The slogan for ScienceOfRelationships.com is "Because the important things in life deserve data." Recent research by Dr. Holt-Lunstad and colleagues reveals just how important our social relationships really are. In their review of 148 studies (representing over 300,000 participants), they show that stronger social relationships, or greater social integration, increase individuals' life-spans. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but high-quality personal relationships might just keep the grim reaper at bay.
"E.R." submitted the following question: My brother is homosexual and I am a heterosexual female, we often argue about who has more drama in our relationships. He claims that heterosexual relationships have more drama, and that he and his boyfriends have argued less then me and my boyfriends. I think that hetero and homosexual relationships have the same about of arguing and drama. Who is right? Do homosexual and heterosexual relations differ?
Setting aside the irony that you and your brother fight about who has less conflict in your relationships, the short answer is that you are right! The unfortunate reality is that no couple is immune from conflict. In fact, research indicates that gay and lesbian couples not only fight about the same things as heterosexual couples, but they do so with about the same frequency. We all fight about money, sex, lies, minor annoyances and irritations (e.g., your partner’s driving habits), and which set of parents to spend the holidays with.
One of America’s most enduring fictional TV couples is Homer and Marge Simpson – The Simpsons have been on the air for over twenty years. Is their marriage a model example of how to make a long-term relationship endure, or is it an example of what not to do?
(reposted from drloving.net)
Dear Dr. Loving;
I am in the middle of healing and attempting on moving on right now. My boyfriend and I broke up last October, but we only decided to really move on this December. Now, we still see each other and are just now "friends" or "best friends" We text each other everyday (I text him and he replies) and we see each other and hang out or study at least 3-4 times a week. We celebrated his birthday together last week, just me and him. He still gives me a hug after we hang out when I ask him to hug me. Basically, we're still part of each other's lives except we're just simply "close friends."
Now my question is, do those signs show that he still likes me or is he just doing that because he's a guy? and is this kind of relationship healthy for me? I don't know whether I should really avoid him or just go with the flow with whatever we have. I honestly still want to get back with him, but bringing that up to him always irritates him. He said he doesn't have "time" to be in a relationship anymore. I am not sure whether there's no chance of us getting back together and I'm just fooling myself. -- Conflicted
Let’s start with your second question: No, this kind of relationship is not healthy for you.
We take it for granted that support from a partner is good (e.g., see the post on invisible support from a few days ago). Partners help you in many ways; when you need help studying for a big exam or are trying to exercise more, having your partner there to support and encourage you is a big help, right? A new paper by Gráinne Fitzsimons and Eli Finkel questions this assumption. They propose that people are actually less motivated and try less hard to achieve their goals when they have thought about the help that a partner could provide them in reaching those goals.1
Basically, having a helpful partner can lead you to try getting away with being more of a slacker. For example, if you think about how your partner helped you on a previous academic task, you'll procrastinate more. You'll also exercise less if you previously thought about how your partner had helped with past health and fitness goals. Seriously, why bother with the Shake Weight when you can just think about your partner's help? These results were accentuated when participants recently exerted energy on other tasks; when they were tired they relied on a partner's help more at the cost of their own efforts.
At this year's Oscars there were plenty of red dresses on the red carpet. Oscar host Anne Hathaway wore a red Valentino, while other actresses such as Penelope Cruz, Jennifer Lawrence, and Sandra Bullock also wore stunning red dresses.
Sure these dresses are fashionable, but they also make the women who wear them more attractive. Across five experimental studies, researchers at the University of Rochester found that although they don’t realize it, men find women who wear red more sexually desirable than women dressed in other colors.1 Interestingly, wearing red doesn’t make the women seem more kind or more intelligent, just more attractive. On a night when the stars are trying to look attractive, fellow actresses Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Scarlett Johansson might want to considering wearing more red next year. Maybe they'll hire us as Hollywood fashion consultants!
