For those of you who took Introductory Psychology (way) back in the day, you might remember learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the top of his needs pyramid, he proposed that people are motivated to strive for self-actualization, where people begin to fulfill their potential and approach ideal, complete selves. Although contemporary research on Maslow’s Theory of Motivation has been limited, many of the same ideas are captured by the self-expansion model, which has received a lot empirical attention over the past 25 years (click here see here for our other articles on self-expansion). Self-expansion motivation refers to individuals’ desires to have new experiences, engage in challenging activities, and learn new things. Within close relationships self-expansion has typically been thought of as those things that couple members do together that are new and exciting (e.g., go on a trip or try a new hobby together). And these new and interesting activities matter for relationships. For example, past research has shown that self-expansion is an important way for couples that have been together for a while to maintain a spark in their relationship.
When meeting someone for the first time, a lull in conversation can feel uncomfortable and awkward, suggesting that maybe this new acquaintance won’t become your new BFF anytime soon. Such a scenario reflects a generally simple rule of relationship initiation: when conversation flows easily between strangers, people tend to feel bonded with one another and this flow can indicate the beginning of a meaningful relationship. Likewise, when conversations are disrupted or otherwise difficult, this lack of flow can make people who have just met feel disconnected. But what about long-term relationships? Is a disruption in conversation as detrimental to couples as it can be for strangers?
Is more more, or is more less? We look at two very different experiments about quantity, quality, and sex. How does the type and amount of porn a man views influence how much semen he produces? And do women from around the world prefer a taller or a shorter man? In this episode Robert Burriss tackles these questions and more.
Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.
People showcase much of their public (and private!) lives via social media outlets - especially Facebook. It should come as no surprise then that couples’ Facebook behavior has attracted the attention of relationships researchers in recent years. Here at ScienceOfRelationships.com we’ve covered many aspects of how partners behave on Facebook, including things such as how couples present themselves publicly on Facebook (including the increasingly common “relfie”), partners’ Facebook “stalking” and jealousy, and what happens when partners have to manage their breakups on Facebook. Another very common topic of conversation among Facebook users involves the match (or lack thereof) between people’s real life experiences and what we see on those very same people’s Facebook profiles - a topic that a short film that went viral in 2014 echoed.
Even in the best relationships, individuals may find themselves lacking information about specific relationship partners (romantic or otherwise). For example, as we’ve discussed previously, anxiously attached partners are more likely to Facebook stalk their partners in an attempt to alleviate anxiety and (hopefully) confirm their partners’ undying devotion. Such findings suggest that individuals use the internet as a means to cope with their own desires to learn more about another.
Alright, I confess, you may not be able to tell if a potential partner is good boyfriend (or girlfriend) material from the way he (or she) feels, but you’d be surprised what you can tell from the way they touch. Recent research examining the emotional communication through touch revealed that people are able to identify a host of emotions through tactile stimulation alone. These include positive emotions like happiness, gratitude, sympathy, and love, as well as negative emotions like anger, fear, disgust, and sadness.1,2 Perhaps even more surprising is that this isn’t just something that happens between relationship partners; perfect strangers are also capable of communicating emotions via touch. So, should you be in the habit of letting unfamiliar others touch you, odds are you’ll be able to clearly perceive their intent!
When relationships are examined by the media and/or empirical research, the focus is often on the traditional monogamous couple (i.e., one male and female, two males, or two females). These monogamous relationships are depicted as the natural and healthy ideal.1 Conversely, the media often portrays those in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships as deviants; and therapists also suggest that the existence of CNM relationships mean the primary relationship is troubled.1 Clearly, there is a stigma surrounding non-monogamy, and, therefore, non-monogamy is generally not openly discussed. This is problematic, not only because non-monogamous individuals are often stereotyped, but they also suffer from a lack of support within the therapeutic community. Nicole Graham, a psychiatrist, writes, “It is apparent that a lack of awareness of and appreciation for non-traditional relationship patterns can have deleterious effects, including but not limited to a lack of objectivity, inadvertent criticism and potential pathologization of individuals, damaged therapeutic alliances, resultant treatment non-adherence, and potentially poorer patient outcomes.”2
This article will discuss why it is so important to understand the various types of relationship configurations that exist, specifically polyamory, as well as provide a first-hand account and a deeper understanding of the polyamorous community. First, it is important to recognize that there are a variety of relationship configurations. For a brief discussion of non-monogamous relationships, please refer to my previous article on open relationships (see here).3
As previously mentioned, there are many societal, as well as therapeutic benefits of taking a closer look at CNM relationships. Mental health practitioners must be able to recognize the sexual fluidity both within individuals and within their relationship arrangements. Marianne Brandon, a clinical psychologist asks,
“If we as treators cannot accept and contain the monogamy challenge, how can we help our patients to do the same?...And if we chose to criticize our patients’ non-monogamous choices can we still optimally assist them in the intimate challenges for which they seek help? Probably not. And our patients need our help now more than ever”4
In order to be able to help those who come in with an “unconventional” relationship style, therapists must address their personal biases, and what better way to do that than by learning more about unconventional relationships?
