Imagine for a moment that you’re running late to meet your romantic partner for a movie date. As you approach the theater, you see your partner speaking to an attractive stranger. As you wait, you happen to overhear part of their conversation. The stranger asks your partner for directions, which your partner provides happily. The stranger then invites your partner to a local concert this Friday. Your partner politely expresses interest and they exchange phone numbers.
Entries in cognition (12)
If I say that this post is about “unconscious feelings toward romantic partners,” you’d probably think that I’m about to serve up a big plate of Freud with a side of some repressed memories. Rest assured, I’m not going to get all “dreams and cigars” on you, but new research, published in the journal Science1 suggests that our unconscious feelings about our partners might be the Magic 8-Ball when it comes to future marriage satisfaction. The media has characterized this research as “knowing in your gut” whether you marriage will succeed (see here for an example), but we assure you that your stomach has nothing to do with it.
You: “I’m sorry I was late picking you up today…”
Your partner responds: “That’s okay; it happens...”
Your partner thinks: “But it always seems to happen to YOU!”
Wouldn’t it be great to know what your partner was thinking about during a disagreement? Having a sense of his or her thoughts during a conflict could provide an important window into how your partner feels about you and might indicate how satisfied (or dissatisfied) your partner is with the relationship overall. Similarly, what your partner thinks about during a conflict might be associated with your satisfaction as well. For example, you might pick up on their annoyance with your tardiness, which might make you annoyed with them!
Relationship researchers would also love to “get inside your head” during an argument. But if you are in the midst of resolving a conflict by talking with your partner, how would you simultaneously describe what you’re thinking about?
Occasionally, I imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have my partner. I’ll even imagine that he has died and wonder what I would do. Sounds dark, right? Perhaps even more morbid is that his imaginary death always makes me feel happier with my relationship.
Now, before you start thinking that I am some sort of psychopath, social psychological research supports my morbid relationship musings.
I once had a (very brave) student ask me if I was familiar with the old saying about teachers. You know the one, it goes a little something like…Those who can’t do, teach. I begrudgingly admitted having heard the saying. Before I could even begin mounting a defense or rebuttal, she continued on with her playful, but oddly poignant, musing: “And Dr. Leder, you teach about relationships. What does that say about you?” Ouch. I put on a brave face and bantered back about how it made me the master of her classroom destiny for that semester. However, her off-hand teasing really got me thinking. Upon reflection, I realized that her jesting about my relationship prowess was surprisingly insightful.
Have you ever had to admit on a first date that, among your many compelling and marvelous qualities, you are also a relationship counselor? I have. While this announcement can provoke a range of interesting responses, one I have often remembered was:
“Really! How interesting. Does that make you any better at your own relationships?”
This particular guy wasn’t asking sarcastically; he was actually curious. I chuckled and stalled for time. On a gut level, I wanted to say yes…but was that true?
It’s no secret that people like to see themselves positively. Decades of research indicates that people go to great lengths to accentuate their positive qualities and downplay their flaws. But what happens when an attractive potential partner has those flaws? In a recent pair of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers Erica Slotter and Wendi Gardner hypothesized that when people are attracted to flawed potential partners, their romantic desires may motivate them to adopt those flaws themselves. The authors cited the example of Sandy Olsson from Grease, who (spoiler alert?) decides to give up her squeaky clean, goodie-two-shoes image in an effort to win over her “greaser” love interest, Danny Zuko.
An interesting idea that has recently emerged in psychology and cognitive science is the extended mind: the notion that your cognition is not merely “in your head,” but can extend to the world around you. Google presents a good example of this phenomenon. People are less likely to remember information when they know it is stored somewhere “outside” of their heads – particularly, a computer or the internet. Hence, we may not trouble ourselves in memorizing a recipe for a delicious dip simply because we know where we can find it online. Likewise, we probably don’t know many cell phone numbers because we know that they are readily available in our phone (although this may lead us to panic when our phone loses all that information).
The extended mind phenomenon also opens a door to another question: given that romantic relationships are characterized by relatively high degrees of self-other overlap, can your romantic partner serve as an extension of your own mind?
Most of us have experienced a gut-cringing moment in which we made an embarrassing comment or did something idiotic in front of a person we were trying to impress. Even smart guys are not immune to this; look at how The Big Bang Theory’s Leonard Hofstadter’s staggering IQ of 170+ plummets whenever he sees Penny. Unfortunately, guys, it looks like this cognitive decline in the presence of the opposite sex affects only those in the male population.
Can couple members be so close to one another that their individual identities merge into one? We might think of couples, like “TomKat” (Tom Cruise + Katie Holmes) and “Beyon-Z” (Beyonce + Jay-Z…yep, you heard that one here first), as a single unit, but do they think about themselves that way?
They do if they’re committed to their relationships. More committed people think of themselves as being a part of a single unit that includes their partners.
What are you doing right now? Are you relaxing? Procrastinating? Gaining knowledge about relationships? Reading words on your computer screen?
You can construe any situation in a number of ways. In particular, you can frame most situations in either an abstract, long-term sort of way, or in a more concrete, immediate way.
A rat searching for cheese in a maze is one of the more iconic images associated with psychology. Some recent research extends beyond rats’ GPS capabilities by examining their sexual activity. Yup, rodent sex; we’re going there.