Person-by-situation perspectives on close relationships

Jeffry A. Simpson, Heike A. Winterheld

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


In this chapter, we review theories and research that have adopted interactional (person-by-situation) approaches to the study of relationships. We first discuss interactional thinking within social and personality psychology, highlighting the fundamental ways in which individuals and situations intersect. We then review three major theoretical models that are exemplars of person-by-situation frameworks and have important implications for interpersonal processes: the cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS) model (Mischel & Shoda, 1995), interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978), and attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). Following this, we explain how and why different person-by-situation approaches have expanded our understanding of individuals within relationships, focusing on romantic relationships. We spotlight programs of research on selfesteem and dependency/risk regulation, promotion versus prevention orientations, and diathesis-stress models based in attachment theory. These lines of inquiry have documented that certain types of situations elicit unique reactions in people who have specific dispositional strengths (e.g., high self-esteem, greater attachment security) or vulnerabilities (e.g., low self-esteem, greater attachment insecurity). Collectively, this research confirms that one cannot predict or understand how individuals think, feel, or behave in relationships without knowing the relational context in which they are embedded. We conclude by identifying new directions in which interactional-based thinking might head, focusing on how functional strategies can further our understanding of person-by-situation effects.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology
EditorsK. Deaux, M. Snyder
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940905
ISBN (Print)9780195398991
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2012 by Oxford University Press, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Attachment theory
  • Close relationships
  • Cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS) model
  • Dependency/risk regulation model
  • Interdependence theory
  • Person-by-situation models


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