Partners, Lovers, Friends: A Status Dynamic Study of Men and Women

Mary K. Roberts (Ph.D., 1980)

Thesis directed by Associate Professor Peter G. Ossorio

Within traditional psychological theories, an understanding of what is involved in principle in being a man or woman has not been possible. Therefore, in the conceptual part of this study, the question of what is involved in principle is addressed within the framework of Descriptive Psychology. "Man" and "woman" are seen as status concepts, and two levels of status are formulated: Level I status is a standing in a way of life; this standing carries with it behavior potential in a way of life and a set of potential relationships. Level II status is a standing in a personal relationship; this standing carries with it behavior potential to engage in behaviors that express a personal relationship to a particular person. Using a unique conceptual-notational device from Descriptive Psychology, the paradigm case formulation, a range of relationships possible with Level II status is also formulated. The Paradigm Case relationships include contract-partnership, romantic love, and friendship.

The empirical part of the study is a demonstration of the predictive applicability of the status formulation. 157 of 166 undergraduates who participated in the study took one of the three Paradigm Cases as the fundamental relationship between men and women, and empirically predicted differences in how they viewed sexual interactions and in their degree of disappointment with particular relationships between men and women followed accordingly.

The undergraduates also varied in their range and degree of mastery of the Paradigm Cases. Those who had mastered the concepts relevant to romantic love were more likely to take romantic love as the fundamental relationship between men and women, and those who had a high degree of mastery of at least two of the Paradigm Cases were better able to see similarity between pairs of I-Thou relationships.

While there are also some hypotheses that were not confirmed, overall the formulation is shown to be useful in making predictions about people's views of man-woman relationships and interactions. The predictive applicability of the formulation having been demonstrated, possibilities for application of the formulation in socialization, education, and psychotherapy are explored. [233 pp.]