Transference is “…a tendency in which representational aspects of important and formative relationships (such as with parents and siblings) can be both consciously experienced and/or unconsciously ascribed to other relationships”.1 Specifically, transference refers to the process by which the feelings that you had for someone (such as a parent) become directed to someone else (such as a therapist or psychoanalyst).2 The phenomenon of transference may be triggered when a new person resembles someone else, physically or in terms of their personality characteristics. Transference also occurs in everyday life.
For example, a few of my friends have displayed transference when dealing with their significant others. One in particular, who had been cheated on in the past, would transfer the feelings she had for her previous romantic partner to her current boyfriend. After finding out that he was going to be stuck late at work, which was quite often, she would secretly check his email and phone messages. Her feelings of mistrust, which were caused by her previous partner, led to trust issues with and resentment toward her current partner. This eventually created a rift between them. If experiences with the past can influence our future, how might this impact our relationships?
The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Marriage or Fling? Desiring Different Partners for Different Relationships
If you’re single (and even if you’re not) are you on the look-out for someone to marry, a one night stand, or something in between? In this episode Robert Burriss explores how the type of relationship we seek can influence our mating behaviour and psychology.
Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.
With my favorite shows on summer hiatus, I’ve found myself reverting back to a few of my trusty standbys. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of re-watching the comic genius and relationship hijinks of Seinfeld. Sure, I know all of the lines and can anticipate all of the plot twists, but there’s something pleasingly familiar about my sitcom pals from the good ol’ days. While happily meandering through memory lane, it occurred to me that it has been over twenty-five years since Seinfeld first aired. To highlight the show’s continued relevance, I thought I might remind you of (if you are my age) or introduce you to (if you are younger) some of my favorite relationship “facts” that have stood the test of time. In this article, I will draw from the “The Invitations” episode from 1996 to highlight the role of similarity in attraction.
Recently, the anxiety levels of millions of individuals who have been less-than-faithful to their spouses skyrocketed the moment they read the headline: “Hackers Threaten To Out 37 Million Users Of Cheating Website AshleyMadison.com.” Suddenly, (supposedly) married individuals who, for whatever reason, had willingly created (and paid for) an online profile on a “top-secret” website targeting married individuals secretly looking for commitment-free extramarital liaisons could potentially be exposed. This site even allows for one to indicate their sexual preferences and for other members in the online community to “rate” people they've met. Think of what this could mean for these clients, and, of course, for their spouses!
Note that some Ashley Madison users are actually not married or searching for partners (there are plenty of “undercover” accounts on this site), but for those in committed relationships who had created a profile, the potential for unintended discovery of their secret could be just a click away. What will the fall out be for these relationships, if discovered?
Let’s recap: Ben and Jen, Blake and Miranda, Gavin and Gwen, Zayn and Perrie, and now Miss Piggy and Kermit. There has been a wave of celebrities announcing their decisions to end their relationships in the last few weeks. Being that Miss Piggy’s announcement hit me particularly hard, I decided to analyze just what went wrong. Was it her frequent temper tantrums and karate kicks? Her obsession with fame? Lack of a social support network due to their interspecies relationship? Or perhaps it was the way she approached her relationship with Kermit from the beginning?
I stood on the stage looking out at a sea of beautiful, successful but single women. All were there to find love. As I talked about the science of love, I stopped, took a pause, stood up straight, looked from one side to the other, and then uttered, “All women lie.”
