People take on more challenges if partner confident in them, study finds

PITTSBURGH — Seems obvious enough, but a new study proves that having a supportive partner may increase your ability to feel confident in taking on a new or challenging task.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh recruited 163 married couples for a decision-making experiment.

Couple holding hands to form heart
A new study finds that people in relationships are more likely to take on new opportunities when their partner is supportive and confident in them.

Each couple was given a choice: solve a simple puzzle, or take on a more difficult challenge by competing for a prize.

The researchers then documented via video how each partner interacted with their significant other prior to making a decision on the matter, finding that those with more encouraging partners were much more likely to compete for the prize.

More significantly, those who chose to participate in the more challenging task reported higher levels of personal growth, happiness, psychological well-being, and better relationships than those who solved the simple puzzle six months after the initial experiment.

Conversely, those who discouraged their partners from taking part in the competition or showed less confidence in their ability to perform well were more likely to take on the quick puzzle.

To help foster such courage in a significant other, the researchers recommended that partners express enthusiasm about presented opportunities, give reassurance, and discuss the potential benefits of taking on a challenging endeavor.

“Significant others can help you thrive through embracing life opportunities,” says lead researcher Brooke Feeney, a professor of psychology at the university, in a news release. “Or they can hinder your ability to thrive by making it less likely that you’ll pursue opportunities for growth.”

These findings may very well apply to any kind of interpersonal relationship, including those with friends and family.

“We found support for the idea that the choices people make at these specific decision points—such as pursuing a work opportunity or seeking out new friends—matter a lot for their long-term well-being,” says Feeney.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.