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Interpersonal correlates of dependency

In general, studies of the interpersonal correlates of dependency indicate that dependent persons adopt a passive, helpless stance in interpersonal interactions. Specifically, laboratory and field investigations indi- cate that individuals with a dependent personality ori- entation show high levels of suggestibility, cooperative- ness, compliance, and interpersonal yielding. These results are not surprising when one considers the un- derlying goals and motivations of the dependent per- son. Clearly, being helped, nurtured, and protected is very important to the dependent person.

In this context, one would expect that the dependent indi- vidual would exhibit behaviors that serve to strengthen and reinforce ties to potential nurturers and caretakers. Thus, dependent persons (1) tend to yield to the opin- ions of others in laboratory conformity experiments; (2) show high levels of suggestibility in both laboratory and field studies; and (3) are cooperative and com- pliant in social, academic, psychiatric, and medical settings. Although the dependent person is generally suggest- ible, cooperative, compliant, and yielding, it is note- worthy that these dependency-related behaviors are even more pronounced when the dependent person is interacting with a figure of authority than when he or she is interacting with a peer. Apparently, figures of authority are perceived by the dependent individual as being particularly good protectors and caretakers. Consequently, the kinds of ingratiation strategies used by the dependent person with peers (e.g., compliance and interpersonal yieldings) are exhibited even more readily around figures of authority. Dependent persons in social settings also show high levels of help-seeking behavior. The dependency-help- seeking relationship is found in both men and women, and is consistent across different age groups (i.e., chil- dren, adolescents, adults), and across different mea- sures of help-seeking.

The dependency-help-seeking relationship found in adults clearly reflects the early de- velopmental experiences of the dependent person. To the extent that help-seeking behavior during childhood was reinforced by the parents and other authority fig- ures, the dependent adolescent or adult will continue to show exaggerated help-seeking behaviors in a variety of situations and settings.

Performance anxiety and fear of negative evalua- tion might also play a role in encouraging the depen- dent individual to behave in a help-seeking manner in social situations. Although there have been rela- tively few studies examining directly the dependency- performance anxiety relationship, studies in this area indicate that (1) dependent persons show higher levels of performance anxiety (and fear of negative evalua- tion) than do nondependent persons; and (2)there is a positive relationship between the degree to which a dependent person reports high levels of performance anxiety and the degree to which that person shows high levels of help-seeking behavior in various situa- tions and settings. One final set of findings regarding the interpersonal correlates of dependency warrants mention in the pres- ent context. In a series of investigations conducted dur- ing the 1970s and 1980s, researchers demonstrated that dependent persons exhibit higher levels of inter- personal sensitivity (i.e., sensitivity to subtle verbal and nonverbal cues) than do nondependent persons.

In fact, dependent persons are able to infer with sur- prising accuracy the attitudes and personal beliefs of strangers, roommates, teachers, and therapists. Al- though at first glance these results seem inconsistent with the oft-reported finding that dependency is as- sociated with passivity and helplessness, findings re- garding the dependency-interpersonal sensitivity re- lationship are actually quite consistent with these other findings. Clearly, to the extent that a dependent person is able to infer accurately the attitudes and personal be- liefs of teachers, roommates, and therapists, the depen- dent person will be better able to develop strong ties to these potential nurturers, protectors, and caretakers.

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