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Shifting Standards of Unfairness in Romantic Relationships

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Boerst, Ashley M
Miron, Anca
MS, Psychology-Experimental
May 2012
Equality; Equity; Interpersonal relationships; Online social networks; Internet social aspects
The current study sought to investigate whether differential appraisals of online relationship transgressions made by victims and perpetrators in romantic relationships can be accounted for by incongruent unfairness standards. Prior research has shown that judgments of injustice can be a function of the confirmatory standards to which people determine harm has occurred (Miron, Warner & Branscombe, 2010). A confirmatory standard of injustice is defined as a subjective threshold people set in order to conclude that an action has definitely taken place or that a person or group has a particular ability (Miron & Branscombe, 2008). Miron et al. (2011) found that when judging the severity of wage inequality, disadvantaged group members set lower confirmatory standards than advantaged members and therefore perceived the existing inequality as more unfair. This means that disadvantaged group members asked for less evidence of wage inequality and consequently made harsher judgments of inequality. The motivation to protect one's positive identity has also been shown to manifest itself in the differential attributions made by victims and perpetrators (Bradbury & Fincham, 1990), especially within romantic relationships (Feeney & Hill, 2006; Kearns & Fincham, 2005). While both differential standards and attributions have been found to lead to different perceptions of harm, the current study proposed a model in which the effect of victim vs. perpetrator perspective on standards of unfairness and judgments of harm occurs above and beyond that of attributions. Participants read a hypothetical transgression situation in either the perspective of the victim or perpetrator. Participants then answered questions assessing their unfairness standards, judgments of harm, attributions, and levels of forgiveness. The results suggested that victims of online relational transgressions and perpetrators of the offenses set different confirmatory standards of unfairness for what content can be discussed with potential others, with victims setting lower confirmatory standards than perpetrators. Although these divergent unfairness standards were not found to influence individuals' appraisals of the unfairness of transgression, the effect of the perspective manipulation on standards occurred above and beyond that of attributions. Implications and future research directions are discussed.
A Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science- Psychology-Experimental
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