We take it for granted that support from a partner is good (e.g., see the post on invisible support from a few days ago). Partners help you in many ways; when you need help studying for a big exam or are trying to exercise more, having your partner there to support and encourage you is a big help, right? A new paper by Gráinne Fitzsimons and Eli Finkel questions this assumption. They propose that people are actually less motivated and try less hard to achieve their goals when they have thought about the help that a partner could provide them in reaching those goals.1
Basically, having a helpful partner can lead you to try getting away with being more of a slacker. For example, if you think about how your partner helped you on a previous academic task, you’ll procrastinate more. You’ll also exercise less if you previously thought about how your partner had helped with past health and fitness goals. Seriously, why bother with the Shake Weight when you can just think about your partner’s help? These results were accentuated when participants recently exerted energy on other tasks; when they were tired they relied on a partner’s help more at the cost of their own efforts.
While at first somewhat counterintuitive, delegating effort to one’s partner makes sense when you think about other research findings in social psychology like social loafing effects. Many studies have shown that when people work in groups they tend to exert less effort than if they were working by themselves.2 This is especially true when we have previously expended efforts on other tasks and are tired. If someone else will pick up some of the slack, I’m going to work less hard.
The bottom line is that while getting support from a partner is usually a good thing, it can actually decrease your motivation in certain cases. Sometimes you’ll work harder if you’ve got to do it on your own.
1Fitzsimons, G. M., & Finkel, E. J. (in press). Outsourcing self-regulation. Psychological Science, 22, 369-375.
2Karau, S. J., & Williams, K. D. (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 681-706.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.