URC

Relational Self-Construal and the Process of Forming New Relationships

Shawn Butcher
Dr. Jonathan S. Gore*
Eastern Kentucky University

Abstract

The present study examined the relationship between relational self-construal and the types of questions and answers that an individual gives upon first meeting another person. We predicted that a participant’s relational self-construal would positively correlate with the amount of relational questions asked and negatively with the amount of superficial questions asked, as well as positively correlating with word count, relational answers, and emotional answers. A negative correlation between participant’s relational self-construal and factual answers was also predicted. One hundred fourteen participants were asked to select 10 questions from a list of questions that would allow them to get to know someone. Participants then either worked alone or with a partner during which time they asked and recorded the answers given. Participants’ questions were evaluated as being either superficial or relational and answers were evaluated as being emotional, relational, or factual. The results yielded no support between an individual’s relational self-construal and the types of questions asked; however, relational self-construal was positively associated with the amount of emotional and relational answers given and negatively associated with factual answers.

Introduction

Upon meeting someone for the first time, people are exposed to several key aspects of that person’s personality. These aspects form the basis of how people view each other or gain a first impression of them. The importance of a first impression does not go unnoticed, as this is the best opportunity for persons to showcase the most important aspects of their personalities. What then do people showcase in these exchanges, and how do individuals come to know one another at their first meeting? The present study investigated how self-construal influences these encounters.

A person’s self-construal can be composed of a variety of different aspects. Researchers have categorized those aspects into one of two domains: the independent and interdependent self-construals. The independent self-construal is based upon the perceived view of one’s own talents, skills, and abilities—intelligence, appearance, and physical prowess. In contrast, the interdependent self-construal is based upon an individual’s self-definition in relation to others—American or Christian. (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Relational self-construal is a subcategory of the interdependent self-construal that focuses on how individuals view themselves in relation to others. For example, people may define themselves as a son or daughter or a husband or wife.

Persons’ relational self-construal influences how they attend to their close relationships. Cross and Madson (1997) reported that those with higher levels of interdependent self-construal attended to the development and maintenance of intimate relationships, nonverbal communication, empathy, and perspective taking. Cross, Bacon, and Morris (2000) examined the decision-making process in relation to relational interdependent self-construal. They found that high relationals had a tendency to make decisions in terms of relational factors in contrast to those with lower levels of relational self-construal. In a later study, high relationals were found to act in ways that cognitively supported and maintained their relationships (Cross, Morris, & Gore, 2002). In short, people with a highly relational self-construal are more likely than people with a low relational self-construal to be actively engaged in their relationships.

Although most prior research has focused on the thoughts and feelings of individuals with high or low levels of relational self-construal, limited research has been conducted on the interactions that these individuals have with other people. One such study that examined this found that high relationals were more likely to listen to their college roommates and be more optimistic about the relationship than low relationals (Cross & Morris, 2003). Furthermore, Gore, Cross, and Morris (2006) found that high relationals were more likely to disclose intimate information to their roommates. These roommates, in turn, reciprocated this disclosure, showing signs of trust in the fledgling relationship. A later study used a similar population of college roommates to examine the influence of power on such a relationship (Terzino & Cross, 2009). The results showed that the degree of power held in a relationship combined with relational self-construal affected the level of commitment in the relationship as well as the amount of self-disclosure and forgiveness.

Based on this research, when placed in a scenario in which one is meeting another person for the first time, it stands to reason that an individual’s relational self-construal will relate to the types of questions they ask to get to know the other person, as well as the types of answers given. To date, ours is the first study that examines how relational self-construal relates to the types of questions asked and the types of answers given between individuals interacting with one another upon meeting each other for the first time. This study predicts the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Relational self-construal will be positively associated with the number of personal questions asked.

Hypothesis 2: Relational self-construal will be negatively associated with the number of superficial questions asked.

Hypothesis 3: Relational self-construal will be positively associated with the number of words given in response to a question.

Hypothesis 4: Relational self-construal will be positively associated with the number of relational responses to a question.

Hypothesis 5: Relational self-construal will be positively associated with the number of emotional responses to a question.

Hypothesis 6: Relational self-construal will be negatively associated with the number of factual responses to a question.

Method

Participants

Participants were 114 undergraduate psychology students (22 male, 85 female, 7 unspecified). A course completion credit was offered in exchange for participation. Individuals who released revealing information in their answers were excluded from the study to ensure the anonymity of the subjects. Participants were recruited through an online sign up system (SONA).

