When power shapes interpersonal behavior: Low relationship power predicts men's aggressive responses to low situational power

Nickola C. Overall*, Matthew D. Hammond, James K. McNulty, Eli J. Finkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations

Abstract

When does power in intimate relationships shape important interpersonal behaviors, such as psychological aggression? Five studies tested whether possessing low relationship power was associated with aggressive responses, but (a) only within power-relevant relationship interactions when situational power was low, and (b) only by men because masculinity (but not femininity) involves the possession and demonstration of power. In Studies 1 and 2, men lower in relationship power exhibited greater aggressive communication during couples' observed conflict discussions, but only when they experienced low situational power because they were unable to influence their partner. In Study 3, men lower in relationship power reported greater daily aggressive responses toward their partner, but only on days when they experienced low situational power because they were either (a) unable to influence their partner or (b) dependent on their partner for support. In Study 4, men who possessed lower relationship power exhibited greater aggressive responses during couples' support-relevant discussions, but only when they had low situational power because they needed high levels of support. Study 5 provided evidence for the theoretical mechanism underlying men's aggressive responses to low relationship power. Men who possessed lower relationship power felt less manly on days they faced low situational power because their partner was unwilling to change to resolve relationship problems, which in turn predicted greater aggressive behavior toward their partner. These results demonstrate that fully understanding when and why power is associated with interpersonal behavior requires differentiating between relationship and situational power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-217
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume111
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

Keywords

  • Aggression
  • Dependence
  • Power
  • Relationship conflict
  • Support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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