What Predicts Volunteers’ Commitment to Mentoring Relationships? You guessed it…

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 6.42.22 PMMadia, B.P., & Lutz, C.J. (2004). Perceived similarity, expectation-reality discrepancies, and mentors’ expressed intention to remain in Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34 (3), 598-623.

Mentor initiated premature terminations compromise mentoring programs’ goal of fostering quality relationships between youth and nonparental adults. Moreover, for youth from potentially vulnerable backgrounds, the premature loss of a relationship can have detrimental effects. Thus, it is important to understand factors that influence mentor’s intentions to remain within mentoring relationships.

In this study, Madia and Lutz examine:

  • The influence of mentor’s preconceived expectations and perceived similarity on their intentions to remain within an ongoing mentoring relationship.
  • Whether relationship characteristics (e.g., relationship quality) affect the influence of mentor’s preconceived expectations and perceived similarity on intention to remain.

Method: Participants were 95 mentors from three Big Brothers/Big Sisters agencies. In order to participate, mentors had to have been in a match for at least one month but less than 12 months. The average match length was approximately five months. Mentors completed questionnaires with items about themselves and their mentees, including the following measures:

  • Intention to remain in the mentoring relationship

Relationship perceptions

  • Perceived similarity: including race, attitudes, interests and personality
  • Expectancy-reality discrepancy: mentor’s expectations about their role as an advocate and a friend within the relationship. Mentors completed one version focusing on expectations they had held prior to the relationship, and another focusing on actual experiences within their ongoing relationship. From this data, researchers generated three expectation-reality discrepancies
    • Negative  discrepancies: mentor’s expectations more positive than the reality of their roles
    • Positive discrepancies: mentor’s actual experiences more positive than their expectations
    • No discrepancies: Similarity between mentor’s expectations and actual experiences

Relationship Quality

  • Interpersonal attraction (i.e., mentor’s like or dislike of their mentee)
  • Depth (i.e., closeness) of the relationship
  • Level of conflict within the relationship

Results: Above and beyond the potential influence of mentor’s mood and need for social desirability at the time that they completed questionnaires, mentors had greater  intent to remain within the relationship when they 1) perceived similarity in extraversion between themselves and their mentees; and 2)  had lower discrepancies between their expectations and actual experiences.

However, perceived similarity in extraversion and expectation-reality discrepancies no longer predicted intention to remain when relationship quality (specifically interpersonal attraction and relationship depth) were considered.

Conclusions and Implications: In this study, mentor’s perceptions about similarities between themselves and their mentee, as well as discrepancies between mentor’s expectations and actual experiences predicted their intentions to sustain the relationship with their mentee; however, positive relationship quality explained this association.

More research is needed to better understand how expectations factor into the mentor and mentee’s experiences, particularly within the initial phases of the relationship when preconceived notions about what the match will be may most influential. In addition, because relationship quality may mitigate the impact of discrepant expectations, programs can consider ways to foster feelings of closeness within the initial phases of the relationship (e.g., helping matches to identify similarities that can help to establish the relationship).