Principle of least interest

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Principle of least interest is one of the indicators of power in interpersonal relationships. It suggests that the power lies in the hands of the person who cares the least about the relationship.[1]

This term was coined in 1938 by the sociologist Willard Waller,[1] who argued that one way to gain power in a relationship was to withhold love.[2]

A 1984 study of 77 lesbian women currently in relationships found nearly 40% reported an unequal balance of power, with the person felt to be less dependent on the relationship believed to have more.[3] A 1994 study of 413 heterosexual American adults in dating relationships found the correlation between power and emotional involvement to be negative and significant, with perception of powerlessness increasing with emotional involvement. 39% of respondents reported that in their relationship the woman was more emotionally involved, with only 21% reporting the man to be.[4] Similarly, in a 2006 study of 101 heterosexual American dating couples, sociologists Susan Sprecher and Diane Felmlee found that the partners who perceived themselves as more emotionally invested in their relationship also perceived themselves as having less power. This was true for both women and men, but men were significantly likelier to feel less emotionally invested and more powerful than their partners.[5][6] A 2012 study which conducted thirty in-depth interviews with 15 unmarried African-American couples found that the partner less emotionally invested in each relationship tended to make the couple's decisions about how to handle birth control.[7]


  1. ^ a b Bryan Strong; Christine DeVault; Theodore F. Cohen (19 February 2010). The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationship in a Changing Society. Cengage Learning. pp. 239–. ISBN 978-0-534-62425-5. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Campolo, Tony (2009). Choose love, not power: how to right the world's wrongs from a place of weakness. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books. p. 26. ISBN 0830751246. 
  3. ^ Mayta A. Caldwell & Letitia Anne Peplau (1984). "The Balance of Power in Lesbian Relationships". Sex Roles. 10 (7/8). doi:10.1007/bf00287267. 
  4. ^ Femlee, Diane H. (1994). "Who's On Top? Power in Romantic Relationships". Sex Roles. 31 (5/6). doi:10.1007/BF01544589. 
  5. ^ Cohen, Bryan Strong, Christine DeVault, Theodore F. The marriage and family experience : intimate relationships in a changing society (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. p. 239. ISBN 0534624251. 
  6. ^ Sprecher, Susan, Maria Schmeeckle, and Diane Felmlee (2006). "The Principle of Least Interest: Consequences of Inequality in Emotional Involvement for Young Adult Romantic Relationships". Journal of Family Issues. 27 (9): 1255–1280. doi:10.1177/0192513x06289215. 
  7. ^ Selma Caal; Kristen Peterson; Lina Guzman; Child Trends (2012). "Relationship Dynamics and Pregnancy Intentions in Couples' Birth Control Use". 2012 Population Association of America Annual Meeting, San Francisco CA.