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Agence France-Presse
August 30, 2013
Sure, every man says he wants a smart, funny, talented wife. But a new study finds that subconsciously a man's ego takes a hit whenever his wife succeeds, no matter what the domain.

According to a new study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a man's subconscious self-esteem may be bruised when his spouse or girlfriend excels. Yet, a women's self-esteem wasn't affected by either her male partner's successes or failures.

"It makes sense that a man might feel threatened if his girlfriend outperforms him in something they're doing together, such as trying to lose weight," said the study's lead author, Dr. Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida. "But this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner's success as their own failure, even when they're not in direct competition."

In the research, Ratliff and her team looked at almost 900 people living in the US and the Netherlands, with findings showing that men subconsciously felt worse about themselves when they thought about a time when their female partner thrived in a situation in which they had failed.

In one experiment, 32 couples at the University of Virginia were given what was described as a "test of problem solving and social intelligence" and then told that their partner scored either in the top or bottom 12 percent of all university students. Hearing that their partner scored high or low on the test did not affect what the researchers called participants' explicit self-esteem, or how they said they felt. But when participants were also given a test to determine how they felt subconsciously about their partners' performance, or implicit self-esteem, the results showed something different. In this test, a computer tracks how quickly people associate good and bad words with themselves. For example, subjects with high implicit self-esteem who see the word "me" on a computer screen are more likely to associate it with words such as "excellent" or "good" rather than "bad" or "dreadful."

Regardless of their own score, men who believed that their partner scored in the top 12 percent demonstrated significantly lower implicit self-esteem than men who believed their partner scored in the bottom 12 percent.

In another experiment, 657 participants, 284 of whom were men, were asked to think about a time when their partner had succeeded or failed. No matter the realm of the achievements, be it social or intellectual, men subconsciously still felt worse about themselves when their partner succeeded than when she failed.

Also, women reported feeling better about their relationship when they thought about a time their partner succeeded rather than a time when he had failed, while men did not.
Access the study.