Millions of people take to the bars, coffee shops and internet sites of the world looking for love. Finding that love connection isn’t always easy because your new found guy may end up having too many Star Trek figurines or your new found gal may have one too many cats. While there are seemingly a million things that can go wrong, people do fall in love.
But is it possible that some people fall easier than others?
Quick—think of someone you know who’s in a relationship (or has been in the past). This person can be a friend, a family member, your own past or current relationship partner, or even yourself. Which one of these statements best describes something that the person you thought of might say?
A) I feel comfortable depending on romantic partners.
B) My desire to be very close sometimes scares people away.
C) I don't feel comfortable opening up to romantic partners.
These descriptions* have formed the basis of research on adult romantic attachment for some time.1 Attachment is a topic we’ve covered extensively here at ScienceOfRelationships. Whether you realize it or not, attachment is evident virtually everywhere (even in popular fiction!), having been linked to all sorts of outcomes in relationships. Briefly, researchers think of adult attachment as a tendency to approach relationships in a particular way, primarily based on experiences with childhood caregivers.2 Usually, researchers view attachment in terms of the degree and kind of insecurity (avoidance or anxiety) a person might have (see our earlier work for a full review of how attachment styles play out in relationships).
We’re always looking for fun new ways to share relationship science with our readers. So when the folks at DatingAdvice.com contacted us and asked if we’d be interested in helping them create an infographic that highlights some of the great relationship science about dating that’s come out recently, we were more than happy to oblige. Admittedly, identifying the best empirical studies on relationships is a monumental feat. Simply put, relationship scientists all across the world produce so much great research that it’s hard to narrow the list. So we (the ScienceOfRelationships.com team) combed through hundreds of articles and chose a handful that highlight some interesting findings about dating, with an eye towards those studies that we could translate into fun graphics. The folks at DatingAdvice.com did the same, added some graphic design magic, and put them all together for the infographic below. If you’re dating now, have dated in the past, or plan on dating in the future, you might be surprised by some of these findings. Share widely.
The other day, I asked my kids (7 and 8 years old) to sign a birthday card for a relative that they had only met a few times. I expected that their misspelled words and child-like handwriting would be appealing to the card’s recipient. What I didn’t expect was for their messages to be full of love: “I love you,” “xoxox,” and hearts dotting each letter "i". Where were these demonstrative notes for a relatively unknown person coming from? Should I be worried about my overly affectionate children?
Many of us know an uncle or cousin, or even an immediate family member, who had a “problem” with alcohol or other drug(s). As a psychologist, I have heard many opinions about why people have drug addictions and what should (or could) be done about it: Aunt Marge has a “weak” constitution and cannot control herself; Cousin Vern drinks too much, he is an alcoholic, or a lazy “good-for-nothing” loser. As we’ve written about previously, opinions and perceptions are important for interpersonal interactions. Perceptions of a partner’s drinking (or drug use, if you extend the logic) impacts relationship quality: if you believe your partner drinks (or uses) too much, then this perception could lead to dissatisfaction with your relationship with that person.
What contributes to these perceptions? What most people “know” about addiction is oftentimes based on personal experience or opinion, not on research.
Because my writing niche is connecting relationship science to pop-culture, I often find links between what I teach and what I watch. However, as a southerner, I have been particularly intrigued by Bravo’s reality TV show, Southern Charm. This past season, I eagerly awaited the weekly opportunity to revel in the salacious bed-hopping and bourbon-swilling of these Charleston socialites. For fans of the show, you know that the characters often try to behave in refined ways that demonstrate their good manners. Nonetheless, this etiquette generally gives way to the debauchery for which we watch the show. As this homage to social propriety seemed somewhat unique from other reality TV shows (such as Jersey Shore), I couldn’t help but wonder if this curious behavior was tied to the cultural norms and southern traditions of the characters’ upbringing.
