The Real Spooky Science of Ghosting

Boo! With Halloween quickly approaching, it’s time to talk about some ~scary~ topics in relationship science. Today is all about “ghosting”. 

You may know what ghosting is already. It’s a popular term especially within the realm of dating, but a more concrete definition of it is “unilaterally dissolving a relationship by cutting off communication.” Essentially, it’s when someone you were talking to suddenly ignores you and avoids any communication. 

With the rise in computer mediated communication (CMC) such as texting, email, or instant messaging, there is no doubt that the way we interact with each other has evolved. One can imagine that it is a lot more distressing to be ghosted today, especially by someone you message everyday than to be ghosted in the olden days, when a letter would take months to arrive by horse carriage. 

Ghosting has real consequences, inducing anxiety and confusion in ghostees (people who have been ghosted), but it also connects to current theories in relationship psychology. 

If you have connected the dots and recognized that ghosting is a form of withdrawal and avoidance, you know it’s time to talk about attachment theory (again). Not surprisingly, ghosters were found to have higher attachment avoidance levels than people who had never ghosted before. Ghostees, on the other hand, had higher attachment anxiety levels compared to people who had never been ghosted before. Note that this does not always mean that anxiously attached people are more likely to be ghosted, but rather those who have experienced being ghosted have greater attachment anxiety than those who haven’t. 

Ghosting has also been studied in relation to the Implicit Theory of Relationships, which the team has covered in a previous story. In short, there are two beliefs people can hold in relationships: those of destiny and growth. Those who hold more of a destiny belief have a black-and-white view of relationships, that it was either meant to be or not. In contrast, those who have a growth belief believe that relationships can develop over time and that any challenges can be overcome with work and perseverance. People who hold destiny beliefs were found to be more likely to ghost in both short-term and long-term relationships. This finding was explained with destiny belief people finding it more acceptable to end a relationship through this method because it just wasn’t “meant to be”. 

Much like a jumpscare, being ghosted can happen unexpectedly and seemingly out of nowhere. No matter which side of the ghoster/ghostee coin you may have been on, it is certainly not a pleasant experience to have. However, hopefully now you can take some solace in knowing attachment and belief factors that can influence this behavior and reason out some of the scariness behind ghosting.