Monday
May232016

She’s Got the Look, Or Does She?

Have you ever noticed how some people’s typical expression tends to look angry or irritated? Celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick, and Kanye West are notorious for these types of faces. This can be problematic because the person’s facial expression does not match their true feelings, resulting in unintentionally dirty looks. But it is important to realize that an angry or annoyed look doesn’t mean the person feels that way. You may be seeing something that isn’t there.

Being able to decipher the true meaning of someone’s facial expression (truly angry vs. the appearance of anger) is helpful for knowing the best way to approach an interaction. Across several studies, researchers at Arizona State University tested how men and women convey anger in their facial expressions and whether some people were more likely to perceive anger when viewing another person’s neutral facial expression.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
May182016

Do You Know When Your Partner is in the Mood for Sex?

Sometimes it’s obvious that our partner is interested in having sex—they might give us that seductive look or special touch. But other times it might be clear that tonight’s not the night—our partner might avoid our advances and simply roll over and go to sleep. But often, amidst our busy lives, work responsibilities, and children to care for, it may be much less clear how interested our partner is in engaging in sex. In a recent set of studies, my colleagues and I looked at how accurate people are at picking up on their partner’s interest in sex and how perceptions of a partner’s sexual desire are associated with relationship satisfaction and commitment.1 

First I want to share what we currently know from previous research about perceptions of sexual interest. All of the the past research on perceptions of sexual interest has focused on initial encounters between men and women—that is, men and women rating the sexual interest of a person they are meeting for the first time. The results are very consistent: men tend to show a sexual overperception bias where they perceive greater sexual interest in a women’s behavior than she herself reports. The majority of this research draws on evolutionary psychology and explains these findings as reflecting the fact that it’s more costly (in terms of men’s chances for mating with a good partner and having kids) for men to miss a potential mating opportunity than to perceive that a woman is interested in sex when she actually is not; thus, men tend to err on the side of overperception.2

Click to read more ...

Sunday
May082016

How a White Bear Can Teach You to Forget Your Ex

Don’t think of the white bear. 

If you’re like most people, you are now probably sitting in front of your computer screen or phone doing exactly what you were just instructed not to do -- thinking of a white bear. In fact, you are probably fixating on the white bear. Certainly, if you weren’t thinking of the white bear before, you are now.

This laser-like focus on the exact idea I instructed you to block out results from what researchers refer to as the ironic process theory, or more simply, the white bear effect. In a seminal research study, participants were asked to verbalize their stream of consciousness and not think about a white bear.  Despite these explicit instructions, not only did participants have difficulty suppressing thoughts of the forbidden white bear, but the white bear surfaced with an unusually high frequency.1 This idea relates to relationships as well. After breaking up with a significant other, you may make a conscious effort to avoid thinking about him/her. However, in doing that, you wind up focusing on your ex, which is exactly what you intended not to do in the first place.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Apr222016

Why You Have Sex Matters for Your Desire and Satisfaction

Think about a time when you engaged in sex with your partner in an effort to promote a positive outcome in your relationship, such as to feel closer to your partner or enhance intimacy in your relationship. Now think about a time when you had sex to avoid a negative outcome, such as disappointing your partner or experiencing conflict in your relationship. As it turns out, the reasons why we have sex in our relationships have important implications for how much sexual desire we have for our partners and how satisfied we are with the sexual experience and with our relationship overall. 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Apr192016

Are There Wedding Bells in Your Future?: Psychology Predicts Where Your Relationship is Headed

Is he or she the one? You know… the one to introduce to my parents, the one to move in with, the one to start a family with, the one to marry? At some point in every dating relationship, you ask yourself some version of these questions.

Of course you’re invested in predicting the fate of your own relationship. Psychology researchers are interested as well. Are there recognizable signs that can foretell where a relationship is headed? Typically researchers have tried to puzzle out this question by measuring some aspect of a relationship at one moment in time and then seeing how that measurement coincides with relationship outcomes months or years later. For example, one group found that greater boredom now predicts less relationship satisfaction nine years later.

