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October 23, 2007

Positive Illusions

I have a friend who has an excessively deep passion for BMWs. There is just something about a BMW – over any other car that drives him (pun intended), and I don’t understand it. In fact, to me his passion seems inflated to the point of distortion – where he believes a BMW’s performance is far beyond its true ability. Is this bad?

There is an interesting phenomenon in close relationships called “positive illusions,” which is generally defined as an individual having an idealistic distortion about their relationship and/or partner. In other words, someone might report that (1) their relationship is actually in better shape than it truly is, and/or (2) that they have inflated positive views of their partner. For example, in marriage, most people report their relationship as better than average, and their partner as better than the average partner. Individuals also underestimate their chances of divorce, compared to the population divorce likelihood (contact us for references).

Are these positive illusions in relationships misleading – guiding individuals down the wrong relationship path? Not always. In fact, these illusions can be adaptive and often serve a relational maintenance function. By thinking that your relationship and/or partner is better than it actually is, you are more likely to invest more in the relationship, stay committed, report being satisfied, and engage in pro-relationship behaviors – this all in turn can influence your partner to respond in kind. Things are best when both members in the relationship experience positive illusions – where they each feel they got a great deal.Bmw_obsession_3

So let’s get back to this BMW passion – is it unfounded and unhealthy? Not necessarily. My friend’s positive illusions about BMW help him deepen his commitment in a relationship that he deems important. Additionally, if BMW experiences positive illusions about my friend and their relationship, BMW will likely engage in pro-relationship behaviors (e.g., maybe a periodic call to check in with him), which will in turn make my friend feel more satisfied with and committed to the relationship.

On the other hand, my friend’s passion becomes unhealthy when it is placed on a relationship and friend that fails to reciprocate, and does not share similar feelings. In this case, my friend will ultimately realize that he doesn’t get what he thought he did in his relationship with BMW, and he will begin shopping elsewhere.

So what’s the punch line? Companies and brands need to think relationally. For example, companies run a great danger when they overly focus their attention on expansion, growth, and new business. By doing this, they can fail to recognize the already existing, and potentially mutually beneficial positive illusions experienced by current partners, and they run the risk of losing those relationships. BMW must embrace my friend’s idealistic distortion and make it a reality. This requires BMW and other companies to know their partners and friends – to understand their thoughts and feelings. This requires communication, contact, and shared intimacy. By companies doing this, they themselves will develop mutually beneficial positive illusions. And with this, both company and partner can dodge that oh-so threatening divorce rate, and live happily ever after.

by Michael Reiter

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Comments

luc

b,

great article. true story: i happened upon a BMW recently at a charity auction, and just "went for it". i don't know jack about BMW, but it's a sports sedan 4X4 and makes me feel cool when i drive it around. i think my wife feels the same way.

:)

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