A recent article on Slate.com, by sociologist Mark Regnerus at The University of Texas at Austin, discusses how males are becoming underrepresented on many college campuses and in the workplace, and are thus likely to call the shots in their (heterosexual) relationships when it comes to sex. The author’s basic argument, which draws from his book entitled Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying, is that good men are becoming hard to find. High-quality men are are in short supply, and, as a result, in high demand. Therefore, they are able to exert more power over women in their relationships. Female partners need to go along with guys' wishes because there are plenty of female fish in the sea for the guys, whereas the women have relatively fewer good alternatives. Although the main area of conflict described in the article is sex, it stands to reason that the logic could be applied to other decisions in relationships, such as what movie to see, which friends to hangout with, or how much Xbox should be played.
This idea is known to close relationships researchers as the “principle of least interest”1—that when there is an inequality in the desire to maintain the relationship between the partners, the person least into the relationship has the power to call the shots. For the Seinfeld fans out there, you might remember the episode The Pez Dispenser (1992) when George laments about his relationships by stating “I have no power. Do you understand? I need hand. I have no hand.” Kramer and Jerry advise George to threaten to break up with his girlfriend, which effectively turns the table in the relationship and subsequently gives George the "hand” he so desperately wanted.
This isn't just a movie preview, it is also a great example of relationship science. In the trailer for the new movie Hall Pass, the guys are out at a club when they see a seemingly attractive woman (@2:14 in the clip). Jason Sudeikis’ character Fred gestures to a group of women and says “tall blonde, right here.” Another guy then points out “she surrounds herself with less attractive women to make her look like a 10.” This same guy goes on to demonstrate this idea by putting his hands up to frame the whole group, “hot…” Next, he moves his hands so that you can’t see the blonde’s friends and says “not…” as you see the woman get visibly less attractive. Fred: “that’s amazing, you’re like a Beautiful Mind.”
This is a fantastic example of the contrast effect.
Quick, in 10 seconds think of as many celebrities as you can who have allegedly been caught cheating. Go! Tiger Woods, Jude Law, Bill Clinton, Dave Letterman, Kobe Bryant, Eliot Spitzer, LeAnn Rimes, Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton some more, Jon Edwards, that guy Sandra Bullock was married to, and Brett Favre. Why is this so easy? Either you have an extraordinary knowledge of celebrities' love lives, or it really is a common phenomenon. So, why do they do it? Because they can.
Everyone may not be created equally when it comes to their opportunities to be unfaithful. In the case of celebrities, they have a high mate value due to their physical attractiveness, money, power, notoriety, or combination thereof. As a result, potential interlopers (i.e., home wreckers) find them highly desirable and are willing accomplices in the affair (because even D-list celebrities are still celebrities).
Maryhope Howland and Professor Jeff Simpson of the University of Minnesota talk about their recent research on "invisible support" in relationships.
Previously we posted about the self-expansion model and relationship development. How does your relationship stack up?
Not Very Much 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very Much
- How much does being with your partner result in your having new experiences?
- When you are with your partner, do you feel a greater awareness of things because of him or her?
- How much does your partner increase your ability to accomplish new things?
- How much does your partner help to expand your sense of the kind of person you are?
- How much do you see your partner as a way to expand your own capabilities?
- How much do your partner’s strengths as a person (skills, abilities, etc.) compensate for some of your own weaknesses as a person?
- How much do you feel that you have a larger perspective on things because of your partner?
- How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things?
- How much has knowing your partner made you a better person?
- How much does your partner increase your knowledge?
60 and above — Highly Expansive. You are gaining a lot of new experiences and reaching new goals as a result of your relationship. Chances are you have a happier, more sustainable relationship as a result.
45 to 60 — Moderately Exciting. Your relationship has led to moderate improvements in your life and some new experiences. But there’s definitely room for improvement.
Below 45 — Low Connection. Your relationship is not creating opportunities that help expand your knowledge and make you feel better about yourself. Make an effort to share new experiences with your partner to improve your relationship.