These types of one-shot measurements are useful, but how you feel about any facet of your relationship fluctuates over time. Some researchers, including Ximena Arriaga at Purdue University, have suggested that the typical method of measuring a single moment in time may not fully capture the relationship experience; it might be more revealing to look at patterns of change as the relationship develops. To know your relationship’s fate, the ups and downs may matter more than its quality at one specific moment. A newly published study examined this question by tracking how relationships progressed over time via people’s own changing senses of where things were headed.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr142016

“Clear for Takeoff”: Turbulence in Romantic Relationships

It doesn’t take a social scientist to tell you that relationships are complicated. But it may not hurt to ask one why relationships are complicated. Take breakups, for example. People often question their breakups only in hindsight, looking back to wonder exactly what went wrong. They may ask things like, “Was it something I said, or did?” Well, according to one theoretical perspective, it may have less to do with specific behaviors, and more to do with the way that people approach relationships in general.

Imagine you’re on a plane. As you travel from point A to point B, it is possible that you may encounter turbulence. This is common during most plane rides, and after a short while it usually evens out eventually. Researchers have begun to think about romantic relationships in this way: smooth flights that occasionally encounter turbulence. Normally, things turn out fine, but enough turbulence can cause any flight to crash. It is during the transition from point A to point B that turbulence becomes dangerous.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Apr122016

What Makes Breaking Up So Painful?

It’s a universal feeling. Your partner was too unavailable, or you were too emotionally attached, but whatever the reasons, you ended up on the wrong side of a breakup. You reach for the ice cream and prepare for the deluge of emotions.

We’ve all been in this position before. Those of us who have experienced love have probably experienced hurt as well—But why? What factors contribute to a bad breakup, and what makes some breakups worse than others? Through relationships research, we can uncover why some breakups seem relatively painless and why others seem to drag on into eternity.

Many factors contribute to the way we process information, so it makes sense that many factors also contribute to how upset we feel after a breakup. For example, a survey study1 on young adults’ reactions to a recent breakup revealed multiple influences on their feelings of distress, including how the relationship started, what the relationship was like, how the relationship ended, and how each partner perceived relationships in general.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Mar152016

Destined for Disaster or Casual and Carefree?: What are the Benefits of a Friends with Benefits Relationship?

What do the majority of today’s American college students have in common with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake? Hint: The answer is found in the title of the 2011 rom-com Mila and Justin starred in...that’s right...Friends with Benefits. Several studies show that Friends with Benefits Relationships (FWBRs) are quite common among college-age students.1,2,3 But, despite their apparent commonality, modern media tells us that FWBRs are destined to fail, either because partners become hurt by the lack of exclusivity and love in their relationship, or because partners fall in love despite their original intentions (a la Mila and Justin). But are such outcomes true in the real world? Can’t people actually enjoy the benefits of a FWBR? The answer—like most questions in relationships research—is that it depends.

A FWBR is a relationship in which two individuals who share a friendship also have sex, but do not explicitly express romantic feelings. However, the exact meaning of this FWBR label can vary across relationships, ranging from a completely monogamous relationship between two close friends to a non-monogamous relationship between two casual acquaintances, and anywhere in between. This ambiguity can be either a major benefit or a major bummer for someone in a FWBR, depending on how they feel about labels and boundaries in a sexual relationship.2 Partners in a FWBR are much less likely to communicate with each other about their relationship and their sexual needs than are partners in a committed romantic relationship, which makes defining the rules and boundaries of the relationship difficult.1 Whether or not this ambiguity can benefit partners depends on their respective intentions when initiating the relationship.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Mar022016

Your Relationship at Your Fingertips: The Science Behind StayGo™

My colleague Gary Lewandowski recently laid out the backstory of how we began working with a team of folks from Hollywood to develop and release StayGo™, a new app that provides feedback to people about their relationships (don’t have StayGo™ yet? Download it here!). We’ve received a lot of inquiries about StayGo™, particularly questions regarding the science underlying this one-of-a-kind relationship evaluation tool. Although I’m not at liberty to divulge the details of the recipe behind our secret sauce, I can talk broadly about how relationship science informs the three StayGo™ modules.

