Straight men feel bad about themselves when their girlfriends succeed, according to a new study in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And not just the colleagues turned couples who share ambitions. “This research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition,” said lead author Kate Ratliff, Ph.D.
In one experiment, researchers told 32 University of Virginia couples that their partner had scored in either the top or bottom 12 percent of all university students on a “test of problem solving and social attendance.” No one would admit to feeling differently as a result of their partner’s performance, but men whose partners scored in the top 12 percent showed “significantly lower implicit self-esteem” than those whose partners had scored in the bottom 12 percent. (Their subconscious self-worth was measured using a computer test that tracks how quickly they associated positive and negative words with themselves.) Women’s personal self-esteem was not affected by their partner’s test score, but they felt better about the relationship when their partner was successful.
The results echoed similar findings in the gender-equitable Netherlands and were replicated in an online study of more than 600 people. They were the same whether the tests were social or intellectual, related or unrelated to the guy’s personal achievements or shortcomings: Men felt worse when their girlfriends succeeded than when they failed. On the bright side, maybe this makes male affection a kind of consolation prize when you screw up. Yeah, I got fired. Men love that about me.