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Is More Sex Always Better?

When it comes to sex, the more the better right? Popular perception would suggest that the answer to this question is yes. Media messages often tout the benefits of sex, going as far as to suggest that having sex every day in a relationship might be one route to greater happiness. In a recent set of studies my colleagues and I investigated whether more frequent sex was, in fact, associated with more happiness and found that it was, but only to a point.1

Across three studies of over 30,000 participants, we found that people who reported having more frequent sex in their relationship also reported being happier. But this association was no longer true at frequencies greater than once a week. To be clear, having sex more frequently than once a week was not associated with less happiness, it just wasn’t associated with more happiness on average.

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How a Little Exercise May Go a Long Way in the Bedroom

There comes a time in many long-term romantic relationships when couples experience some limitations in the bedroom. Such limitations arise when one partner faces physical, medical, or emotional issues that affect sexual performance, which can become distressing for both members of the couple and can affect relationship quality. If sexual intimacy is compromised, whether temporarily or permanently, are there things that partners can do together to help promote the rebuilding of intimacy?

Some researchers have addressed this question by targeting a population of individuals for whom the issue is particularly relevant: couples affected by prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is common among men as they age (though it can affect younger men as well), and often impacts men’s sexual function; many men become impotent as a result of the treatment. Impotence, understandably, drastically alters a man’s sexual and affectionate behaviors with his partner and undermine the quality of their romantic relationship. The wife/ partner may now assume the “caregiver” role exclusively, while the “sexual partner” role may be dormant. Professionals working with couples affected by prostate cancer have long recognized these issues and have sought to find ways to promote intimacy.

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“I Hope My Boyfriend Don’t Mind It”: The Implications of Same-Sex Infidelity in Heterosexual Relationships

Long before Katy Perry proclaimed that she kissed a girl and liked it, heterosexual-identified women were kissing other women. Although the phenomenon of female-female kissing isn’t particularly new, in the past decade scholars have turned their attention to better understanding the multitude of reasons why same-sex physical intimacy occurs between heterosexual individuals.

Generally when committed romantic partners kiss someone besides their partner, this is considered a form of cheating. Yet female-female kissing by heterosexual women does not seem to garner the same negative response, perhaps due to the varying reasons women report engaging in such behavior. Some heterosexual women report kissing other women as part of the college social scene or for men’s attention, while others do so to experiment or explore potential same-sex desires.1 A 2012 study found that both women and men perceive women who kiss other women in heterosexual spaces (for example, bars that heterosexual individuals frequent) as more promiscuous than those who kiss a man, and that women and men perceive such women as more likely to be heterosexual than bisexual or lesbian.2 In some ways, this last finding may suggest that women and men do not always perceive female-female kissing as necessarily an expression of women’s same-sex desire. So then what happens when individuals in heterosexual romantic relationships engage in more extreme forms of infidelity, such as sex, with someone of the same sex?

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Let’s Talk about Tech and Teen Relationships  

American teens spend a lot of time with their smartphones, and their interest in their phones may only be superseded by their interest in forming romantic relationships. Anytime you have two really important aspects of life intersecting, there is the potential for some really interesting data. Researchers at the Pew Research Center wanted to learn how teens use technology in their romantic relationships to meet, flirt and communicate.1 To get some answers, in late 2014 and early 2015 researchers conducted a national survey as well as several online and in-person focus groups of 1,060 American teens (aged 13-17).

Although the common assumption is that this technology has changed how teens deal with their romantic relationships. Let’s see what the data say…

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Ben Affleck Was Right: Relationships Are Hard Work. And That’s OK.

As many of you are no doubt aware, Ben Affleck got a lot of flack after his infamous 2013 Oscar acceptance speech, in which he thanked his (then) wife Jennifer Garner for the “work” that they put into their relationship. This comment prompted an intense backlash, which has been revisited in light of Ben and Jennifer’s divorce earlier this year. Many thought the writing was on the wall, and some questioned the very idea that marriage and work are synonymous, including this pointed article specifically questioning experts’ wisdom that successful relationships do in fact require work. Here’s a key quote from this opinion piece: 

…maybe if marriage seems like really hard work, there is something that needs a little fixing…. is our marriage work? It can't be. Because I never feel like I need a vacation.”

Well, perhaps it’s time for the Science of Relationships experts to weigh in. I’ll cut right to the chase: Ben was right. Relationships are hard work. And that’s OK.

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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Danielle Sulikowski on Head Tilt and Allure

Does tilting your noggin like a bobble-head doll make you more or less alluring?Robert Burriss talks to Danielle Sulikowski.

Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.


Connecting With Nature Promotes Connecting With Others

Connecting with nature just feels good. Nothing matches the feeling of serenity experienced when taking a quiet walk in the woods, listening to water flow over rocks in a stream, or taking in the enormity of a beautiful panoramic natural view. Obviously, in the moment, such tranquil settings do wonders for us. But does connecting with nature have longer-term effects by carrying over into other aspects of our lives after this exposure to nature? And how would this happen? Does nature affect our mood or our motivation to act prosocially? 

