Mariko Visserman: "The Art of Sacrifice: Self-Other Dilemmas, Biased Perceptions, and the Emergence of Gratitude."

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Mariko Visserman: "The Art of Sacrifice: Self-Other Dilemmas, Biased Perceptions, and the Emergence of Gratitude."

On May 24, 2018 Mariko Visserman successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "The Art of Sacrifice: Self-Other Dilemmas, Biased Perceptions, and the Emergence of Gratitude." at Free University, Amsterdam.

Prof. Paul A.M. van Lange

Dr. Francesca Righetti


Romantic couples inevitably encounter situations in which their preferences diverge, which may call for one of them—or both—to sacrifice their own self-interest and invest in the relationship instead. The present dissertation aimed to uncover (a) how couples navigate these self-other dilemmas, (b) how partners perceive and appraise each other’s sacrifices, and (c) how sacrifices affect gratitude. To investigated these questions from a dyadic perspective, we conducted intensive bi-hourly and daily experience sampling studies of romantic couples, and couples’ conversations about sacrifice in the laboratory, in the Netherlands and the United States. Additionally, we also provided some experimental support for our findings obtained from these highly ecologically valid methods. Moreover, we employed advanced analysis techniques (i.e., quasi-signal detection analysis, Truth and Bias modeling) to assess these questions in couples’ daily lives.
Based on our findings from four empirical chapters, we conclude that there may be an art to sacrifice. First, our findings demonstrated the importance of optimally balancing one’s dedication to both personal and relationship concerns, and importantly, the role of self-control (i.e., the ability to behave in a goal-directed manner) in providing the ability to successfully deal with this inevitable challenge. Second, our findings suggest that there may be an art to “seeing” partners’ sacrifices. People miss many of their partner’s sacrifices and are only “somewhat” accurate in perceiving their partner’s costs for sacrifice. Moreover, people “see” sacrifices that are not there, and overestimate the costly experience of partners’ sacrifices. These findings illustrate romantic partners’ biased construction of their “own realities” in their lives together. Third, our findings showed that the essential experience of gratitude emerges under two conditions: (a) when people—accurately or inaccurately—believe their partner to have sacrificed, and (b) when they attribute altruistic intentions to guide their partner’s decision to sacrifice (i.e., perceiving their partner’s motives to be free from self-interest). However, failing to see partners’ costly investments fails to elicit gratitude, and ultimately fails to cultivate a high quality relationship. Together, these findings illustrate the power that perception holds in romantic couples’ daily lives.
While research on sacrifice is still young, with the present dissertation we hope to have provided comprehensive insights into how couples can optimally deal with the inevitable conflicts of interests in their daily lives. Ultimately, with these insights, we aim to have contributed to a greater understanding of individuals’ happiness and the well-being and thriving of relationships.

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