Person-by-Situation Perspectives on Close Relationships

Jeffry A. Simpson and Heike A. Winterheld

in The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780195398991
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Person-by-Situation Perspectives on Close Relationships


In this chapter, we review theories and research that have adopted interactional (person-by-situation) approaches to the study of relationships. We first discuss interactional thinking within social and personality psychology, highlighting the fundamental ways in which individuals and situations intersect. We then review three major theoretical models that are exemplars of person-by-situation frameworks and have important implications for interpersonal processes: the cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS) model (Mischel & Shoda, 1995), interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978), and attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). Following this, we explain how and why different person-by-situation approaches have expanded our understanding of individuals within relationships, focusing on romantic relationships. We spotlight programs of research on self-esteem and dependency/risk regulation, promotion versus prevention orientations, and diathesis-stress models based in attachment theory. These lines of inquiry have documented that certain types of situations elicit unique reactions in people who have specific dispositional strengths (e.g., high self-esteem, greater attachment security) or vulnerabilities (e.g., low self-esteem, greater attachment insecurity). Collectively, this research confirms that one cannot predict or understand how individuals think, feel, or behave in relationships without knowing the relational context in which they are embedded. We conclude by identifying new directions in which interactional-based thinking might head, focusing on how functional strategies can further our understanding of person-by-situation effects.

Keywords: person-by-situation models; close relationships; cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS) model; attachment theory; dependency/risk regulation model; interdependence theory

Article.  18095 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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