Mental contrasting and conciliatory behavior in romantic relationships

Jana Schrage, Bettina Schwörer, Nora Rebekka Krott, Gabriele Oettingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When people in a relationship offend each other, it is important for them to behave in a conciliatory manner if they wish to reconcile. We tested in two studies if mental contrasting (versus other modes of thoughts) is an effective strategy for people to self-regulate their conciliatory behavior. In Study 1, we assessed student participants’ spontaneous mode of thought when thinking about an unresolved interpersonal transgression and measured their commitment to reconcile. Eight days later, we assessed their conciliatory behavior. Participants who spontaneously mentally contrasted reported more commitment to reconcile and showed sensible conciliatory behavior (i.e., based on their expectations of solving their interpersonal concern). In Study 2, romantic couples were invited into the lab and asked to identify unresolved incidents in which one partner (the perpetrator) had offended the other (the victim). After perpetrators were induced to mentally contrast or indulge about a successful reconciliation, we videotaped the couples discussing the incident. Only perpetrators who mentally contrasted showed sensible conciliatory behavior and reached effective reconciliation (measured right after the experiment and 2 weeks later). The findings imply that mental contrasting supports perpetrators to show conciliatory behavior when it promises to be successful, but discourages it when it seems futile or adverse, thereby protecting the relationship from further harm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-372
Number of pages17
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Conciliatory behavior
  • Mental contrasting
  • Reconciliation
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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