Mental contrasting and conciliatory behavior in romantic relationships

  • Jana SchrageEmail author
  • Bettina SchwörerEmail author
  • Nora Rebekka Krott
  • Gabriele Oettingen
Original Paper


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.


Reconciliation Conciliatory behavior Self-regulation Mental contrasting 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the Ethical Standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.University of HamburgHamburgGermany

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