Playing Hard to Get Potentially Fried this Frog

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?

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All Women Lie

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.

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Do I Look Fat In These Jeans? Whose Opinion Matters Most: His, Hers or Yours?

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?

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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - Same-Sex and Both-Sex Attraction in Adolescence

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.


Creating Closeness: In the Lab and In Real Life

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.

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How Breaking Up Helps and Hurts You Achieve Personal Goals

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.

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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.

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Who’s Hot, Who’s Not? Time Will Tell

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.

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“Clicking” with Online Dating

Once considered taboo, online dating has become a more commonplace practice amongst daters. While many people have a more positive view of online dating than they did in the past, others fail to see the benefits. This is because some still view those who use dating sites as desperate, or they have had negative experiences such as encountering someone who had taken liberties when describing themselves online.1,2

Despite the differences in opinion about people who use online dating platforms, there is no doubt that such usage is on the rise. One in 10 Americans have used a dating site or mobile app, and 23% have met their spouse or long-term partner through such sites.1,2 Furthermore, 38% of Americans who are single and actively looking for a partner have used online dating at one point or another and 5% of Americans who are currently married or in a long-term partnership met their partners online.

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Debunking 6 Myths About Men, Women, and Their Relationships

When it comes to the behavior of men and women in relationships, almost everyone has an opinion—and usually, it's about how the sexes are different. But what does the research tell us about how men and women really behave in romantic relationships? Often, that they're more alike than we think, and that our common assumptions are wrong. 

Let’s examine six common myths...

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The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast - When We Think We're More Attractive Than We Are

Many of us wish we were more confident, but is self-assuredness or arrogance attractive? Is it possible to be overconfident when it comes to love? And is there a male propensity to overestimate how attractive we are to women? Robert Burriss discusses these topics and more.

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


The Blacklist: Seriously Lizzie, When is Enough, Enough?

Since getting married, I’ve had to add to my TV watching line-up. No longer can I subsist on Bravo and E! alone. In hopes of accommodating my husband’s preferences, there is now an endless parade of action heroes, zombies, and murderers (and that is just on the regular stations…don’t get me started on the movie channels).  One of the shows that I’ve actually grown to like is NBC’s The Blacklist. Although not designed to be a series about close relationships, I’d argue there are a number of interpersonal dynamics at play in each episode. For now, I will skip the obvious daddy-issues between Red Reddington and Lizzie (who I’ve long suspected to be his daughter). What I find even more baffling is the relationship between Tom and Lizzie.

For those who are unfamiliar with the storyline, Tom and Lizzie Keen are married. Lizzie is a FBI Profiler and, in an unexpected twist, her husband Tom is a covert operative (i.e., a spy and, when it suits him, killer). Needless to say, this couple has had a pretty tumultuous time since the revelation of Tom’s true identity. To my shock and discomfort, during this time they have repeatedly battled (both verbally and physically). What I find so perplexing is that, since separating, Tom and Lizzie have continued to gravitate back to each other. Yep, even after his repeated attempts to kill her, Lizzie keeps ending back up in the arms and bed of her estranged husband. (Just as an aside, their destructive behavior is a two-way street. Lizzie held Tom captive in the hull of an abandoned ship for over four months. Just your typical couple, clearly.) Every episode I find myself asking, “Why do they keep get back together?!?”

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My Body, Your Body, Our Relationship: 5 Links between Our Body Images and Our Romantic Relationships

I began studying body image among romantic partners approximately 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten married, had two children, gotten divorced, and started dating as a nearly 40-year-old. These life experiences have provided me with ample opportunities to consider how our  romantic relationships are related to our body images. I’ve also managed to publish over a dozen scientific articles on the subject. Some of the results from these studies are clear and easy to interpret; some of them aren’t. But, one thing that seems certain is that we all come to view and appreciate our bodies in the context of our intimate relationships. In other words, how we feel about our bodies impacts our relationships and our relationships impact our feelings about our bodies. So what are some of the lessons from science that can contribute to improvements in not only our body image but possibly our relationships?

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Is There Such A Thing As Planning Too Far Ahead?

Discussing the future of one’s romantic relationship—including the possibility of marriage—can be an exciting, novel experience for couple members.1 But it can also be incredibly stressful.2 As a couple grows closer and their relationship becomes more serious, it’s entirely natural to discuss future plans. But are some discussions more helpful than others on the path to a (hopefully) happy and long-lasting relationship? And is there such a thing as planning too far ahead? 

As part of a larger study on engagement and weddings (find more details here), we asked currently engaged and married individuals to reflect on how much they discussed a range of topics before they became engaged. Specifically, participants were asked how often they talked about:

  • the possibility of getting married,
  • the possibility of when or how a marriage proposal might take place,
  • the type of ring (or token) that might be exchanged when a proposal did take place, and
  • the details regarding the wedding they wanted,

Each question was responded to on a scale from “never” to “very often,” with options of “rarely,” “sometimes,” and “often” in between.