In Hollywood, where a relationship lasting five years is an impressive feat, celebrity break-ups are predictable. Needless to say, when Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s 8-year relationship ended in 2011, it wasn’t shocking news. However, it was intriguing that Ashton began a new relationship soon after with Mila Kunis, his co-star from That ’70s Show. Will Ashton’s new relationship with Mila last longer than the 8 years that Ashton spent with Demi? On one hand, the outcome may not be all that different; Demi and Mila are fairly similar. Both women are beautiful celebrities/actresses who are famous, wealthy, have the same hair color and, strangely, both have one hazel and one green eye (apparently Ashton has a thing for mix-and-match eyes). But on the other hand, Mila and Demi have some differences that may make the Ashton-Mila pairing more likely to lead to happily ever after, or at least to last longer than 8 years (it is Hollywood, after all).
Are you satisfied with “vanilla” sex? Or do you seek the thrill of kink in the bedroom with your own list of “hard limits?”
In order to be sexually satisfied, you might think that you and your partner need to be on the same page of Fifty Shades of Grey. Aside from the intrinsic motivation to have a good sex life (i.e., good sex feels really, well, good), research has strongly established that sexual satisfaction is closely tied to relationship satisfaction.1 In longitudinal studies where couples are followed over time, sexual satisfaction also predicts, such that less sexual satisfaction is tied to an increased chance of divorce.2 So, when it comes to relationship health, sex matters.
Picking a romantic partner with the “right” characteristics can be difficult, but it is also important. We all want a partner who is smart, funny, kind, and all around fantastic, because the assumption is that such a person makes us happy and will generally lead to a better life overall. But can your relationship partner influence your job success? Researchers Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson from Washington University in St. Louis speculated that there are at least three possible ways a partner’s personality could influence job success1:
- Outsourcing – Your spouse does things for you that free you up to focus on your job (e.g., your partner does household chores like making dinner or doing your laundry so you have more time for work).
- Emulating – You take on your spouse’s positive qualities for your benefit (e.g., your spouse is organized, so by spending time together you become more organized).
- Relationship Satisfaction – Your spouse’s charming personality leads to a better relationship that positively influences your work (e.g., your partner is kind, which makes for a better relationship and success work).
Lately it seems like everywhere I turn, someone is talking about a TV show reunion. From Seinfeld to Friends, Sex and the City to 90210, the rumors circulate, even in the face of stars vigorously denying the possibility. What would make us miss our favorite TV characters so much that, despite the stars’ protests, we still hold out hope of celebrities reviving their beloved roles? The answer may lie in our need to belong.
Interested in learning more about the science of relationships? Dr. Jennifer Jill Harman is offering a free, on-line 8 week course! The Science of Relationships MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) at Colorado State University is a social-based program that provides educational access to the public at no cost. This class teaches students secrets to what makes their significant other tick, why they’re attracted to the people they are, how to best nurture a relationship, and more. Divided into eight modules, the class covers 24 different topics (e.g., friendships, divorce, parenting). You can listen to short and interesting lectures at your own pace, take surveys to learn more about yourself, participate in lively discussions with people from all over the world, and complete a wide variety of fun activities to apply the material you will learn about. Dr. Harman is also available for a weekly live chat/office hours once a week!
Men’s and women’s magazines provide different messages about sex to their respective readers. In a study of over 300 students, exposure to such magazines was related to students’ feelings about obtaining sexual consent. Those who read more men’s magazines reported a lower likelihood of requiring consent before having sex; those who read more women’s magazines reported a greater likelihood to refuse unwanted sex. We can’t infer that reading men’s magazines causes these troublesome opinions about sexual consent; however, it does warrant paying greater attention to the messages that men’s magazines send and about those who are inclined to read them.
Hust, S. T., Marett, E., Ren, C., Adams, P. M., Willoughby, J. F., Lei, M., & ... Norman, C. (2014). Establishing and adhering to sexual consent: The association between reading magazines and college students’ sexual consent negotiation. Journal of Sex Research, 51(3), 280-290.