Materials and Procedure

At the beginning of the study participants were asked to provide consent after reading a short description. Participants then chose 10 questions from a sample pool that would later be used in an Interview Task. After selecting 10 questions, they were then designated as being in a group or alone condition depending on the number of participants signed up for that time slot (i.e., if two participants signed up for the session, they were in the group condition; if only one signed up, that person was in the alone condition). Participants in the group condition interviewed the other participant and wrote down that participant’s answers. Participants in the alone condition were asked to answer their own questions as if someone else had asked them.

Relational Interdependent Self-Construal Scale. The Relational-Interdependent Self-Construal Scale (RISC; Cross, et al., 2000) was used to measure a person’s tendency to include close relationships in one’s self-definition. The scale correlates moderately with the Clark, Ouellette, Powell, and Millberg (1987) Communal Orientation Scale (r = .41), Singelis’ (1994) Interdependent Self-Construal Scale (r = .41), and Davis’ (1980) Empathic Concern Scale (r = .34) (in Cross et al., 2000). An example item is, “My close relationships are an important reflection of who I am.” Participants completed this measure in an online pretest before the experiment was conducted (Cronbach’s a = .89).

Interview Task. Upon arrival to the laboratory, participants were presented with a numbered template for questions that included several blank lines (called the Interview Question Form or IQF). They were asked to choose 10 questions from a larger list of questions. These questions had been coded as either personal (“Tell me about your family.”) or superficial (“What do you like to do for fun?”). During the interview, they were asked to write down the answers to these questions on the IQF. Participants were then debriefed. 

Scoring. Following the completion of the study, the material contained on the IQF was coded and a count was taken of the total number of superficial questions they had chosen as well as the total number of relational questions they had chosen. Answers were also evaluated on a Likert scale from one to five (1= none, 5=most) depending on the degree of factual answers (answers that were a statement of fact), emotional answers (answers that contain an emotional component), or relational answers (answers that mentioned close others). Finally, the total number of words in the responses was counted.  Evaluations were conducted independently by two researchers.

Results

Alone Condition

To examine the associations between relational self-construal, the types of questions people ask, the types of answers they give, and the amount of words they use in their answers, bivariate correlation analyses were conducted among these variables for the participants who interviewed themselves (see Table 1). The results showed that an individual’s level of relational self-construal had no relationship with the types of questions they asked, which disconfirms Hypotheses 1 and 2. When examining the answers they provided, individuals with a highly relational self-construal had a higher word count than lows as well as answered significantly more questions relationally, which confirms Hypotheses 3 and 4. There existed marginal significance between an individual’s relational self-construal and the amount of emotional answers they gave, which gives support for Hypothesis 5. No significance was found between an individual’s relational self-construal and amount of factual answers given, which disconfirms Hypothesis 6. 

Table 1
Pearson Correlations for the Alone Condition

Variables 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
1. RISC Score --- .05 -.05  .24*  .21* -.13  .19
2. Superficial Questions   --- -.43** -.09 -.20  .30** -.29**
3. Personal Questions     ---  .24*  .03 -.16  .16
4. Word Count       ---  .35** -.65**  .65**
5. Relational Responses         --- -.19  .18
6. Factual Responses           --- -.80**
7. Emotional Responses             ---

*p < .05, **p < .01

Partner Condition

To examine the associations between an individual’s level of relational self-construal, their partner’s level of relational self-construal, the types of questions that he/she asks, the types of answers his/her partner gives, and the amount of words used by him/her, bivariate correlation analyses were conducted among these variables for the participants who interviewed another participant (see Table 2). The results showed that no relationship existed between an individual’s relational self-construal and the types of questions asked, which again disconfirms Hypotheses 1 and 2. There was also no association between relational self-construal and the number of words that were recorded by the partner, which disconfirms Hypothesis 3. When examining their partner’s relational self-construal with the answers recorded, there was a significant positive correlation between their partner’s relational self-construal and the amount of emotional answers, which confirms Hypothesis 5. A significant negative correlation was also found between the partner’s self-construal and the amount of factual answers given, which confirms Hypothesis 6. No significance was found between the partner’s self-construal and the amount of relational answers given, which disconfirms Hypothesis 4.

