Shared and unique prototype features of relationship quality concepts and their roles in romantic relationship functioning
People continually make evaluations of their own and other people’s romantic relationships using various terms of relationship quality. Although relationship quality has been examined intensely among relationship researchers, existing theories have different views on what constitutes relationship quality (e.g., Rusbult, 1980; Sternberg, 1986). In five studies, I used a prototype approach to identify core features of relationship quality which are important for relationship functioning. I proposed that these core features are shared across relationship quality concepts (i.e., commitment, intimacy, love, passion, satisfaction, trust, and relationship quality; Fletcher, Simpson, & Thomas, 2000). Thus, I examined how shared and unique features of relationship quality concepts play a role in romantic relationship functioning. In Study 1, university students listed characteristics of each of the relationship quality concepts. These lists showed both shared features across concepts (e.g., caring, honesty, loyalty, and good communication) and unique features for each concept. In Study 2, another group of university students and a community sample rated how central each feature is to a corresponding concept. The results indicated that shared features were rated as more central to each of the concepts than the unique features. In Study 3, university students rated how important each feature is for good relationship functioning. Overall, as predicted, shared features were rated as more important for relationship functioning than unique features. I recorded reaction times in Study 4 as an implicit measure of judgments about whether shared and unique features were good indicators of relationship functioning. Participants made judgments on shared features more quickly than on unique features. Finally, Study 5 examined how the presence of these prototype features would be related to people’s evaluation of their ongoing romantic relationships. The presence of shared features and unique prototypical features predicted positive relationship evaluation more strongly than the presence of unique non-prototypical features. Overall, the results of these five studies support the idea that there are core characteristics of relationship quality across concepts (i.e., shared features). The current research makes contributions to the area of relationship research by identifying important aspects in evaluating the quality of romantic relationships.