Friday
Feb052016

Giving the Gift of an Experience this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching. While many people are looking forward to showing their partners how much they are loved by exchanging gifts, others are filled with anxiety in trying to pick out the perfect item. You can hardly walk down the street without being bombarded by store windows featuring giant people-sized teddy bears and equally large heart shaped boxes of chocolate. For those in relationships, picking out the perfect present is of utmost importance, as the gift ideally symbolizes our love for the other person. This is because “gift-giving involves both the objective value of a gift and the symbolic meaning of the exchange.”1 Before making your final decision between jewelry or something practical like a pair of winter gloves, consider giving your partner an experience.

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Wednesday
Feb032016

The Divorce Diet: Relationships, Stress, and Emotional Eating

I’ve always been an emotional eater. When I’ve been promoted at work, I want to go out to dinner. When I’m stressed, I want a bag of gummy bears within reach. When I’m sad, my two best friends are Ben and Jerry. 

So when my husband and I divorced last year – about as amicably as is possible -- I was surprised to find that I was often unable to eat. I would pack healthy lunches of favorite foods and find myself incapable of choking down more than a few bites at a time. I’d have to force myself to eat. Given that I’ve been studying eating behaviors for my entire adult life, I knew that not eating was not an option. So, instead I’d “drink my calories” (the exact opposite of what I recommend people do when they are trying to lose weight) to be sure I was getting enough of something resembling nutrients (hey, if there is a lot of milk in the latte, that still counts – right?). But, I didn’t enjoy any of it.

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Tuesday
Feb022016

Why Do We Watch Romantic Movies During Winter Storms?

If you are currently in the Northeast United States, you are probably still dealing with the aftereffects of Jonas, our most recent (and for many of us) first snowstorm of the winter. While some of us braved the weather to walk our dogs, dig out our cars, or make an emergency trip to the store to pick up the milk we forgot to buy in the days leading up to the storm, the rest of us probably stayed warm indoors and watched TV. After texting my friends to discuss their snowpocalypse plans, I found out that many, like me, were watching movies. Specifically romantic movies. Was this all just a pre-Valentine’s Day coincidence? The answer to this question may be found by considering research on embodied cognition.

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Thursday
Jan282016

If At First You Don’t Succeed: A Strategy for Effectively Stealing a Romantic Partner

Sue and Dan are in a relationship. Their friend, Matt, is romantically interested in Sue. If Matt tries to “steal” Sue away from Dan, then he is doing what researchers call “mate poaching.” To try to poach Sue, Matt might do things like insult Dan, try to compete with Dan, tell Sue that she could do better, and/or try to keep Sue from hanging out with Dan. There is no shortage of examples on TV shows and movies of one person poaching their friend from an existing romantic relationship (e.g., Made of Honor). But outside of Hollywood, is mate poaching by friends common? 

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Tuesday
Jan192016

Book Review: Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance

On the cover of his recent book, Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari is pictured standing against a white background, with hearts over his eyes, looking down solemnly at his cell phone. The image evokes some confusion (he appears to be searching for something and doesn’t appear very happy). It seems Ansari has set out to clarify things; his book aims to tackle many important questions that young adults have in the dating world of 2015. What makes a person attractive? Can people really find love through a website or a phone app? Are people only interested in sex these days? How does dating in America compare to dating in Europe, Asia, or South America? And what’s the secret to a happy relationship? Ansari is attempting to capture the essence of close relationships in our era and to address the existential crises that many millennials feel as they try to navigate their lives and make the right decisions. Ansari is a powerful voice for my generation – one that speaks with confidence, clarity, and creativity. He is a comedian, a writer, and an actor – he’s starred in some very popular TV shows and movies, and is a prolific stand-up comic. But Ansari stands out from his colleagues in that his book strives for scientific accuracy. He’s not just looking to make people laugh, he’s looking to educate them and to shine a light on some mystifying social phenomena. In writing this book, Ansari teamed up with renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg and consulted with several high-profile psychologists including Barry Schwartz, Helen Fisher, Eli Finkel, Sheena Iyengar, and others.

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Thursday
Jan142016

First, Best, Worst, Forbidden, and Regretted: Kisses and Kissing

Chances are you had your first kiss when taking part in a kissing game -- you know those age-old games, like Spin-the-Bottle, Seven Minutes in Heaven, and Run-Chase-Kiss? These games tend to take place during the transition from childhood to adolescence (and maybe some office parties later in life, but let’s not get into that).

But what about your first “real” kiss in a truly romantic or sexual context? Most people remember their first kiss quite clearly. For many girls, that kiss can prompt changes in a sense of self as a sexual person.1 Other first kisses also are notable. The first kiss in a new relationship is an especially giddy event, the novelty of a new partner lasts for a while, and research suggests that we use that kissing experience to sort those with whom we have good genetic compatability.2 At some point, most romantic relationships pass from the rollercoaster phase characterized by passionate kisses into the steadier and affectionate phase of companionate love.3 How does kissing change during this transition?