1. Your SG Score

At the heart of StayGo™ is a set of 20 dimensions that are associated with relationship quality and longevity. The importance of these core has been demonstrated across hundreds of research studies involving both dating and married samples (see here for a condensed list of those studies). I won’t spoil the fun and list them all here, but set up an account and you will see for yourself since the app describes these dimensions once you’ve completed the questions.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Mar012016

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: How Insecure People Attract Dates

Take a moment to imagine your ideal romantic partner. What is it, exactly, that you find so attractive about him or her? If you’re like a lot of people, you probably envisioned someone caring, warm, reliable, confident, and open—All personality characteristics that make for a secure partner. Now, think of one of your actual romantic partners, past or present. Again, if you’re like a lot of people, you probably can think of at least one partner who was insecure; perhaps they came across as emotionally needy and clingy (i.e., anxiously attached) or perhaps they acted emotionally distant and non-communicative (i.e., avoidantly attached). This raises a paradox when it comes to dating choices: If most people say they want secure partners, how and why do they end up with insecure partners? Could it be that insecure individuals use certain strategies to help them attract potential dates?

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Feb282016

Five Years Later...Happy Anniversary to Us

Five years ago we flipped the switch on an idea. We believed that people intuitively recognize the importance of relationships and want to learn what science has to say about what makes relationships work. From these beliefs our slogan was born: “the important things in life deserve data.”   

In the five years (!) following our launching Science of Relationships in 2011, it’s been very clear that millions of people agree with us. The site has been more successful than we ever thought, and without a marketing budget our articles have been read nearly 6.5 million times to date. That type of reach would not be possible without our expert contributors’ generosity. Each of them selflessly gives their time and scientific knowledge to help our mission of sharing relationship science with the world. 

Essentially, for 5 years we’ve proudly run a website that makes no money, but does a whole lot of good (in our humble opinion) for relationships and the world. And that’s what counts.

Science of Relationships has opened some doors and given us an opportunity to do something we sketched out years before the website was born. A longstanding idea we’ve had on the backburner (since we all have day jobs as professors) was to create a way for people to evaluate their relationships in a scientifically-informed way. After years of not having time to bring the concept to fruition, the phone rang.

On the other end was a television producer from Hollywood who had a similar vision. With the increasing popularity of online dating, there were plenty of apps dedicated to trying to help people find love, but none of these technological tools helped users make sense of their relationships. How do you know if you’re in a good relationship? How do you avoid settling? Are you wasting your time, or should you spend more time to make a good thing better? Ultimately, how do you decide if you should you stay or you should go?

After nearly 2 years of conference calls, focus groups, meetings in Los Angeles, concept development, writing and rewriting questions, data collection, data analysis, deciding on a name, and conversations with our uber-team of programmers, last week it all became a reality.

StayGo™ is the first app for evaluating your relationship across several science-based dimensions. Best of all, StayGo™ is completely free.

Want to learn more about relationships? You can download it here.

Love doesn’t have to be blind.

Thursday
Feb252016

TED Talk: "What Makes a Good Life?" - 75 Years of Data (Spoiler Alert: Relationships Matter!)

Tuesday
Feb232016

Much Ado About Nothing: The Result of Biases about Partners’ Negative Emotions

Positive feelings are pretty common in relationships – love, passion, support, and care are all usual occurrences. However, negative experiences can occur as well, such as jealousy, anger, or frustration. In these moments, some people may have difficulty regulating their own negative emotions and dealing with partners’ anger and frustration. Often, partners’ negative emotions are particularly important to recognize because they communicate problems in the relationship that need attention. Psychologists have set out to explore how attachment may be related to people’s ability to accurately identify negative emotions that partners are experiencing.