We wanted to determine whether discussing these future events prior to becoming engaged was associated with couples then being happier with each event when/after it occurred. Further, we wanted to explore whether discussing certain aspects of getting engaged and married before experiencing the commitment of actually becoming engaged might also be associated with the overall quality of their relationship. So, we also asked how satisfied individuals were with the proposals, their engagement ring(s), and their actual weddings (which had already occurred for married individuals and which were currently being planned for engaged individuals), as well as how satisfied they were in their relationships overall and how committed they were to their partners.

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In Health and Illness: Your Partner’s Mood Matters

Ever felt like the moods of the people around you affect your own mood? Psychologists have long been interested in the idea of such emotional “spillover”, especially in relationships. For example, research has shown that happiness is contagious, as are bad moods across a range of stressful situations. It seems intuitive that if we are living with someone who is depressed then our own mood could also be negatively affected. 

Before getting into specific research on this topic, I should note that it is generally hard to disentangle the exact nature of the association between two people’s mental states, especially when they spend a lot of time together. Was Joan’s depression a reaction to being surrounded by John’s depressive, or were they both depressed all along? (Or is there no relationship whatsoever between their mental health statuses?). Bottom line: like many things, the only way to really know whether two individuals’ mental states spill over to one another is to look at both of their mental health status across time.

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Finding the Right Person

For articles about compatibility, please click here.


How Do Romantic Relationships Get Under The Skin? Perceived Partner Responsiveness Predicts Cortisol Profiles 10 Years Later

If someone asked me to pick the most influential finding that has come out of relationship science to date, I’d say it’s this: relationships matter for health. In 1988, House and colleagues published their classic research paper showing that social isolation is a powerful predictor of premature death.1 Since then, dozens of studies have tested and consistently replicated this link. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 148 studies (over 300,000 participants!) showed that people with stronger social relationships are about 50% more likely to survive over a 7.5 year period compared to those with weak social ties.2 This is a huge effect: it suggests that social isolation is more dangerous than a number of well-established risk factors of mortality, such as obesity and physical inactivity.

In response to these findings, many policy-makers, health practitioners, and members of the general public have started viewing social relationships not just as a nice-to-have, but as a fundamental human need. Humans simply must have close relationships in order to survive and thrive (for a more theoretical discussion about the human need for relationships, see this post). However, the issue of how relationships affect health is not as well-understood. What aspects of social relationships are particularly important (i.e., specificity), and in what way do social relationships influence the body (i.e., mechanism)? These sorts of questions about specificity and mechanism are what many researchers in the field are now grappling with.

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Best Relationship Song of Summer 2015 – Honey, I’m Good

Summer has only just begun, but I’m going ahead and calling it: The best relationship song of Summer 2015 is Andy Grammer’s Honey, I’m Good. Not only is this song ripe with catchy beats that make you want to clap your hands and sing along, but it’s an anthem for fidelity and commitment. 

As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time talking about relationships, and an all too familiar topic is infidelity. A pet peeve of mine is when people defend their cheating by claiming that it “just happened.” I understand that if someone is under the influence (of alcohol, or perhaps stupidity), then they may not be able to fully comprehend the ramifications of their actions. But before reaching that level there is a point when we all know our behavior is leading towards trouble. This song debunks the idea that infidelity is an accident by reminding us of that moment when we should know better.  Just like the song trumpets, you “could have another but probably should not” and if you stay you “might not leave alone.” It is then that you have a choice to make.

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Catching Up with The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast

We're a bit behind on our podcast listening and there are three new episodes of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast by Robert Burriss available for your listening pleasure:

  • Male rivalry: sex, money, and morality. We find out how our rational minds go all screwy when we're faced with attractive rivals or sexual competitors. Three new experiments show how sexual rivalry primes men to be cruel, self-centred, and prone to risk.
  • Pregnancy and desire, and are bigger breasts better? We know that pregnant women get cravings for unusual foods, but does pregnancy also affect what women desire in a man? We also look at a new experiment that shows once and for all whether men prefer larger or smaller breasts. You'll be surprised by the results!
  • Skin colour and the menstrual cycle. Swollen bums and flushed faces: We know that chimpanzees and other primates advertise their fertility with conspicuous physical transformations, but what about humans?

Check out all the available episodes of The Psychology of Attractiveness podcast here.


Ideal and Actual Marriage Proposals: We Asked, You Answered

Read more about this survey here, and see our infographic on wedding locations here.

Lisa Hoplock, M.Sc. - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Lisa's research examines how personality traits like self-esteem and attachment influence interpersonal processes in ambiguous social situations -- situations affording both rewards and costs -- such as social support contexts, relationship initiation, and marriage proposals. 

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