
by a group of people
culture serves as the encyclopedia of acceptable
ideas about how:
relationships work
expressions of romantic interest
the meanings and purpose of relationships
within a particular society
Origins of Beliefs and Values
Kephart (1967) found that 76 percent of women and 35
percent of men would marry someone with whom they were
not in love
More recent samples have found that the vast majority of
young adults believe that love is a prerequisite for marriage
(Simpson, Campbell, & Berscheid, 1986)
Though both studies are dated, they provide evidence that
beliefs about the nature of marriage and the reasons for
marriage can change within one generation
Culture and Society
Different cultures have different courtship and
marriage traditions
Example: what to do on a date or whether people
date at all
Different cultures vary in their emphasis on the
importance of love
Cultures with lower economic standards of living
tend to place less emphasis on love
Arranged marriages
Worldwide Rates of Divorce
Mass Media
Research supports the view that media messages
about relationships have a:
significant impact on the actual relationships of
movies or TV show has a:
positive resolution neatly wrapped up in the
allotted time frame
rarely shows us what happens in the “ever after.”
Such depictions can lead to:
overly idealistic expectations about relationships in
when evaluating one’s own relationship.
Mass Media
How characters on television or in the movies respond to their
relationships affects people’s views and expectations of
Just a Movie?
A study found that watching
movies in which women
seemed to enjoy sexual
violence affected people’s
views of the validity of
different rape myths
(initially resistant, the
woman eventually falls in
love with her assailant
Just a Movie?
researchers found a strong sex difference in their study:
noting that men were much more likely to agree with
suggesting sexual violence was acceptable after having
watched the movie with:

sexual violence and positive consequences
as opposed to the nonviolent movie
Women, however, were much less likely to agree with those
same statements after having watched the violent movie
Motivated Reasoning: Reaching Desired Conclusions
about Relationships
Motivated reasoning: all the ways our motives, desires, and
preferences bias the way information is:
for the purpose of satisfying specific needs and achieving specific
Motivated Reasoning
Think about a relationship you have had that has
or a time when you stopped being friends with
What can happen to cause this?
Motivated Reasoning
Maybe, over time:
Too many specific behaviors that you did not like
Could not continue to support the conclusion that
the relationship was a good one
Or that the person was a kind or reliable person
Enhancement: Believing the Best
Enhancement motive: Everyone wants to be in a
relationship with a wonderful person
Enhancement bias: People are motivated to
process information that supports the desired
positive belief
People frequently see their partners more positively
than their partners see themselves
Motivated Reasoning
People would prefer to reach certain conclusions
about their partner (motive):
For example, preferring a partner who is reliable to
one who is obsessive-compulsive
People interpret the information available to help
reach their desired conclusions (bias):
For example, concluding that their partner is
reliable rather than obsessive-compulsive
Are there limits to this?
Motivated Reasoning
However, there are limits.
Example: Someone with a partner who never
engages in behavior that would indicate reliability
could not conclude that his or her partner was
Accuracy: Knowing and Being Known
Accuracy motive: People are motivated to view their partners
accurately, especially when making crucial decisions
People show a preference for information that indicates
important qualities about a partner (diagnosticity bias)
People want to feel they can predict what their partner will do
and how their partner is likely to respond
As a result, they may fall prey to the confirmation bias
Balancing Enhancement and Accuracy
Which bias predominates depends on the area of
People tend to view their partners more positively
than they view themselves with respect to global
areas (e.g., people see their partners as more kind
than their partners see themselves).
People tend to view their partners accurately with
respect to specific areas (e.g., people and their
partners agree about how well the partner can
make lasagna).
Balancing Enhancement and Accuracy
There is a balancing act also in these perceptions
For example
Imagine talking to a friend who is thinking of ending
his or her relationship
imagine that friend’s reaction if you were to point
out positive aspects of the relationship
Justification: Being Right in Relationships
Justification motive: a preference for information that suggests
that we are moral and reasonable
People want to feel that they have reached conclusions that are
Example: leaning towards break up
Even if people think their relationship is not good, they are
motivated to think that this conclusion is correct
Sentiment override: the tendency for partners’ global feelings about their
relationships to color their perceptions of specific behaviors & exper.
For instance, partners in unsatisfying relationships rate each other more
negatively than do family and friends
Self-Serving Bias
People are motivated to feel that they themselves are good people
They tend to take more credit for success
They tend to blame external factors for failure
This bias can contribute to relationship conflicts
each partner tends to feel that he or she deserves credit for positive
should not be blamed for negative outcomes
How Do We Reach Desired Conclusions about Our Intimate
Partners often treat each other more poorly than
they do perfect strangers
How do we get away with moodiness & bad treatment
of our partners?
Each day, people acquire new information about
their partner and their relationship
Responding to Negative Experiences
This information contributes to their general views
of their partner and their relationship.
When more specific behaviors support the same
general conclusion, that conclusion will be more
resilient to observations that conflict with it.
Responding to Negative Experiences
Accommodation: Existing beliefs are changed in
response to new information.
For example, when a partner who is thought to be
reliable is late, he or she may no longer be perceived
as reliable.
Assimilation: New information is simply added to
old information to elaborate on views about the
partner or the relationship.
How Do We Reach Desired Conclusions about Our Intimate
You go out on a first date with someone and think that that person
might be very kind
You see the person give money to a homeless person, assimilation
would happen
How Do We Reach Desired Conclusions about Our Intimate
If you see the person not give money to a homeless person and
make a negative comment about the homeless person,
accommodation might occur …
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