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Tuesday
Jan122016

Parental Alienation and the Fight for Children’s Hearts and Minds

Parental alienation involves one parent spoiling the relationship between a child and the other parent in the absence of actual abuse or neglect. In both my personal and professional lives, I have seen many parents actively turn their children against the other parent in an effort to “keep them (the child) close,” and to undermine their child’s loving bond with the other parent. Although research has demonstrated that parental alienation has very negative effects on children (e.g., depression, substance abuse and conduct disorders), few researchers have examined empirically how exactly parents engage in this alienation behavior.1

The majority of research on this topic has surveyed young adults (e.g., children) who report having been alienated from one parent by another. Alienating strategies include bad-mouthing or denigrating the other parent in front of the child (or within earshot),2,3 limiting the child’s contact with the other parent,4 trying to erase the other parent from the child’s mind (e.g., withholding pictures of the child with the other parent),2 creating and perpetuating a belief the other parent is dangerous (when there is no evidence of actual danger),2 forcing the child to reject the other parent, and making the child feel guilty if he or she talks about enjoying time with the other parent.2 The impact of these behaviors on children is devastating, but it also often has the opposite intended effect; parents who denigrate the other parent are actually less close with their children than those who do not.3

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Thursday
Jan072016

We’re Exclusive In Our Relationship…Aren’t We? 

Public opinion surveys find that 70-80% of North Americans say that infidelity is “always wrong,” and most others express some disapproval.1,2 Researchers find that most married and dating partners expect romantic and sexual exclusivity.3,4 If you’re like a good number of people, you may think that you have in place an agreement to be exclusive. But, like many people, odds are that your understanding of this agreement is based far more on assumptions than actual explicit discussion.

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Tuesday
Jan052016

Taking the Nasty Out of “Doing the Nasty”: Sexual Arousal Reduces Women’s Disgust

Ladies, be honest: Do certain aspects of sexual activity sometimes gross you out? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, and there’s a psychological and physiological explanation for why you might feel that way. Both sex and disgust are core aspects of human experience. Scientists believe that disgust evolved as a defensive mechanism to keep us from being contaminated by external sources.1 Accordingly, the mouth and the vagina, two body parts that lie at the border of the body (and are therefore at a higher risk for contamination), demonstrate greater disgust sensitivity; for example, we are likely to be especially grossed out by having a spider crawling on/around the mouth or vagina compared to, say, the left arm.2 Add to this the finding that some of the strongest triggers for disgust are body odor, saliva, semen, and sweat, all heavily involved when getting “down and dirty,” and you can see how the relation between sex and disgust seems contradictory or even obstructive. In fact, you might be left wondering how humans manage to have pleasurable sex at all! 

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Wednesday
Dec302015

Infographic: What is the Ultimate Commitment?

Monday
Dec282015

What Makes a Person in Uniform More Attractive?

“There’s just something hot about men or women in uniform.” You’ve probably heard people say something like this. But what is it about a uniform that makes a person look more attractive? Here are 3 possible explanations based in science for why uniforms increase attractiveness...

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Tuesday
Dec222015

Dating After Divorce

Unfortunately, every romantic relationship does not end happily ever after. For a myriad of reasons, after people get married the romantic love they feel towards their partners often decreases.1 As a result, those relationships could end in divorce.

To better understand how the experience of divorce affects how individuals’ think about relationships, researchers conducted a series of in-depth interviews with divorced men and women aged 21 to 63.The interviews focused on how divorcees interpreted their experiences and used them to redefine how they approached intimacy in their (new) post-divorce relationships. Analysis of the interviews indicated a primary theme of post-divorce relationships was the view of intimacy based on equal friendship, respect for individual differences, and each person having a sense of self-sufficiency.

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Thursday
Dec172015

Flirting: The Science of Giving and Receiving

Why People Flirt

Flirting comes in many forms: a casual gaze that lingers a half second longer than normal, a light touch, a “flirty face”, an overenthusiastic laugh during conversation, or even some overtly sexual or playful banter. Regardless of the technique employed, flirting aims to fulfill one purpose: stimulate sexual interest.  To be clear, flirting’s pursuit of sexual interest may not have the explicit goal of having sex or even physical intimacy of any kind. Rather, a person may flirt simply to pass the time, to feel close, to see if they still “have it” or because it is fun.1 Flirting motivations differ by gender with men’s flirting more motivated by sex, while women’s flirting more motivated by having fun or to become closer to another person.

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Tuesday
Dec152015

Romantic Relationship Aggression - It Looks Different Than You May Think

When many people think of relationship aggression they stereotypically think of men hitting women, like the much publicized videotape of ex-NFL player Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancée, Janay, in an elevator in 2014. Observable forms of aggression such as this have helped shape our society's view of relationship aggression as being limited to physical violence primarily performed by men against women.

