Exhausting or Exhilarating? Conflict as Threat to Interests, Relationships and Identities

Exhausting or Exhilarating? Conflict as Threat to Interests, Relationships and Identities

By
Nir Halevy, Eileen Y. Chou, Adam D. Galinsky
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. March
2012, Vol. 48, Issue 2, Pages 530-537

Some conflicts are experienced as depleting and exhausting whereas others are experienced as stimulating and invigorating. We explored the possibility that the focus of perceived threat in conflict determines whether it produces taxing stress or vitalizing arousal. Studies 1 and 2 established that attending to threats to interests, relationships, and identities during interpersonal conflict differentially relates to motivational goals, empathy and perspective-taking, femininity, and a collectivistic self-construal. Study 2 also found that perceived threats to relationships are associated with lower challenge appraisals and energy mobilization. Studies 3 and 4 experimentally manipulated threats to different targets and demonstrated causal effects of threat perceptions on self-reported energy mobilization and the consumption of comfort foods. Taken together, these studies demonstrate that conflicts which threaten relationships are experienced as significantly more depleting than conflicts that threaten either tangible interests or elements of individuals’ identities, and explain when, why and for whom conflict is exhausting.