Expectations about the short-term functional role played by defensive behavior in interpersonal interactions

Michael A. Westerman, Denise M. Prieto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Based on the theory of interpersonal defense (Westerman, 1998, 2005; Westerman & Steen, 2005), an interpersonal conceptualization of defense processes, we conducted a set of studies to investigate (a) implicit lay beliefs (i.e., implicit beliefs widely held by people in our culture) about the effects of defensive behavior on short-term interaction events, and (b) individual differences in implicit beliefs about the costs and benefits of defensive behavior and their relation to behaving defensively. In these studies, participants imagined themselves in several interpersonal situations presented in a paper-and-pencil protocol and responded to questions about what they expected would happen after they behaved defensively or nondefensively. As predicted, results indicated that, according to participants' implicit lay beliefs, defensive behavior as compared to nondefensive behavior makes short-term clear-cut feared occurrences less likely, reduces the likelihood of clear-cut wished-for short-term outcomes, and affects how these outcomes will be experienced when they do take place. Also, findings indicated that there was an inverse association between self-reports of behaving defensively and the extent to which participants appreciated the short-term costs of defensive behavior. Alternative models for explaining this association are considered, including the idea that expectations minimizing the costs of defensive behavior develop because they support previously established, emotionally charged interpersonal behavior patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1015-1037
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Defense
  • Functionalist models
  • Interpersonal behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Psychology


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