Since the majority of research on conflict and aggression in relationships has focused on the overt and observable forms of aggression, we know very little about the less visible forms of relationship conflict.1 Although boys are typically more physically aggressive than girls, what researchers have been discovering is that girls perform more non-physical forms of relationship aggression, like spreading negative rumors about their partner or excluding them from social circles.

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Monday
Dec142015

Dating: One Key Determinant of Who Ends Up Together

When people logon to a dating site, whether it is UK.Cupid.com or Match.com, what determines who ends up with who? Although there are a myriad of factors that lead individuals to form romantic attachments, a longstanding theory in relationship science makes a simple prediction. Specifically, the matching hypothesis predicts that people will pair up with a partner who has the same social mate value.1 Your social mate value includes all of the factors that go into making you more or less desirable to date such as your physical attractiveness, your personality, etc. Essentially, according to the matching hypothesis, if you’re in London dating and are a “7” out of 10 in terms of mate value you’ll end up with another “7,” or very close.  “10’s” go with “10’s,” “2’s” with “2’s” and so on.

Perhaps due to the matching hypothesis’s intuitive appeal, the field of social psychology has largely accepted it as true, despite a general lack of empirical support. To address this gap between theory and data, researchers from the University of California – Berkeley tested the matching hypothesis across several studies.

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Tuesday
Dec082015

Infidelity and Jealousy from an Evolutionary Perspective

When you feel as if someone poses a threat to your relationship (whether they do or not), jealousy likely creeps in. Researchers note that jealousy is characterized by fear of loss, distrust, or anger, as one is worried about losing a relationship due to a rival.1 Essentially, jealousy serves as a mechanism by which the person remains hypervigilant to protect his/her relationship from potential intruders. One common scenario which can elicit jealousy is when your partner is in the presence of available and datable others, resulting in the sense that a partner may be unfaithful.

Infidelity

In a previous article, I discussed theories of infidelity, focusing on the different perspectives offered by evolutionary psychologists and social-role theorists. The dispute between these two perspectives focuses on the difference in how distressed is measured. One approach is to use “forced choice” alternatives, which include answer choices in which a participant is to pick which is more upsetting from two pre-selected responses: your partner forming an emotional attachment with another individual (emotional infidelity) or your partner having sex with this other individual (sexual infidelity). Evolutionary psychologists have used this forced-choice paradigm to show that men are more upset by sexual infidelity, while women are more distressed by emotional infidelity.

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Thursday
Dec032015

The Problem with (How we Treat) Highly Disciplined People

Self-control: it’s a skill that most of us wish we had a lot more of. Yet, every once and a while, you meet a person who has a seemingly mystical ability to make themselves do things they ought to do, and resist the urge to do things they ought not to do. It’s that person who walks their dog, eats their oatmeal, picks up coffee for everyone in the office, and still shows up to work by 9am. The person who gets their day’s work done by lunch and then works out during their lunch hour. The person who not only makes homemade cards for their friends and family’s birthdays, but actually gets them mailed on time.

It’s easy to envy such individuals. People who have high self-control are more likely to achieve their goals in a wide variety of domains. Research shows that people with high levels of self-control tend to get better grades in school, they are less likely to engage in problem behaviors such as binge eating and alcohol abuse, and they have better psychological adjustment compared to people with lower levels of self-control.1 High self-control also has important benefits for romantic relationships. For example, married couples with greater combined levels of self-control are more responsive, trusting, and forgiving of one another, they have smoother day-to-day interactions, they have less day-to-day conflict, and they are more satisfied with their relationships on the whole.2

Looking at the literature, it’s tempting to conclude that one simply can’t go wrong by having high levels of self-control, or by having close others with high levels of self-control. However, in a paper that just came out this year, Koval, vanDellen, Fitzsimons, and Ranby3 explored a potential downside to self-control: the high expectations that others might have of high self-control individuals. Below are the three ways we tend to treat high self-control individuals, according to Koval et al.’s research, that might be damaging for our relationships with such individuals.

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Tuesday
Dec012015

I Want What She’s Having: Women Copy Other Women’s Mate-Choices

So you’re a 20-something woman out at a bar. As it happens you’re currently single and kind of interested in meeting guys to possibly date. At this club there are 2 men, of similar physical attractiveness, who have caught your eye. Man A) is sitting in the corner alone, but man B) is talking with a really attractive woman who seems to be his ex-girlfriend. Are you more attracted to man A) or man B)? 

On the topic of human relationships, the famous Czech writer Milan Kundera mused, “[it is] one of life’s great secrets: women don’t look for handsome men, they look for men with beautiful women.”1

In the absence of any other information, humans tend to estimate the value of something by being aware of the demand for it. This is basic economics. Mate copying is the idea that an individual’s decision to mate or form a relationship with a potential partner is impacted by a direct observation of that person in a relationship with another, or knowledge of their romantic history.

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Tuesday
Nov242015

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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Thursday
Nov192015

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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