“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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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Red or Dead

In this episode Robert Burriss investigates the allure of violent video games, and how they relate to sex. Also, does the colour red increase a man's attractiveness?

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


Helping Me Grow Is Good For Us

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.

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Silence is Golden: How Staying Hush May Benefit Your 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?

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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Men Produce More Semen When They View More Porn Stars

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.


Two of a Kind?: What Facebook Profile Similarity Says About Couples

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 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.

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When and Why We iSnoop on Others

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.  

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The Power of Interpersonal Touch: As It Turns Out, You Can Feel the Love

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 angerfear, 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! 

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Polyamory: Understanding Relationship Geometry

Relationship Configurations

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?

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The Ghost of Relationships Past

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”.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?

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