Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Cheryl Carmichael

Committee Members

Claudia Brumbaugh

Kristin Sommer

Amanda Gesselman

Subject Categories

Social Psychology

Keywords

online dating, ghosting, computer-mediated communication, rejection

Abstract

As an increasing number of individuals seek meaningful connections in online dating, it is important to understand how online dating users’ perceptions and behaviors vary because of contact being terminated with them without warning (i.e., being ghosted) and their regulatory focus. Research on how being ghosted affects users’ expectations and pursuit of potential partners is limited, despite ghosting being a pervasive online dating experience. Also, the role of users’ motivational systems of goal pursuit, namely regulatory focus (promotion focus: motive to affiliate/connect with others, prevention focus: motive to avoid rejection/protect the self), on users’ expectations and pursuit of potential partners on online dating platforms (ODPs) has yet to be explored in this context.

To address these gaps in the literature, I conducted one online non-experimental survey (Study 1) and two online experiments (Studies 2 and 3). In all three studies, regulatory focus was measured in terms of chronic regulatory focus with the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire (RFQ; Higgins et al. 2001) and relationship regulatory focus with the Regulatory Focus in Relationships Scale (Winterheld & Simpson, 2011). In Study 1, 145 users (81 men, 63 women, 1 non-binary) reported on their regulatory focus before indicating their anticipated connection success and change to potential partner pursuit after a variety of hypothetical ghosting experiences. Anticipated connection success and pursuit of partners decreased for being ghosted following an in-person date (with or without sex) relative to being ghosted following messaging on the ODP. Also, both chronic and relationship promotion focus were positively associated with anticipated connection success and relationship prevention focus was negatively associated with pursuit in potential partners after imagining being ghosted.

In Study 2, 178 users (121 men, 54 women, 1 non-binary, 1 gender fluid) completed the regulatory focus measures used in Study 1 before imagining being ghosted or mutually terminating contact with a potential partner. A moderated mediation model was predicted. Specifically, it was expected that, within the ghosting condition, those relatively high (versus low) in promotion focus would have higher anticipated and importance of connection success, leading to more potential partner pursuit. It was also expected that those relatively high (versus low) in prevention focus would have lower anticipated and importance of connection success, leading to less potential partner pursuit. The predicted model was partially supported such that, after imagining being ghosted, those high in relationship prevention focus rated finding meaningful connections as less important, leading to less desire for partner pursuit. However, regardless of condition, those high (versus low) in relationship promotion focus had higher anticipated and importance of connection success, leading to more desire for partner pursuit.

In Study 3, regulatory focus was not only measured, but manipulated by inducing participants into a promotion focus (i.e., listing ways to achieve online dating goals) or prevention focus (i.e., listing ways to avoid failure in online dating goals) after imagining being ghosted or mutually terminating contact with a potential partner. There were 162 users (91 men, 69 women, 2 non-binary) who completed the study. The association between regulatory focus induction and anticipated connection success only approached significance, but higher anticipated connection success was associated with more desire to pursue potential partners.

These results extend findings on how regulatory focus impacts relationship processes to the context of ghosting on online dating platforms. Studies 2 and 3 are also some of the first studies to test the causal link between being ghosted and online daters’ desire to pursue potential partners. The results suggest that people’s motives may alter the way that they respond to being ghosted, and how they continue to engage in online dating for potential partner pursuit.

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