Sense of power and markers of challenge and threat during extra-dyadic problem discussions with romantic partners

Abriana M. Gresham, Brett J. Peters, Ashley Tudder, Jeffry A. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Power, the capacity to influence others while resisting their attempts at influence, has implications for a wide variety of individual- and relationship-level outcomes. One potential mechanism through which power may be associated with various outcomes is motivation orientation. High power has been linked to greater approach-oriented motivation, whereas low power has been linked to greater avoidance-oriented motivation. However, current research has mostly relied on artificially created relationships (and the power dynamics therein) in the lab to assess the associations between power and motivation orientations. Utilizing the Biopsychosocial Model of Challenge and Threat framework, the current study examined how power is related to physiological responses indicative of psychological challenge (i.e., approach) and threat (i.e., avoidance) during discussions of problems outside of the relationship between romantic partners. The primary hypothesis that higher power would be associated with more approach-oriented challenge and less avoidance-oriented threat was supported via self-reports, but not via physiological assessments. Instead, physiological assessments revealed that for those disclosing problems to high-power partners, greater power was associated with reactivity consistent with more avoidance-oriented threat and less approach-oriented challenge. This is the first research to examine associations between power and in vivo indices of challenge and threat during interactions between romantic partners. It advances our understanding of how power elicits motivation orientations and influences the stress response system by highlighting the importance of situational attributes (e.g., role during a conversation) that may undermine power during disclosures with a high-power partner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Psychophysiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Psychophysiological Research.


  • challenge and threat
  • dyadic data analysis
  • relationships
  • sense of power

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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