It’s Complicated: The Psychology of ‘Singlism’

The Huffington Post:

I’m married, but I have also been single for significant stretches in my life. I think I’m being honest when I say that I can see the virtues in both life choices, and understand why someone might opt for either. And I have certainly never felt judged, or discriminated against, for choosing to be single or for choosing a partner.

So it came as a surprise to me to read recently about “singlism.” Apparently, some people do feel judged, and unfairly, for their status. And intriguingly, this subtle form of discrimination appears to cut both ways. That is, people who are single by choice claim that they are treated unfairly for not tying some kind of knot, while married people — especially in large urban centers — feel that they are marginalized in a predominantly singles culture. Why would this be?

Well, the answer may be rooted in human psychology, specifically in our powerful tendency to idealize whatever life choices we have made. A well-established psychological theory — known as cognitive dissonance theory — argues that humans cannot tolerate the discomfort that comes from making an irreversible and regrettable choice. A team of psychological scientists, headed up by Kristin Laurin of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, thought that this dynamic might apply to relational prejudice, as well. Not that all relationship choices are not necessarily regrettable, but they are either/or, so these scientists reasoned that people would tend to idealize their own choices and situations as correct and preferable — not just for themselves but for everyone. They decided to explore this possibility with a few simple laboratory experiments.

The results, described in a forthcoming article in the journal Psychological Science, reinforced the earlier findings. The more long-lasting the volunteers perceived their own status to be, the more positive they were about others who shared their status.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology.

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