Psychological Commitment

Psychological Commitment. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Psychological commitment refers to the level of dedication, loyalty, and attachment that individuals have towards a particular idea, organization, or relationship. A particular function of commitment is the psychological muscle it creates to continue in specific goal related activities in the face of obstacles. Where there is no psychological commitment, there is no motivation to continue in the face of challenges. Some things naturally sound desirable and we want them. However, when our attention is momentarily distracted, if there is no psychological commitment to the original goal, we quickly abandon course, and do that which is most convenient and salient at the moment.

Psychological commitment is a state of getting our brain on-board. These commitments are more than thoughtless words that carelessly flow, but a binding of mental forces and current situations to future action. The stronger these commitments the less likely environmental distractors will interfere with successful fulfillment of the agreement.

Key Definition:

Psychological commitment refers to the level of dedication, loyalty, and attachment that individuals have towards a particular idea, organization, or relationship.

Types of Commitment

I found that overwhelmingly writing on ‘psychological commitment’ largely referred to it as interchangeable with ‘commitment.’ One exception to this is I found a few articles that referred to ‘psychological commitment’ as the process of protecting internals beliefs. Basically, similar to Crystal Park’s concept of global meaning in her meaning making model. She theorizes that we hold global meanings about ourselves and the world that serve as orienting belief’s. We then shape experience around those belief’s.

Psychological commitment under this definition refers to the stability of internal beliefs against outside influences. Lawrence Crosby and James Taylor define it this way, “psychological commitment refers to a tendency to resist change in preference in response to conflicting information or experience” (Crosby & Taylor, 1983). In their research, they found that higher commitment among voters related to resistance to change of opinions even in the face of conflicting information.

Elements such as level of position of involvement and ego investment strongly correlated with strength of psychological commitment. Accordingly, the stronger the psychological commitment the more biased the after decision evaluations.

‘Psychological Commitment’ Defined Simply ‘Commitment’

Commitments come in all shapes and sizes. Some are life long commitment to particular ideals (attitudes). These psychological commitments play a significant role in shaping individual priorities. We express other commitments through loyalty to a person, idea, or political party. We may fulfill these commitments in a variety of ways as new circumstances arise.

However, many commitments are limited in scope, pertaining to resolution to perform a particular activity (goal). We privately commit (to ourselves) to do certain things. Or we may commit to another person that we will perform certain behaviors in exchange for certain benefits. These commitments are bolstered by trust. Honoring these commitments are foundational to healthy relationships.

Researchers have constructed several domain specific inventory questionnaires to measure level of commitment and association of commitment to future behaviors. Basically, the stronger the measure of the commitment the more likely an individual fulfill behaviors associate with that commitment.

However, in real life, where most of us dwell, the desires and distractions in the moment easily obscure commitments to future goals. We learn the strength of commitment when external circumstances challenge that commitment. Consequently, it isn’t until we travel down the road towards a goal that we discover how resilient our commitment is or isn’t.

Predictability and Commitments

Strong commitments organize the normal chaos of an undirected life. Each moment stimulus beckons us to act one way or another. Without the anchor of commitment to inner values and future goals, circumstances push us in chaotic directions. Life becomes less chaotic when we commit and consistently honor commitments. The organizing force of commitments creates predictable futures resilient against distracting forces.

Psychological commitment is also relevant in the realm of relationships. Whether it is a romantic partnership, friendship, or familial bond, the level of commitment impacts the overall satisfaction and longevity of the relationship by creating predictability. Individuals who psychologically commit to their partners or loved ones create an environment of predictability that builds trust, open communication, and mutual support. The psychological commitment creates stability which partners experience as a calm reassurance of continued companionship. Unsettling surprises (disloyalty) associated with lack of commitment disrupt peace by creating uncertain futures.

Nathaniel Branden wrote, “we know that people who keep their word and honor their promises and commitments evokes trust and cooperation, and those who don’t, don’t” (Branden, 1995). Making and honoring commitments are essential for intimate and string relationships. However, we can’t create trust through promises and schemes to force compliance to commitments. Trudy Govier explains that “bargains and contracts cannot replace trust and are at best a partial strategy for managing distrust” (Govier, 1998, Kindle Location: 158).

Perhaps, the greatest commitment in intimate relationships is the commitment to maintaining and supporting each others over all well-being. This over arching commitment motivates the honoring of all the other smaller commitments we make in a relationship.

Psychological Commitment and Change

Psychological commitment is a concept rooted in social psychology that researchers have extensively studied to understand human behavior and decision-making. Research strongly associates commitment with change. Change is difficult. We typically default to maintaining current life trajectories. The state of our current being is a complex integration of the entirety of our lives (biological sensitivities, patterns of thoughts, childhood environments). Change doesn’t naturally occur against all these significant forces. The standard is to continue in step with our past.

Accordingly, when individuals psychologically commit to something, they are more likely to remain dedicated to it, persevere through challenges, and invest their time, efforts, and resources into it. This commitment can stem from various factors such as personal values, beliefs, social identity, emotional connections, and outcomes expectancies.

How Commitments Weaken

Keeping commitments is a learned behavior. We build a pattern of honoring. Our words mean something. We should say what we mean, and mean what we say. However, if we use words carelessly to obtain benefits without deeper considerations of the impact of those words on future behaviors our words quickly lose meaning. This is a terrible state. Our interpersonal relations quickly lose the rewards of trust. Patterns of keeping or disregarding commitments influence strength of future commitments (to others and ourselves).

Perceptions of Approaching Failure

Failure is a nasty given of life. Commitment never guarantees success. It just makes success more likely. Fear of failure often leads to weakening of commitment. Instead of seeking solutions, those that suffer anxiety in the face of failure, may cut losses early. Charles Carver and Michael Scheier explain that “when failure seems (or is) assured, the feelings are sadness, depression, despondency, grief, and hopelessness.” They continue, “behaviorally, the person tends to disengage from—give up on—further effort toward the incentive” (2017, Kindle location: 525).

With people possessing stronger commitment (and strong self-efficacy) indication of impending failure do not discourage, rather along with the “feelings of frustration and anger” comes “increase in effort, a struggle to gain the incentive despite setbacks” Carver and Scheier explain that “this struggle is adaptive (thus, the affect is adaptive) because the struggle fosters goal attainment” (Ibid. Kindle location: 529).

Strengthening Psychological Commitment

Cultivating psychological commitment requires fostering a sense of purpose, building strong relationships, and building a pattern of keeping small commitments. Above all, it requires taking mindful attention to our words. Until commitments become a habit, we may need to write them down, placing them in a prominent place that reminds us of our promises.

A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

In conclusion, psychological commitment is a fundamental aspect of human behavior and interaction. Understanding its importance and fostering its development can lead to greater success in various aspects of life, be it organizational, relational, or personal.

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Branden, Nathaniel (1995) The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field. Bantam; Reprint edition​.

Carver, Charles s.; Scheier, Michael F. (2017). Self-Regulation of Action and Affect. K. D. Vohs, & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.), Handbook of Self-Regulation: Third Edition: Research, Theory, and Applications. The Guilford Press; Third edition.

Crosby, Lawrence A., & Taylor, James R. (1983). Psychological Commitment and Its Effects on Post-Decision Evaluation and Preference Stability Among Voters. Journal of Consumer Research, 9(4). DOI: 10.1086/208935

Govier, Trudy (1998). Dilemmas of Trust. McGill-Queen’s University Press; First Edition.

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