We're big fans of John Tierney at the New York Times, and in a recent post he discusses new research by Saul Miller and Jon Maner at Florida State University.1 Their work indicates that single men are more attracted to women who are ovulating, but that men in committed relationships are actually less attracted to those same ovulating women. In short, it's adaptive for males to want to mate with fertile females, but the motivation to protect one's current long-term relationship can counteract this effect as committed men downplay the attractiveness of others as a means of protecting their current relationship.2
Rather than simply giving a top ten list of where individuals meet, we're arming you with the basic principles at play during initial encounters:
(1) Physical closeness leads to psychological closeness. You have to interact with a person to have a relationship with him or her, and being around each other ups the chances of having an interaction. Potential partners are all around-- in your neighborhood, in one of your classes, in your church, or in a cubicle down the hall. Not only does physical proximity increase the odds of meeting and interacting with someone, but just seeing a person a lot can lead you to like them more (known as the “mere exposure effect”).1 The girl (or guy) next door will have an advantage in winning your heart because you see that person more often. Like a fungus, she (or he) is going to grow on you whether you realize it or not.
A few days ago I received a call from a CNN reporter. This particular reporter had interviewed me previously, and she thought I might be able to help her out with a story she was producing. What follows is an abbreviated transcript of our conversation:
CNN reporter: I’m doing a story on how women in relationships tend to be colder than men, and how that affects relationships. Do you do any research that speaks to that finding?
Me: (doing my best to stifle a chuckle) No, I don’t do any work that is remotely related to that topic, and to be perfectly honest, I question the generalization.
CNN reporter: Well, it’s mostly anecdotal, but there was a study on it.
Me: (now a bit intrigued) Oh, really, what study was that?
CNN reporter: Thanks anyway. <click>
After getting off the phone, I dug around a bit on the internet and found that there had been some recent stories about differences in cold sensitivity between men and women (see here for one example).
Are you itching to know when your friends' relationships crash and burn? Rather than waiting for them to tell you about it, a new Facebook app will notify you when they've become single. It's just what all you stalkers were waiting for.
Of course, you probably could have guessed that these relationships were doomed. There's research showing that friends are actually more accurate in predicting breakup than are the members of the relationship itself.1 Thats right-- friends seem to know best; even better than the couple. In addition, friends' approval for a relationship is as good of a predictor of breakup as is the satisfaction level of the people in the relationship.2 So if you want to know if a relationship will break up, it's just as useful to know what the friends think about the relationship as it is to ask the couple members if they are happy in their relationship.
It took a lot longer than it probably should have, but the turbulent relationship between Ronnie and Sammie on The Jersey Shore has come to its inevitable end. Finally. The Situation best summarized their relationship when he basically said “I like both of them, but I just don’t them together.” But really…who didn’t see this coming?
Are you more likely to be attracted to someone who is into you? Or do you like those that don’t reciprocate your interest? This is one of those cases where your intuitions might be wrong. You need to be cool and downplay your interest in someone to get them to like you, right? Nope; it turns out that there’s a lot of research showing that we tend to like those people who like us right back.
That’s all well and good, but in the real world sometimes it’s not clear how someone feels about you. Maybe they are sending mixed signals or you’re getting conflicting information about their interest from your mutual friends. Or you might not have any idea how they feels about you because you’re too scared to even talk to them. Essentially, what happens when you are uncertain about their feelings about you? Do you like them less or more?
One thing that I felt compelled to do in my previous entries is include a handful of citations for relevant journal articles and/or book chapters. I suppose you can't beat the teacher and researcher out of me; it's just second nature. My guess is that other contributors will also provide references with their entries.
So maybe you, the reader, are interested in learning more about the particular topic that we've written about and actually want to read one or more of the papers we've cited. Good for you! But you may wonder how to get your hands on those articles. For those who haven't accessed journal articles before, I thought it might be useful for me to give some tips:
In the past few months, research conducted by my friend and fellow ScienceOfRelationships.com contributor Dr. Gary Lewandowski and his colleagues has been featured across a number of media outlets, including the New York Times and CNN. He's much too modest to promote his own work, so I'll take the liberty of posting about it.
Click here for a link to the NYT piece about his work and here's a recent interview with Dr. Lewandowski on CNN, although he has to share time with a "non-relationship scientist" (trying to be nice here).
What I love about this work is that it is has much empirical support, and also that it is tied into the larger psychological literature on self-identity.