Imagining a romantic partner’s perspectives decreased the likelihood that individuals would engage in activities that would hurt their partners or damage their relationship, according to study findings published in The Journal of Sex Research.
Researchers conducted 3 separate studies that recruited men (n=64; n=65; n=66) and women (n=66; n=82; n=65) who were in a relationship and living in Israel, respectively. In each study, the participants were divided into intervention and control groups. Each study comprised a 30-minute video call with the participants.
In Study 1, the participants were asked to explain an average day of their partner’s life, then were asked to evaluate photographs of attractive and unattractive strangers and to consider each as a potential partner. In Study 2, participants engaged in a text chat and exchange photographs with an attractive interviewer and then were asked whether they were interested in engaging in sexual activity with the attractive interviewer. In Study 3, participants were asked to imagine a scenario of their partner finding out they had been unfaithful, then imagine and describe engaging in a sexual fantasy affair scenario. The participants assigned to the perspective-taking manipulation intervention were asked to focus on their partner’s feelings and experiences when explaining their partner’s day (Studies 1 and 2) or finding out about their infidelity (Study 3).
In Study 1, the participants had a mean age of 24.64 (SD, 3.09) years and had been in a relationship for a mean duration of 35.00 (range, 4-144) months. Participants in this intervention imagined their partner’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences more than controls (mean, 4.11 vs 3.71), respectively. Similar trends were observed in Studies 2 and 3.
Compared with controls, the perspective-taking manipulation intervention was associated with decreased interest in alternative partners (mean, 5.58 vs 6.51), more commitment to their relationship (mean, 4.86 vs 4.68), less sexual interest in the interviewer (mean, 1.3 vs 1.58), and increased desire for their current partner (mean, 4.37 vs 4.02), respectively.
Overall, perspective-taking had a significant effect on relationship-protective responses (t, 2.13; P =.035), sexual interest on alternatives (t, -4.12; P <.001), and protective responses were associated with sexual interest on alternative partners (t, -4.12; P <.001).
This study was limited by its short duration. It remains unclear whether perspective taking has long-lasting effects.
Study authors conclude, “Our research highlights the function that partner perspective-taking may serve in making people more resilient to short-term temptations that are potentially hurtful for their partner, indicating that the protective process induced by perspective-taking may help prioritize the goal of relationship maintenance and thereby bind people to their relationship partners.”
Birnbaum GE, Bachar T, Levy GF, Zholtack K, Reis HT. Put me in your shoes: does perspective-taking inoculate against the appeal of alternative partners? J Sex Res. 2022;1-10. doi:10.1080/00224499.2022.2150998