It’s hard to conduct empirical work that addresses these questions directly, but a team of researchers recently created a series of three clever laboratory experiments mimicking real world dilemmas to provide help determine whether connecting with nature affects our future behavior.

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Anxious-Avoidant Duos: Walking on Thin Ice in Relationships and Physical Health

While the Disney animated film “Frozen” is most famous for its lovable characters and award-winning song “Let it Go”, this kids’ movie can teach us a thing or two about attachment styles in close relationships and the important interplay between partners’ preferences for intimacy versus independence. In “Frozen,” the relationship difficulties that occur when these preferences clash are most evident between the two protagonists, sisters Elsa and Anna.

Anxious Anna and Avoidant Elsa: Attachment in “Frozen”

Attachment style describes the degree to which we perceive our relationships (usually romantic partnerships) as being secure, capable of meeting our needs, and a source of comfort in times of distress. People who are securely attached are comfortable depending on others as well as having others depend on them. Some people, however, have negative expectations in relationships, leading to insecure attachment styles. For example, individuals with an anxious attachment style fear rejection and abandonment, yet their cravings for closeness may inadvertently drive others away. In “Frozen”, Anna is anxiously attached. Her parents’ death and her sister’s abandonment leave her alone and desperate for love – so desperate, in fact, that she almost married a man she just met (Prince Hans). Whenever Elsa seeks distance in the movie, Anna continues to pursue her and ends up getting hurt in the process. Anxiously attached people may engage in behavior like this because they over-rely on their attachment figures for reassurance. 

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Life after Breakup: An International Survey

To better understand life after breakup, researchers surveyed 5,705 people in nearly 100 countries about their breakups and experience of grief afterwards. The most common reason for breaking up was “lack of communication.” Women were more likely to initiate a breakup; those who were broken up with experienced more grief than initiators. Post-relationship grief was more severe emotionally (e.g., anxiety, depression) than physically (e.g., insomnia, weight change). Among those who were dumped, women reported slightly more emotional and physical consequences than men, although post-relationship grief was high for both men and women. 

Morris, C. E., Reiber, C., & Roman, E. (2015). Quantitative sex differences in response to the dissolution of a romantic relationship. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 9, 270-282.


“Parents Are Less Happy”: Fact or Fiction?

Last month study results results1 from German researchers on parental well-being (or lack thereof) appeared in news articles around the world. This isn't the first time a study has made waves for supposedly demonstrating that nonparents are happier than parents (see here for more).2 This time, researchers found a headline-grabbing correlation. As CNN3 paraphrased,

According to a recent study, the drop in happiness experienced by parents after the birth of first child was larger than the experience of unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner.

Wow! Having a kid is worse for your happiness than losing the person you love the most. They seem to be inferring that creating life, with your life partner, is more traumatic than that partner dying!  

The NY Daily News trumpeted the news, too:

Having Kids is Worse for Happiness Than Divorce, Death of a Partner: Study

But all was not as it seemed. CNN noted, later in the article, that the findings were more nuanced:

The authors said they were not looking at what makes parents happy or unhappy -- they were specifically looking at why, although most German couples say they would like to have two children, they end up stopping after one. "On the whole," Myrskyla said, "despite the unhappiness after the first birth of a baby, having up to two children rather increases overall happiness in life."

Wait, so there's unhappiness after the first child, but "up to two children" increases happiness?

Which one is it?

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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Casey Klofstad on Voice Pitch and Politics

How do voices and faces win votes? Robert Burriss talks to Casey Klofstad about his new research into voice pitch and the effect it has on perceptions of a political candidate's age, strength, and competence. We'll also look at how other nonverbal cues, including facial appearance, influence election success.

Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.


Mythbusting Singleness with Dr. Bella DePaulo

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Bella DePaulo's book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. This section appeared on pp. 244-246 of Chapter 8, "There's Nothing Sweeter Than Solitude." You can read more about the book here.

In the stories we tell each other about the workings of society, it is the married people and the traditional families who are holding us all together. Single people—especially those who live alone—are the isolates, holed up in their apartments, lonely and friendless. Yet when social scientists do systematic research, they find something quite different: singles look more like Dan Scheffey than the caricatures. Results of several studies—some of them based on representative national surveys—show that it is the single people, and not the married ones, who are creating and sustaining the ties that bind us. Single people are more likely than married people to do what it takes to keep grown siblings together. They also spend more time helping, encouraging, and socializing with neighbors and friends. Singles are more likely to live with relatives than married people are, and they do more than their share of caring for aging relatives and others in need. Asked the question “Do you currently or have you ever regularly looked after someone, for at least three months, who is sick, disabled, or elderly?,” it was the single people, more often than the married, who said yes. Single people also visit their parents more and exchange help with them more, even when their parents are still relatively young and healthy.

