The Hidden Brain

Our unconscious biases.

Love Isn't All You Need

Why Mr and Ms Rights are less about Roses than Resolve

Sorry John, Ringo, George and Paul. Apparently, love isn't all you need. If you want to know whether your partner will deliver on his or her promises over the longterm, new research suggests that your partner's self-discipline may be more important than the love he or she has for you.

Love and warm feelings prompt people to make promises to one another. The stronger the emotion we feel, the bigger the promises we make. That is not surprising. But new research by Johanna Peetz and Lara Kammrath published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that the people who keep promises are neither the ones who have the most positive feelings toward their partners nor the ones who make the biggest promises, but those who have the greatest internal self-discpline.

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"People who had the most positive relationship feelings and who were most motivated to be responsive to the partner's needs made bigger promises than did other people but were not any better at keeping them. Instead, promisers' self-regulation skills, such as trait conscientiousness, predicted the extent to which promises were kept or broken," the researchers write.

We are naturally tempted to feel that the people who make the biggest promises to us -- the ones who have the strongest emotions for us -- are the ones who will deliver on those promises. People with greater levels of internal self-discpline, by contrast, may be less likely to make us extravagant promises. But Peetz and Kammrath found that "those who are most motivated to be responsive (to make extravagant promises) may be most likely to break their romantic promises, as they are making ambitious commitments they will later be unable to keep."

In the most recent Hidden Brain puzzle, posted first as always on The Hidden Brain's Facebook page, I asked

Lovers make promises because they feel an emotional connection to one another. The lovers who KEEP their promises are
A) Those who make the biggest promises
B) Those who make the smallest promises
C) Those who are the most emotionally connected to the other person
D) Those with the most internal discipline

The correct answer is D.

If you found it easy to answer this puzzle, it probably means you have been in longterm relationships yourself -- and are well past the romantic illusions of the Fab Four!

Shankar Vedantam is a science reporter with National Public Radio and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

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