Interpersonal Complementarity

Elaborated by Robert C. Carson (1969), the interpersonal principle of complementarity specifies ways in which a person's interpersonal behavior evokes restricted classes of behavior from an interactional partner, leading to a self-sustaining and reinforcing system. The principle of complementarity is defined on the interpersonal circumplex such that correspondence tends to occur on the affiliation axis (friendliness invites friendliness, and hostility invites hostility), and reciprocity tends to occur on the power axis (dominance invites submission, and submission invites dominance). In actuality, friendliness tends to occur regardless of the actions of an interaction partner--i.e., the base rate of friendliness is greater than that of hostility. Controlling for base rates allows the influence of complementarity to be visible--those who might have been friendly have second thoughts when made the brunt of another's hostility (Tracey, 1994). Not only base rates, but also individual differences, mediate complementarity--the overriding factor on the dominance axis is not the other person's behavior, but preexisting tendencies toward either dominance or submission--i.e., it is the person rather than the situation that determines dominance behavior (Bluhm, Widiger, & Miele, 1990).


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