Table 2
Pearson Correlations for the Partner Condition

Variables 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
1. RISC Score --- -.15 -.13  .13  .18 -.07  .01  .12
2. Partners RISC Score   ---  .02  .04  .10 -.16 -.31*  .37**
3. Superficial Questions     --- -.80** -.40** -.18  .26* -.31*
4. Personal Questions       ---  .53**  .12 -.32*  .31*
5. Word Count         ---  .25* -.59**  .61**
6. Relational Responses           --- -.27*  .11
7. Factual Responses             --- -.58**
8. Emotional Responses               ---

*p < .05, **p < .01

Discussion

The results of the present study showed a positive association between relational interdependent self-construal and the amount of words used to answer questions, the amount of relational answers given, and the amount of emotional answers given. The results also showed a negative association between relational self-construal and factual answers given. No association was found between relational self-construal and number of superficial questions asked or personal questions asked. Therefore, Hypotheses 3, 4, 5, and 6 were supported, whereas Hypotheses 1 and 2 were not supported.

Implications

These results indicate that highly relational individuals tend to answer questions in a manner that fosters and maintains relationships. This intimate disclosure builds feelings of trust among both parties that increase the likelihood that the relationship will exist in a harmonious manner. The results of the study are concordant with previous research that aimed to evaluate the methods employed by high relationals in order to develop and maintain harmonious relationships. Gore et al. (2006) found that high relationals tended to disclose more intimate thoughts with their roommates than low relationals. Despite having neither a previous relationship with their partner nor a need to continue to have a relationship with their partner, these results were replicated here such that high relationals tended to disclose more emotional and relational answers in response to questions.

The current study showcases the methods that high relationals employ in order to create the close, intimate relationships they desire. From the present study, we can see that the maintenance of these relationships is not a function of what questions are asked, but rather the types of answers that are given. Answering in such a way so as to disclose more private information, in lieu of more factual answers, allows high relationals to foster feelings of trust and fidelity within a relationship. Furthermore, high relationals also tend to use more words in expressing their disclosures, which indicates that this is a potential strategy that encourages the formation of a harmonious relationship.

Limitations and Future Direction

Although the study attempts to place individuals into a situation in which they are encouraged to develop a relationship with their partner, it is inconclusive as to whether this scenario is actually constructed, as the participants are fully aware of the minimal chance of interacting with others. This is at odds with many of the roommate studies in which the participants were aware of the prolonged duration that they would be interacting with their partner. A follow-up study could examine a more prolonged relationship to identify the methods employed by a high relational to maintain harmony in such a relationship, similar to the prior roommates studies. Additionally, it is important to note that the participants of this study were college students. It is unclear if these results would be able to be generalized to either a younger population or an older population, and if so to what extent. Future studies should have a wider variety of participant age while also mirroring real world scenarios, such that people of similar ages interact with one another.

Conclusion

The results of the study elaborate on prior research that describes how one’s view of the self can affect the strategies one employs in order to foster that viewpoint. From the present study, it is apparent that highly relational people build relationships through intimate disclosures that put their partner at ease and causes that partner to view the high relational as a friend.

References

Clark, M. S., Ouellette, R., Powell, M. C., & Millberg, S. (1987). Recipient’s mood, relationship type, and helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 94-103.

Cross, S. E., Bacon, P. L., & Morris, M. L. (2000). The relational interdependent self-construal and relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 791-808.

Cross, S. E., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self-construals and gender.  Psychological Bulletin, 122, 5-37.

Cross, S. E., & Morris, M. L. (2003). Getting to know you: The relational self-construal,  relational cognition, and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 512- 523.

Cross, S. E., Morris, M. L., & Gore, J. S. (2002). Thinking About Oneself and Others: The  Relational-Interdependent Self-Construal and Social Cognition. Journal Of Personality &  Social Psychology, 82(3), 399-418.

Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS: Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

Gore, J. S., Cross, S. E., & Morris, M. L. (2006). Let's be friends: Relational self-construal and the development of intimacy. Personal Relationships, 13(1), 83-102.

Markus, H., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition,  emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.

Singelis, T. M. (1994). The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 580-591.

Terzino, K. A., & Cross, S. E. (2009). Predicting Commitment in New Relationships: Interactive Effects of Relational Self-construal and Power. Self & Identity, 8(4), 321-341.



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