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Study Affirms That Men Feel (Subconsciously) Threatened By Successful Women

Photo Credit Thinkstock

Photo Credit Thinkstock

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By Chelsea Karnash

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) – Whether you’ve been promoted or lost weight, don’t expect your partner to be truly happy for you – at least if you’re a woman.

According to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a man’s subconscious self-esteem takes a hit when his wife or girlfriend excels at something.

In the experiment, 32 couples from the University of Virginia were given a test that they were told assessed their problem-solving and social intelligence. They were then told that their partner had scored either in the top 12 or the bottom 12 percent of all university students. Hearing how their partner scored didn’t affect how participants said they felt, or their explicit self-esteem.

However, when the same participants were then given a computer test that tracked how quickly they associated positive or negative words with themselves, men who believed their partner had scored in the top 12 percent demonstrated significantly lower “implicit self-esteem,” or how they subconsciously felt about their female partner’s success, than men who were told their partner scored in the bottom 12 percent did. The men were not given any information on their own test scores.

Two final experiments produced similar results. In one, for example, a group of 657 U.S. respondents were asked to think about a time when their partner had succeeded or failed at something – whether social, intellectual, career-related, it didn’t matter. According to the American Psychological Association, “When comparing all the results, the researchers found that it didn’t matter if the achievements or failures were social, intellectual or related to participants’ own successes or failures — men subconsciously still felt worse about themselves when their partner succeeded than when she failed. However, men’s implicit self-esteem took a bigger hit when they thought about a time when their partner succeeded at something while they had failed.”

Women’s self-esteem, on the other hand, was not affected by their partner’s successes or failures. In fact, women felt better about their relationship when asked to think about a time when their partner had succeeded at something.

Men, of course, did not.

“It makes sense that a man might feel threatened if his girlfriend outperforms him in something they’re doing together, such as trying to lose weight,” said the study’s lead author, Kate Ratliff, PhD, of the University of Florida. “But this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition.”

To see the study, click here.

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