320 Inattention & Relationship Maintenance

Based on research by Maner, Jon. K., Gailliot, Matthew. T., & Miller, Saul. L. (2009). written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.

Couples in romantic relationships are often confronted with other romantic opportunities. What keeps people in relationships away from these tempting alternatives?

Florida State Psychologists examined the instinctive practices that protect committed couples. In study one, 120 participants engaged in a task that associated certain words with mating or neutral themes. Next, participants rated photographs of people on the level of attractiveness of these same and opposite sexed individuals. In study two, researchers primed 160 participants towards either mating or neutral themes using word games. Then, single participants and those committed to a relationship viewed photos of attractive and average looking individuals while the researchers measured their length of time viewing or attending to each photograph.

Results of both studies demonstrate that persons not in a relationship increased their attention time to physically attractive individuals whereas committed partners did not. Even when committed couples were primed to focus on mating and romance, they were less attentive to the attractive alternatives than were single participants.

Overall, these findings suggest that when in a committed relationship our minds may automatically protect us. We are not easily drawn to alluring alternatives, when our focus is on our current partner.


Maner, J. K., Gailliot, M. T., & Miller, S. L. (2009). The implicit cognition of relationship maintenance: Inattention to attractive alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology45, 174-179.

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