Misunderstanding the Affective Consequences of Everyday Social Interactions: The Hidden Benefits of Putting One's Best Foot Forward

Dunn, Elizabeth W., Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Wilson, Timonthy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Although most people assume that interacting with a loved one would be more enjoyable than interacting with a stranger or casual acquaintance, this assumption may reflect blindness to a critical social demand and its affective consequences. The present research tested the hypothesis that people underestimate the emotional benefits of engaging in positive self-presentation, leading them to make consistently inaccurate predictions about how they will feel before and after commonplace social interactions. According to this hypothesis, people should feel better than they expect before and after interacting with a stranger because this situation demands that people put their best foot forward, whereas they should feel slightly worse than they expect before and after interacting with a romantic partner because of the relative absence of this social demand. In line with this hypothesis, participants in Experiment 1 felt better before interacting with a stranger and worse before interacting with their romantic partner than anticipated by other participants ("forecasters") who were asked to imagine their emotional reactions to these situations. In Experiment 2, participants reported greater well-being, relative to forecasters' predictions, after an interaction with a stranger versus their romantic partner. This effect emerged because interacting with a stranger prompted participants to engage in greater self-presentation, which in turn produced greater unanticipated well-being. Because interactions with strangers versus romantic partners differ in a variety of ways other than just self-presentation demands, I manipulated self-presentation more directly in Experiments 3 and 4 by leading participants to believe that they would either evaluate or be evaluated by a stranger. Relative to forecasters' predictions, participants 2 who expected to be evaluated (high self-presentation condition) felt significantly better right before the interaction (Experiment 3) and following the interaction (Experiment 4) than forecasters anticipated. In contrast, the forecast-experience discrepancy was reduced among participants who expected to interview and evaluate their partners (low selfpresentation condition). In sum, the present research suggests that people fundamentally misunderstand the affective consequences of the ubiquitous social demand to put one's best foot forward; possible reasons for this bias are discussed.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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