You have likely seen some variation of this scene before: you’re out in public or watching TV, and you see someone bend down on one knee, pull out a ring, and ask the person they’re with, “Will you marry me?” Odds are you knew what was taking place the moment the person got down on one knee and pulled out the box. This is because proposing marriage is a ritual that has a fairly standard script that people often follow. Of course, there are some variations on the script, but generally people seem to include some or most of the elements. This post describes those script elements and what people sometimes think when that script is not followed.
Rituals involve intentional and often formal behaviors that communicate social information.1 For example, people in some cultures wear torn clothing to communicate their grieving.2 Rituals provide people with a sense of control because they provide a script.3 To give you an example of what I mean by a script, I’d like you to imagine that you are at a restaurant. When you enter the restaurant, the hostess brings you to a table, a waitress greets you and you order drinks and food, and when the meal is over you receive and pay the bill. There may be variations to this script depending on the type of restaurant, but generally you know what to expect because the experience is similar from restaurant to restaurant and there are a few elements of the script that are stable across restaurants (e.g., ordering and paying for food). If the restaurant script isn’t followed (e.g., if you are asked if you want the bill right when you enter the restaurant), then you’ll likely be thrown off. Thus, the restaurant script helps you to anticipate what is about to happen and facilitates smooth interactions. Rituals also communicate values, are a way to bond with others, and help perpetuate and encourage socially agreed upon ways of behaving.1 In other words, following a ritual tells others a bit about you and helps to perpetuate the ritual and its script.
Proposing marriage is one common ritual that involves a well-known script. How people go about proposing marriage can vary quite a bit, with some proposals being quite showy and others being more low-key, but there are a few elements of the proposal script that are relatively stable across proposals.
We know that the frequency of sexual activity, the quality of communication during sex, and partners’ reasons for having sex can all influence relationship satisfaction. So while it’s good to embrace the throes of passion and be vocal about it, does what you say after sex matter?
Intimate conversations that occur between romantic partners after sexual activity are commonly referred to as “pillow talk.” Pillow talk often involves disclosing positive sentiments such as validation and affection, but it can also be negative (e.g., arguing or bringing up complaints). Researcher Amanda Denes at the University of California, Santa Barbara aimed to address the broad question, “Is pillow talk merely obligatory chit-chat, or might it say something more about the relationships of those involved?”
Could something as simple as watching movies help your relationship? One-hundred-seventy-four engaged or newlywed couples were randomly assigned to one of two intense relationship workshops, or to watch and reflect on relationship movies (e.g., Love Story) featuring relationship behaviors such as stress, forgiveness, support, and conflict, or a no treatment ‘business as usual’ control condition. Couples in the movie condition watched and discussed one movie a week for a month. Three years later all three treatment groups (both workshops and the movie group) experienced less relationship dissolution (11%) compared to couples in the no treatment condition (24%). All three treatments had similar benefits, which suggests that simply watching and discussing movies can help protect your relationship.
Rogge, R. D., Cobb, R. J., Lawrence, E., Johnson, M. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (2013). Is skills training necessary for the primary prevention of marital distress and dissolution? A 3-year experimental study of three interventions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(6), 949-961. doi:10.1037/a0034209
image source: gettyimages.com
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. You probably have noticed some widespread media coverage about OKCupid’s “experiment” wherein, to look for patterns in dating behavior, they manipulated aspects of the site without informing users (see OKCupid’s announcement here as well as coverage here and here). This revelation comes in the wake of Facebook’s massive experiment, which attracted similar attention and criticism. Commenters have questioned the ethics of these experiments primarily due to the fact that Facebook and OKCupid users did not know they were participating and did not consent to be in the study—nor were users directly notified about their participation after the experiment ended.
The idea that these large corporations would manipulate people’s emotions or behaviors without telling their users sounds very disturbing to some. But was this really such a big deal? Were these experiments really “unethical”? Let’s examine these issues further.