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Psychologists find a mindset that can foster positive feelings amid interpersonal conflict


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Two longitudinal studies found evidence that using wise reasoning when thinking about an anticipated interpersonal conflict leads to better relational outcomes. The findings were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.


Disputes with others are common, be they minor disagreements with colleagues or serious conflicts with loved ones. Study authors Johanna Peet and Igor Grossman propose that one way to encourage positive outcomes following these interpersonal conflicts is through wise reasoning.


Wise reasoning is a mindset that involves recognizing where one’s knowledge is lacking, acknowledging multiple possible conclusions to a given situation, contemplating the perspectives of others who are involved, contemplating an outsider’s perspective, and seeking compromise.


Peet and Grossman designed two longitudinal studies to examine whether framing a conflict using wise reasoning would result in more favorable relational outcomes.

In the first study, 243 participants were asked to think about and describe a conflict that they expected to experience in the next two weeks. They rated how positive and how close they felt to the other person who would be involved in this conflict. Their outlook towards the anticipated conflict was then assessed according to the five aspects of wise reasoning.


Two weeks later, 196 of these participants reported that the anticipated conflict had occurred, and were asked to report how satisfied they were with the outcome, how satisfied they were with the way the outcome had unfolded, and the extent to which they derived a sense of meaning from the experience. They also reported retrospective wise reasoning.


The researchers found that those who demonstrated greater wise reasoning before the interpersonal conflict had occurred, later reported higher feelings of positivity and closeness toward the other person following the conflict. Furthermore, those using wise reasoning reported higher satisfaction with the conflict process and gleaned a greater sense of meaning from the experience.


A second study followed a similar design among 234 participants. In line with the first study, subjects who showed greater wise reasoning prior to an upcoming conflict later gained more meaning from the interaction. Moreover, these subjects perceived more fairness from the interaction, according to their reports of how supported, valued, respected, and understood they had felt during the conflict.


The studies additionally provided insight into why wise reasoning appears to exert this positive effect on relational outcomes. In both studies, wise reasoning was found to indirectly affect positivity and closeness — through finding meaning. “Thus,” the authors say, “it appears that one underlying reason why those who reasoned wisely in advance experienced more positive interpersonal outcomes was their greater sense of meaning found in the conflict interaction.”


The first study additionally found that being satisfied with the conflict process mediated the relationship between wise reasoning and positivity and closeness.

“Whereas prospective wise reasoning might not be associated with experiencing fewer conflicts or more favorable conflict outcomes, it appears to be associated with viewing the conflict as a purposeful and meaningful experience,” Peet and Grossman say.


The studies involved several limitations, including the fact that the results were based on self-reports about how the conflicts unfolded, which may not coincide with how the interactions actually occurred or how others felt about the situation.


The authors emphasize that their findings extend the current literature by demonstrating that there are limits to the benefits of wise reasoning.


“In both studies,” the researchers discuss, “wise reasoning did not directly impact the conflict outcome, which likely depends on factors beyond the control of an individual. This observation implies that the benefits of wise reasoning might not lie in objectively better experiences in wise individuals’ lives, but in how wise individuals reflect on the experiences they do have (also see Weststrate & Glück, 2017).”


The study, “Wise Reasoning About the Future Is Associated With Adaptive Interpersonal Feelings After Relational Challenges”, was authored by Johanna Peet and Igor Grossman.



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