I then watched as these lovely faces transform. One woman tilted her head as her mouth gaped. Another’s brow wrinkled in confusion while a few eyes narrowed in contempt. These were educated women who just paid good money to hear me speak and I was calling each and every one of them a liar. The air of “how dare she” wafted up to the stage.
Throughout time, the female body has been revered as an absolute representation of beauty. From Nefertiti’s beautifully sculpted, brilliantly painted, symmetrical face, to the alluring renditions of Venus’ voluptuous full-figure, to photographs of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic wind blown dress, the list goes on and on. Yet in the 1960’s times started changing, as society placed greater emphasis on being thin. And so began America’s obsession with being thin. Today, as evidenced by a growing number of women attempting to achieve an unrealistic and often unhealthy body type, we must ask whether beauty really is in the eye of the beholder or is this competition at its finest? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder and research tells us that men prefer a more curvaceous body type when compared to more slender types,1 then why are women so driven to achieve a rail thin appearance?
With gay marriage now legal in the USA (not to mention, Sweden, New Zealand, Uruguay, and the Pitcairn Islands), Robert Burriss looks at how same-sex attraction develops during adolescence. Is same-sex attraction stable during teenage years, and what are lesbians’ first memories of same-sex attraction?
Check out the newest episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.
Closeness in the Real Life
This past Valentine’s Day social media feeds were flooded with Mandy Len Catron’s (2015) New York Times article2 discussing Arthur Aron’s (1997) study aimed at creating interpersonal closeness.1 The article focused on a series of questions, which involve increasing levels of self-disclosure, that help develop intimacy between people. Shortly following the publication of this article, peoples’ accounts of their own experiences with Aron et al.’s 36 questions spread all over social media.
Ms. Catron put social psychologist Arthur Aron’s questions to the test by spending 90 minutes answering them in a bar with a university acquaintance of hers and then by standing on a bridge staring into this man’s eyes. Before describing the outcome of her real life research replication, it is important to outline Aron et al.’s work.
Imagine that you have a personal goal, such as exercising regularly. Now, imagine you also have a romantic partner. That partner can either help (e.g. by encouraging you to join them in exercising) or hinder (e.g., by encouraging you to stay home and binge watch your favorite TV show) your pursuit of your goal to exercise regularly. If your partner helps you, researchers would say that your partner is instrumental to helping you pursue the goal. If instead of helping you, your partner hindered, or got in the way of completing the goal or didn’t help you to complete it, then researchers would say that your partner is non-instrumental to helping you complete the goal.
Using The Science of Micro-Expressions to Predict Divorce: Sorry George and Amal, Your Outlook Is Not So Good
I try not to be a relationship cynic, but I see divorce in George Clooney’s future. It’s not the tabloids that I’m relying on to make this prediction. It is the science of micro-expressions - the very brief (i.e., micro) facial expressions that flash across a person’s face for mere fractions of a second.1 These unconscious expressions can be quite telling, and a careful examination of George’s nonverbal behavior during a recent interview leads me to believe that he and Amal may not be as happy as they claim.
Much of the research on micro-expressions has been conducted by Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has spent his career studying emotions and facial expressions. He has shown that when people try to conceal how they really feel, their faces often leak true emotions. For instance, imagine being disappointed by a loved one’s thoughtful gesture (e.g., an elaborate home-made dinner of your least favorite food) or being jealous of something wonderful that happened to a close friend (e.g., getting engaged, think Bridesmaids). As you know, it would be inappropriate, not to mention rude, to express your displeasure. Rather, you may try to mask your true feelings with something more socially acceptable (e.g., a smile). In those brief and fleeting moments, a trained eye could detect the subtle and unconscious facial movements, like knitting of the eyebrows or narrowing of the lips, that express your actual discontent.
As we’ve previously written, people tend to pair up romantically with partners who are about as attractive as they are. So the most attractive people pair up with each other, followed by the next most attractive people pairing up, etc., all the way down the attractiveness scale. Scientists call this assortative mating.1 How do we know this assortative mating occurs? There is a correlation between two partners’ levels of attractiveness. This means that as one partner’s attractiveness increases, the other partner tends to be more attractive as well. People want the best partner they can get, and the more attractive a person you are, the better mate you can snag.
Although we do have some scientific evidence for assortative mating, this phenomenon really only makes sense when it is very clear who the most attractive people are. And this is not always the case.