Without the heartbreak of ended relationships, half of popular music would cease to exist. Everyone has had one but it turns out it probably wasn't so bad - especially if you thought it would be horrible.
A new Northwestern University study shows that lovers, even those madly in love, do much better following a breakup than they imagined they would.
In other words, participants who forecast how badly they would feel over a breakup with a partner actually felt much less distress than they had predicted in the days prior to the relationship’s demise.
Though the love-crazed participants may have felt the ecstasy and anticipated the despair immortalized in “Romeo and Juliet,” their level of actual distress following their real-life breakups came nowhere close to the agony suffered by Shakespeare’s tragic young lovers.
“Our research shows that a breakup is not nearly as bad as people imagine, and the more you are in love with your partner, the more wrong you are about how upset you are going to be when the dreaded loss actually occurs,” said Eli Finkel, assistant professor of psychology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study.
The people most in love did experience a little more distress over their breakups.
“But the overestimates of the most-in-love participants, of how badly they would feel after a breakup, were much greater than the predictions of participants less in love,” said Paul Eastwick, the lead author of the study and a graduate student in psychology at Northwestern. “Their levels of distress were nowhere near their catastrophic predictions.”
The study “Mispredicting Distress Following Romantic Breakup: Revealing the Time Course of the Affective Forecasting Error,” will be published online today (Aug. 20) in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Besides Eastwick and Finkel, the co-authors include Tamar Krishnamurti and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University.
The study adds to a growing body of literature that shows that people demonstrate remarkably poor insight when asked to predict the magnitude of their distress following emotional events.
In anticipating a breakup, for example, people might not take account of the good outcomes that follow a breakup, such as the benefits of being single.
Whether the discrepancies between people’s predicted and actual distress are caused by their inability to foresee positive life events on the horizon or their inaccurate theories about how quickly they can recuperate, a romantic breakup seems to be less upsetting than the average individual believes it will be, the study concludes.
To qualify for the nine-month longitudinal study of dating behavior, each participant needed to be involved in a dating relationship of at least two months duration. Participants still involved with their partners from study entry completed a set of questionnaires every two weeks for 38 weeks, for a total of 20 online sessions, to measure predicted and actual stress. The study utilized the data of 26 people (10 female and 16 male) who broke up with their partners during the first six months of the study. The forecasted distress reported two weeks prior to the report of the breakup was compared with actual distress at four different time points covering the initial weeks and months following the breakup. The questionnaires also included a measure assessing how much participants were in love.
“People tend to be pretty resilient, often more so than they realize,” Eastwick said. “No one is saying that breaking up is a good time. It's just that people bounce back sooner than they predict.”
Source: “Mispredicting Distress Following Romantic Breakup: Revealing the Time Course of the Affective Forecasting Error,” Aug. 20 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Eastwick and Finkel, Tamar Krishnamurti and George Loewenstein.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Should Pregnant Women Be Concerned About BPA?
- The Five Stages Of A Dying Theory
- President Elect Trump - Why Climate Change Is No Longer A Political Issue Outside The US
- Russian scientists increase DVD storage capacity million times
- Step Changes in Period and Phase of the ~0.88-Day Signal of KIC 8462852
- Avocado Extract Can Prevent Listeria In Food
- When Salt Is An Endocrine Disruptor, The Term Is Officially Meaningless
- "It's okay, I'm fine with off topic posts :). Had some interesting comment threads that went way..."
- "Just to let you know, Daniel Dady, that web privacy is becoming an ever-scarcer commodity and that..."
- "First to say, that I grant Science20 rights to publish my articles here, but I do retain copyright..."
- "You claim to 'know' because of 'something you saw on the web', but do not allow us to cite 'something..."
- "There is lots of proof. This is why astronomers are totally sure it is nonsense, an article..."
- Five PM? Time for Breakfast!
- Include Aerobic Fitness in Physical Exams, Heart Association Recommends
- Female Vervet Monkeys Assault Males that Do Not Participate in Fights
- Vaginal Ring Effective for HIV Infection Prevention
- Winter is No Wonderland
- On Fitness & Longevity, Don't Be Misled By Health Hype Headlines