A risk regulation model of romantic interest: Examining the role of attachment as a governing dynamic for the regulation and expression of romantic desire
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A model is proposed to examine how the competing desires for connection and self-protection against rejection affect the expression of romantic desire. The current model posits that both situational and dispositional goals play a role in regulating the experience of romantic attraction. Specifically, the availability of a desirable other automatically activates the state goal to connect. People’s chronic goals to approach connection or avoid rejection, in the form of dispositional attachment, then regulate whether the state goal to connect elicits actual approach behavior. The model predicts overt expressions of romantic desire when the situational goal for connection compliments more chronic motivations for affiliation (as afforded by a secure attachment orientation). Conversely, the model predicts overt expressions of romantic disinterest when people who are chronically motivated to avoid rejection (those with more insecure attachment orientations) have the conscious control needed to overturn the automatic impulse to connect. Experiment 1 examined both automatic goal activation and explicit approach vs. avoidance behaviors. The results revealed that situations of romantic potential automatically activate the goal to connect for more securely attached participants. Additionally, self-report and behavioral data showed support for the anticipated approach behaviors for more securely attached individuals and avoidance behaviors for more insecurely attached individuals. Experiment 2 utilized a busyness manipulation to test whether the distancing behaviors exhibited by more insecure participants were the result of a higher-order, correction process. Analyses failed to support this hypothesis. Unexpectedly, results revealed that more securely oriented participants responded to rejection priming by downplaying approach behaviors. Taken together, findings suggest that the regulation and expression of romantic interest results from different motivations for more vs. less securely attached individuals. For those with more secure orientations, the results suggest that the state goal to connect converges with chronic tendencies toward affiliation to yield approach behaviors, particularly when given the opportunity for deliberate consideration. More insecurely attached individuals, on the other hand, evidence avoidance behaviors that may stem from powerful dispositional drives to prioritize safety and protection.