If you regularly read this site, you’ve already learned a lot about attachment styles. As a quick summary, attachment describes the way people bond with others. Anxious individuals seem “clingy” – they’re concerned with being abandoned by romantic partners and need a lot of reassurance that they’re loved. Those who are avoidant, however, prefer to be independent and more distant from partners. Secure people are more of a happy medium – they are comfortable with being close to their partners, but aren’t overly concerned with being abandoned. You can learn more about attachment styles here.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Feb182016

How Do People Share The News About Their Engagements?

Tuesday
Feb162016

5 Ways Relationships Affect Your Health

New research has provided more evidence that relationships affect health (read our previous posts on this subject here).1 The researchers examined data from four large-scale studies that collectively followed thousands of Americans over time. One of the studies followed adolescents, another followed young-to-mid-adults (aged 25-64), and the last two followed older adults (aged 50+), resulting in more than 14,000 participants across the lifespan. Each study measured various aspects of individuals’ social relationships, such as social support (e.g., reliability of family members), social integration (e.g., frequency of contact with other people), and social strain (e.g., frequency of criticism from friends). Each study also included health outcome measures such as blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass. These outcomes are associated with how the body responds to stress and are predictive of disease and mortality.

Overall, the researchers found that the more socially integrated people were (i.e., the more they socialized with others and different kinds of others) and the better quality their relationships (i.e., with lots of social support and little social strain), the better their health throughout the lifespan.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb122016

Should You Be My Valentine? Research Helps Identify Good and Bad Romantic Relationships

“Will you be my Valentine?”

People all across the country say those words in the run-up to February 14 and the Valentine’s Day holiday. Whether you’re asking a brand new paramour or a long-term partner, the question can evoke feelings both of romantic uncertainty and possibility.

But for the well-being of ourselves and our relationships, “Will you be my Valentine?” is the wrong question. Instead, the more important question to ask yourself is “Should you be my Valentine?”

Relationships can be one of the most important sources of happiness in your life, with social connections serving as a key provider of happiness and meaningfulness. Not surprisingly, human beings have a very powerful drive to form and maintain relationships. After all, the future of humankind depends on people coupling up to conceive and raise the next generation. Because forming relationships is such a powerful motivator, being in any relationship can seem better than being alone. A variety of factors can lull us into relationship complacency – compatibility, friendship, shared interests, inertia, fear of being single or low expectations. The drive to be paired off may lead you to settle for the relationship you have, instead of the relationship you deserve.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Feb072016

“Give me a minute”...Before I Behave Badly

You’re having a stressful week at work. You’ve had projects fail, presentations go awry, and to top it off, you just ended your week with a performance review that you don’t think went very well. As you arrive home, tired and just relieved to finally be there, you walk through the door and your partner immediately begins asking you about whether you picked up lettuce from the grocery store, dropped that package off at the post office, and adds, “Why didn’t you take out the recycling this morning?” You can’t believe it. Doesn’t he know the week that you’ve had? How could he be so uncaring? So, you don’t hold back: “Well, I see you didn’t do the dishes like you said you would. And is this what we’re having for dinner? Yikes.” Uh oh… this isn't how you want to act in your relationship! But we’ve all been there. What happened?!

What you’ve experienced is a phenomenon known as stress spillover—stress that we experience in one life domain (e.g., work) ‘spills’ out of that domain and into others (e.g., home life).1 And we know that spillover can have a detrimental effect on our relationships; individuals reporting higher levels of stress are less forgiving of their partners, more likely to criticize and blame their partners, less satisfied in their relationships, show poorer communication skills, and are more likely to have their relationships end.1,2 (Find more about the effects of stress spillover here.) In other words, relationships unfold in broader contexts, and many of the stressors in these contexts (e.g., problems at work, juggling kids, transportation issues) make it more difficult for partners to maintain happy and healthy relationships, regardless of the generally deep desire or motivation to do so.

Click to read more ...

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.

Click to read more ...

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.

Click to read more ...

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.

Click to read more ...