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Dr. Samantha Joel on Relationship Decisions


Let Me Get a Turn! Don’t Do all the Talking in a Conversation (But Don’t Just Sit There Quietly Either)

Getting to know one another is fundamental to starting any close relationship. Thinking back to the first dates many of us have had, we probably started with very important questions such as “Why did you join Tinder? or “Why exactly did I swipe right?” As we delved deeper into the conversation, we may have discussed sequentially deeper topics such as whether we would like to be famous, what a “perfect day” may be, or even sharing embarrassing moments (my answers to this final question are probably responsible for a myriad of failed first dates). These questions (and more) came from an actual study which explored the generation of interpersonal closeness in the laboratory.1 Although conversations come in many forms, they are generally characterized by some form of reciprocity. In other words, we typically take turns asking and answering questions with another person during interactions. But we may also find ourselves interacting with someone who is more of a “chatty Kathy” who does all of the talking, or someone who just sits in silence listening to you. Would such one-way interactions end in a disaster, or does engaging in any form of self-disclosure, whether it is just listening or talking, still hold the power to lead to interaction number two? That is the question that my colleague Dr. Sue Sprecher and I set to answer in a recent study.2 

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Ghosting: The 51st Way to Leave Your Lover?

You just slip out the back, Jack; Make a new plan, Stan; Don’t need to be coy, Roy… 

If Paul Simon were writing his song today, he might add a 51st way to leave a lover—ghosting. This term hit my radar in June when I read that celebrity Charlize Theron had “ghosted” Sean Penn. I was intrigued and after quickly ruling out murder as plausible definition, I turned to Urban Dictionary for assistance. Ghosting, as defined by, is “the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date”. Phone calls, emails, and texts are no longer returned and digital traces of the relationship are wiped clean without an explanation.

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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Samantha Leivers on Detecting Infidelity

Can men detect if a woman is a cheater? Robert Burriss talks to Samantha Leivers of the University of Western Australia about her new research on appearance and faithfulness.

Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.


A “Double-Shot” of Cheating

The need to belong is a basic human drive; we as humans have a pervasive desire to form and maintain lasting, positive relationships.1 Relationships are important for our well-being, as their initiation is often associated with happiness, elation, love, and joy. Marital relationships serve as important buffers against stress;2 and marital quality is associated with better health.3 The benefits of being in a relationship, such as those just mentioned may explain why people are often very resistant to breaking social bonds and experience strong negative emotions when they feel as if their relationships may be compromised.

Cheating (or being cheated on) is one of the most detrimental behaviors for the survival of a relationship. Infidelity shakes the ground upon which the relationship was built, as it creates a violation of trust and breaks the commitment each partner made to one another. Not only does the act of cheating create tension and potentially destroy the relationship, but the perception that a partner may be cheating is also problematic. If there is suspicion of infidelity, that suspicion often creates a rift between couple members. Therefore, it is important to know how people view cheating and what behaviors people believe violate the terms of a committed relationship. 

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Mixing it Up: The Upside of Interracial Relationships

In the summer of 2013, General Mills did something apparently unthinkable: they depicted an interracial (i.e., mixed-race) couple and their biracial daughter in a Cheerios ad. Despite being almost 50 years removed from the landmark civil rights Supreme Court ruling in Loving v Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage, the backlash observed in response to the Cheerios ad reminded all who were paying attention just how stigmatized and polarizing the topic of interracial relationships remains. In fact, when I typed the following into a google search window:

Why are int

The first search to populate the search was “Why are interracial relationships bad?” (Note: Results may vary by region, but I had never previously conducted this search).

Interestingly, although most people are aware that support from society, particularly family and friends, for one’s relationship is a key component (i.e., generally necessary, but not necessarily sufficient) of a healthy, satisfying romance, the prevalence of interracial relationships and marriages has increased dramatically over the past 40 years.

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Misattribution in Paradise: Would the Bachelor Contestants Have Connected without all of the Arousal Inducing Dates?

Somehow, even with my reality TV addiction, I was able to evade the Bachelor for the past 19 seasons, Bachelor Pad, and one season of Bachelor in Paradise. However, this summer, at the request of a friend, I sat down to watch the second season of Bachelor in Paradise. I was immediately sucked in. A revolving door of men and women moved into a villa in Vallarta-Nayarit, Mexico, all with the hopes of finding love. Each week a few cast members would be given date cards by the host of the show, instructing them to pick partners to accompany them on various excursions. While some of the date cards cast members were given led to private dinners and fantasy suites (think rose petals, champagne, and private hotel rooms), a large number of the dates involved more active plans, such as wrestling matches, bungee jumping, dancing at a club, and jet skiing. People seemed to be really into each other on the dates, but would often question their feelings shortly after when back on the serene beach. Was the post-date letdown because there were so many good looking unattached people around to pull their attention away from the partner they just went on a date with? Or was it something more -- perhaps something physiological?

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The Aftermath of Break-Up: Can We Still Be Friends?

When your romance ends, it may not necessarily end your relationship. Although one or both partners may want a “clean break” where partners discontinue all contact, former partners often end up seeing each other in passing or at social events with group of friends they have in common. In other cases, a romantic relationship ends and one of the partners asks, “Can we still be friends?”

Recent research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships sought to address this age-old question by determining who was more (vs. less) likely to stay close after a break-up. 

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