Anna Bruk, Sabine G. Scholl, Herbert Bless
Beautiful mess effect: Self-other differences in evaluation of showing vulnerability

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018: 115, issue 2, pp. 192-205
ISSN: 0022-3514 (print); 1939-1315 (online)

Confessing romantic feelings, asking for help, or taking responsibility for a mistake constitute just a few examples of situations that require showing one’s vulnerability. Out of fear, many individuals decide against it. To explore whether these fears are reflected in the evaluation of others, we investigate self–other differences in evaluation of showing vulnerability. Drawing on construal level theory, we hypothesize that the mental representations of individuals who find themselves in a vulnerable situation are rather concrete, shifting the focus on the negative aspects of making oneself vulnerable and resulting in a relatively negative evaluation of showing vulnerability. By contrast, when depicting others in a vulnerable situation, individuals are expected to represent it more abstractly, focus more on the positive aspects of showing vulnerability, and, therefore, evaluate it more positively. A total of seven studies demonstrate the predicted self–other differences in the evaluation of showing vulnerability in various situations, such as confessing love, revealing imperfections of one’s body, or asking for help, including evidence on the generalizability of the effect in a real-life situation. Moreover, we report empirical evidence on the crucial role of level of construal in the emergence of the observed self-other differences.