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Communicating Your Love with Dyadic Displays

Illustration of 2 smartphones with hearts on the screens
by Hasagani Tissera


This month, we turn to one of our SPSP student committee members, Kori Krueger, to hear more about her recent research on romantic relationship maintenance, and to understand a little better how we try to protect these relationships on social media.

Kori is currently finishing her doctoral degree at the University of Pittsburgh. 


Why did you decide to study romantic relationships?

In undergrad, I was involved in labs that focused on behavioral mimicry and exclusion. I really enjoyed my time working in both of these labs and was particularly drawn to the interpersonal consequences in the studies that we were conducting. When applying for graduate school, I knew that I wanted to study interpersonal dynamics and found a great fit with Dr. Amanda Forest. Since then, I’ve studied different types of relationships (acquaintances/strangers; friendships; romantic relationships) but have been focused on romantic relationships. I find the complexities of romantic relationships fascinating and am particularly interested in the behaviors that partners may enact to help build and maintain their relationships. It also helps that I see inspiration for my work every day in my own interactions and seeing others interact.


You talk about dyadic displays in your article. Can you briefly explain what these are and why people might engage in them?

Dyadic displays are expressions or behaviors that people engage in that communicate that they are currently in a romantic relationship. This includes wearing a wedding ring, holding hands with a partner, and displaying photos of one’s partner. In our article, we were focused on dyadic displays that people use on social media—posting a profile photo that includes the partner, posting a relationship status, and making updates that include information about the partner or relationship. We explored two possible reasons why people might engage in these dyadic displays. The first, suggested by past work, was that people use dyadic displays because they incorporate their relationship and partner into their self-concept. Our research revealed that people, especially those who are highly satisfied with their relationship, do use dyadic displays partly because they see their relationship and partner as part of who they are.  

We also investigated a strategic motivation for why people use dyadic displays—because they are motivated to protect their relationships from outside interference. Social media exposes people to a variety of relationship threats including ex-partners, alternative partners one might start a new relationship with, and romantic rivals who could attempt to steal one’s partner. There is a robust literature showing that committed people engage in a host of behaviors to defend their relationships from such threats and we proposed that people may use dyadic displays online for this same purpose. Our research supported this idea such that people engage in dyadic display use, at least in pat, because they are highly motivated to protect their relationships.


Why might dyadic displays serve a relationship protective function?

Finding support for the idea that people use dyadic displays because of a relationship-protection motivation led to us to explore whether dyadic displays actually serve the function of protecting one’s relationship from outside threats. We reasoned that using dyadic displays on social media should communicate to others that the person is currently taken and is committed to their romantic partner. This should discourage any romantic or sexual interest from others. We found support for this idea in an experiment in which participants viewed either a Facebook profile that included dyadic displays (i.e. a dyadic profile photo, a dyadic relationship status, status updates that included the partner) or did not include dyadic displays. The dyadic profile owner was perceived as more likely to be in a high-quality relationship and unlikely to be receptive to romantic advances from other people. Thus, it seems that dyadic displays may serve a relationship-protection function.


How do you think the rise of social media use may have affected dyadic displays?

Studying dyadic displays on social media is particularly interesting because of the differences between dyadic displays online and face-to-face. Social media offers a wide variety of ways to signal one’s relationships to others (e.g., posting a dyadic profile photo, dyadic relationship status, status updates that include relationship relevant information, tagging a partner in photos/posts) and that information is conveyed to everyone in the profile owner’s network. It is much quicker and more efficient to broadcast information about one’s relationship to others online than face-to-face.

Social media also is unique because it often exposes people to several relational threats (i.e., ex-partners, alternative partners, rivals). These threats may also exist in offline contexts, but social media may expose people to a greater number of these threats and facilitate interactions that might not occur in offline contexts. For example, someone may post relationship-relevant information on social media that alternative partners and rivals may view that they would not have been exposed to in an offline context.

Social media creates a digital archive of one’s behavior as well. Whereas people might forget dyadic displays that they or others engaged in in offline contexts, online dyadic displays may be accessible for a longer time. This makes social media a particularly interesting context to study dyadic displays.

 

To learn more on dyadic displays on social media, please refer to:

Krueger, K. L., & Forest, A. L. (2020). Communicating Commitment: A Relationship-Protection Account of Dyadic Displays on Social Media. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletinhttps://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219893998

Kori Krueger headshot

Kori Kruger
PhD Candidate

University of Pittsburgh

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