Do Attractive Social Media Profiles Hinder Commitment?
According to new research, it might not be “just looking."
Posted Jan 19, 2020
In the age of social media, relationship threats loom far and wide. They are no longer just the cute neighbor, the attractive coworker, or the old flame, but instead the thousands of carefully curated Instagram profiles that showcase a perfect body and an exciting lifestyle. What consequences might these expanded “options” have on an individual’s relationship? De Lenne, Wittevronghel, Vandenbosch, and Eggermont (2019) explored this question by investigating the link between exposure to attractive alternatives on social media and relationship commitment.
The researchers recruited 427 young adults (ages 18-32) in Belgium who were in a romantic relationship. To measure exposure to alternatives, participants responded to an adapted version of Online Monitoring of Alternatives Scale (West, 2013), including questions such as “Because of social media, I am aware that there are plenty of fish in the sea” and “I am distracted by all the people I find attractive on social media." In addition, some of the questions measured comparison of partners to alternatives (e.g., “When I see pictures of others on social media, I compare my partner to them"). To assess relationship commitment, participants completed Rusbult’s Investment Model Scale (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998), which included items such as “I want our relationship to last for a very long time."
Results indicated that individuals with greater exposure to alternatives were more likely to pursue the alternatives, which in turn predicted lower relationship commitment. In other words, when it comes to social media use, looking at attractive others should not be taken lightly.
It was also found that individuals with greater exposure to alternatives were more likely to compare their partners to the alternatives. Surprisingly, comparison of one’s partner was not related to relationship commitment. Notably, the same relationships were found for men and women. In interpreting the results, the researchers underscore the difference between “active” behaviors (pursuing alternatives) and “passive” behaviors (comparing one’s partner to those online) in relationship outcomes.
Yet, as noted by the researchers, this study cannot establish causality. While the researchers theorize that exposure to alternatives results in lower relationship commitment, the reverse could certainly be true, such that those who are less committed are more inclined to view attractive others on social media.
de Lenne, O., Wittevronghel, L., Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2019). Romantic relationship commitment and the threat of alternatives on social media. Personal Relationships, 26, 680-693. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12299