Psychological Sciences

Document Type


Publication Source

Self and Identity. Volume 16, Issue 5.

Publication Date



Past research has demonstrated that comfort with intimacy differentially affects the extent to which a person assimilates/contrasts to a close other. Specifically, individuals comfortable with intimacy benefit most from assimilating to those who embody positive aspects, whereas individuals uncomfortable with intimacy benefit most from contrasting to those who embody a mix of positive and negative aspects. Using a multi-method approach, the current research provides evidence suggesting that both those who are positively regarded and those who engender mixed feelings have the potential to benefit the perceiver differentially as a function of the types of traits that are most salient at the time. In Study 1, consistent with predictions, high-avoidant individuals contrasted to the salient traits of a romantic partner and performed better on an intelligence test after thinking about their partner’s unintelligent compared to intelligent traits, whereas low-avoidant individuals assimilated. In Study 2, high-avoidant individuals contrasted to friends’ traits and exhibited more positive cardiovascular responses (i.e., greater challenge) while talking about friends’ negative traits and more negative responses (i.e., greater threat) while talking about friends’ positive traits. Together, these findings suggest that there are situations during which low- and high-avoidant individuals differentially benefit from highly regarded close others.


intimacy avoidance, social comparison, close others, challenge and threat, avoidant attachment