Relatedness needs and negative fantasies as the origins of obsessive thinking in romantic relationships

Timothy J. Valshtein, Elizabeth R. Mutter, Gabriele Oettingen, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Surprisingly little experimental research has been conducted regarding the origins of obsessive thinking. Based on prior research on basic psychological needs (Sheldon and Gunz in J Pers 77(5):1467–1492, 2009) and future fantasies (Kappes and Oettingen in J Exp Soc Psychol 47(4):719–729, 2011), we proposed that a threat to the need for relatedness increases obsessive thinking about a romantic partner (i.e., a need-relevant target) when combined with a negatively valenced future fantasy about the partner. We tested this hypothesis in three experiments: Experiment 1, administered online, used a meta-cognitive relatedness threat manipulation, a scenario-based fantasy valence manipulation, and a measure of obsessive thinking. Experiment 2 used a modified fantasy valence manipulation, a new obsessive thinking measure, and a measure of romantic proximity-seeking. Experiment 3 used cyberball to manipulate relatedness threat in the lab. An internal meta-analysis revealed that threats to relatedness (vs. no threat) and negative fantasies (vs. positive fantasies) both led to small increases in obsessive thinking; however, inconsistent evidence emerged for the hypothesized threat-by-fantasy valence interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)226-243
Number of pages18
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Fantasies
  • Need frustration
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Relatedness
  • Romantic relationships
  • Self-determination theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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