Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margo Wilson


Martin Daly

Committee Member

Louis Schmidt


In a series of five interrelated studies, college students' sensitivities to inequities in their own relationships and in other people's relationships were examined. In the first two studies, I analyzed reactions to feeling underbenefited in different types of personal relationships (i.e., sibling, cousin, close friend and acquaintance). People expressed more concern about being underbenefited by an acquaintance than in the other types of relationships, which did not differ from each other. The second study extended these findings by examining the role of a personality profile (shy but sociable) expected to be particularly sensitive to social threats, including those associated with inequities. As predicted, highly shy/highly sociable participants were particularly concerned about inequities, but in keeping with the first study, these differences were observed only in acquaintance relationships. In the third study, a longitudinal design focused on reactions to inequities in the course of friendship development. Participants were university students who had just moved into a university residence. Their concerns about reciprocation and perceptions of friendship quality were measured at 9 and at 75 days after first meeting their new roommates. It was found that changes in expectations and obligations of reciprocation, rather than a stable "trait" orientation to reciprocation, were particularly informative about the developmental trajectories of perceived friendship quality. In those relationships that progressed from acquaintanceship to close friendships, concern about receiving reciprocation decreased, showing a similar pattern to the data obtained in the first study, comparing acquaintances and friends. In the fourth and fifth studies, participants were cast in the role of observer, reacting to evidence of inequities in others' relationships. Here the experimental variations included genetic relatedness, terms of a monetary transfer from parent to child, and whether the child voluntarily disclosed the terms to siblings later. The results revealed that subjects engaged in 'distributive justice' (taking funds away from those who were overbenefited and redistributing these funds to those who were underbenefited) only when a half-sibling was underbenefited but not when a full sibling was underbenefited. The various studies' findings are discussed within an integrative evolutionary social psychological and personality framework.

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