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Sep 02, 2013 11:48 AM EDT

Young Men's Self Esteem Hurt By Female Companion's Success


A new study suggests a man's self-esteem is likely to suffer if his female partner is more successful than he is, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The researchers conducted their study, published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, on heterosexual couples in the U.S. and the Netherlands. While the women's self-esteem was seemingly unaffected, the men's suffered when their partner was successful.

"There is an idea that women are allowed to bask in the reflected glory of her male partner and to be the 'woman behind the successful man,' but the reverse is not true for men," wrote lead author Kate Ratliff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida.

The researchers suggested the reason for a dip in a man's mood when their partner was successful was tied to a feeling of their own failure.

The study surveyed five experiments, which included about 500 men and women online and on college campuses. In some cases, the couples were asked to write about specific examples of when their partner was either successful or when they failed. After, they had to complete a word-association test that was aimed at assessing their self-esteem.

Students in the Netherlands were included in the study to counter the cultural differences in the U.S.

"From a very young age, boys' playtime interaction tends to be marked by dominance-striving," the authors wrote. "Young girls also pursue individual goals within social groups, but tend to do so while simultaneously striving to maintain group harmony."

The study was limited, Ratliff and co-author Shigehiro Oishi, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia acknowledged. The participants were mostly college undergraduates and many were young and un-wed.

The researchers still drew conclusions based on childhood and a young boy's upbringing versus that of a young girl. The study authors thought a male might believe their own perceived self-failure could threaten the health of the relationship.

"Having a partner who experiences a success might hurt men's implicit self-esteem because ambition and success are qualities that are generally important to women when selecting a mate," the authors wrote. "So thinking of themselves as unsuccessful might trigger men's fear that their partner will ultimately leave them."

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