UT psychology study gains national attention

May 12, 2014 | News, Research, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Aimee Portala

Dr. Andrew Geers, professor of psychology at The University of Toledo, and Dr. Lisa Neff, former UT assistant professor of psychology, recently published a paper titled “Optimism Expectations in Early Marriage: A Resource or Vulnerability for Adaptive Relationship Functioning?”



The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and received mention in numerous national media outlets, including The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Neff and Geers examined how two types of optimism affect marriage, and differences in regards to the successes or struggles of a relationship.

“Prior research suggested that optimists fare better in relationships; however, that work did not take into account that there is more than one type of optimism,” Geers said.

Approximately 68 couples from the Toledo area participated in the study. Each couple participated for a full year, some starting at different times than others. Including prep work, the study lasted a total of about two years.

Dispositional, or global, optimism concerns one’s general tendency to expect positive outcomes in life. This broad form of optimism is different from domain-specific forms of optimism — such as relationship-specific optimism. This form of optimism concerns one’s positive expectations that are particular to relational events.

Some researchers have cautioned that always expecting the best in a relationship can create a false sense of security that prevents individuals from taking proactive steps when confronted with difficulties. Relationship-specific optimism can create a context in which problems are left unresolved. When experiences continually fall short of expectations, it can leave one or both spouses disappointed and uncertain in the fate of the relationship. Relational uncertainty often leads to critical, self-protective behavior, including lashing out or creating deliberate distance between partners.

The research of Geers and Neff, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, found that dispositional optimism is more likely to be a relationship asset, but very high relationship-specific optimism can place couples at risk of marital issues and deterioration.

However, highly positive relationship-specific expectancies may not be harmful for marital well-being if couples happen to possess the necessary skills and resources for confirming those expectations.

“Dispositional optimists are better equipped to withstand daily hassles. It’s useful to have the mental flexibility to re-interpret negative events and see them in a positive light. They have active coping strategies, both mentally and physically. This can be beneficial to the individual and, of course, in the context of a relationship,” Geers said. “However, when someone has very high and unyielding specific levels of optimism, it is more likely to lead to disillusionment.”

For more information, contact Geers at andrew.geers@utoledo.edu.

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