Entries in love (72)
Individuals in committed romantic relationships tend to downplay the attractiveness of potential partners. This derogation of alternatives, as researchers refer to it, helps the relationship’s long-term future by decreasing the likelihood that partners will be tempted by others.1 To determine whether somebody derogates alternatives, researchers typically straight-up ask them (e.g., “I regularly find myself looking at attractive others”) or, more sneakily, record how long (heterosexual) individuals look at pictures of opposite-sex people when presented with a range of photos. What both of these measures have in common is they basically rely on what people look at. But what about the other senses? Do we derogate in other ways? Follow the nose….
We know that being friends with other couples increases closeness in your own relationship (read more about this here). To see if these friendships also boost feelings of love, researchers had couples engage in a “fast friends” self-disclosure task during which they answered questions such as “What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?”. Couples answered questions either alone or with another couple, and then reported feelings of passionate love (e.g., “I will love my partner forever”). Though there were no changes in passionate love when couples disclosed by themselves, those who answered questions with another couple reported greater passionate love in their own relationships.
Welker, K. M., Baker, L., Padilla, A., Holmes, H., Aron, A., & Slatcher, R. B. (2014). Effects of self‐disclosure and responsiveness between couples on passionate love within couples. Personal Relationships, 21(4), 692-708. doi:10.1111/pere.12058
image source: thesaltcollective.org
Although passionate love typically decreases over time,1 are there things couples can do to keep the flame alive in their relationships? According to the self-expansion model2 (see our articles on self-expansion here), people grow as individuals by having experiences that are new, interesting, and challenging. Luckily for those in relationships, romantic partners are a great source of self-expansion, and relationships help to enhance individuals by providing a place for them to learn about themselves and others, creating opportunities for adventures and trying new things, and promoting active exploration of the world together. If relationships help people enhance themselves, the extent to which a partner facilitates self-expansion should be associated with positive feelings about that relationship, including more love for that partner.
While love is complicated and can’t simply be reduced to three biological brain states, there are clear neurochemical processes that do contribute to feelings of love. While not called ‘love’, the desire to mate with a specific individual is not limited to humans, but exists across many species. The drive to find a mate, bond, and reproduce is called the ‘attraction system’. This system is made up of three fundamental pathways -- lust, attraction and attachment – which occur in both birds and mammals (including humans).
A new edition of SAGE’s “Relationship Matters” podcast is out! In this installment, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dongning Ren (Purdue University) discusses her fascinating research on how the taste of food affects romantic perceptions.
People commonly refer to those with whom they are romantically involved as “sweetie”, “honey”, or “sugar.” It’s a nice sentiment, but could there be more underlying such labels – i.e., are these words linked to our actual romantic perceptions? Ren, along with colleagues Kenneth Tan and Ximena Arriaga (both from Purdue University) and Kai Qin Chan (Raboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands), conducted three experiments to test the hypothesis that tasting something sweet increases the extent to which individuals judge relationships and potential partners positively.
What can you learn from a person’s gaze? Apparently, a lot. Researchers asked male and female participants to look at photos of couples or opposite-sex individuals and indicate whether the photos elicited lust (i.e., sexual desire) or love. Eye tracking software determined exactly what parts of the photos participants focused on when making their lust vs. love judgments. When deciding whether a given photo portrayed love, male and female participants focused on the faces depicted in the photos, but very little attention was paid to the individuals’ and couples’ bodies. In contrast, when looking for signs of lust, both males and females generally focused more on the bodies in the photos. The researchers suggest this work could inform interventions for therapists who want to identify how couple members view each other.
Bolmont, M., & Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Love is in the gaze: An eye-tracking study of love and sexual desire. Psychological Science, 25, 1748-1756.
I’m a huge fan of Slate Magazine (I read it almost daily). But recently they ran a piece that portrayed sexual fluidity in a way that was less than accurate, and perhaps ideologically biased. In the interest of scientific accuracy, I wanted to set the record straight.
What is sexual fluidity?
The Slate article contained a bold claim that, “there's absolutely no scientific evidence that female sexuality is fluid—at least not in any novel way.” This is incorrect—scientists have found a lot of evidence to support the claim that female sexuality is fluid.
But what exactly is sexual fluidity? It’s a fairly simple concept: people’s sexual responses are not set in stone, and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation they’re in.
Millions of people take to the bars, coffee shops and internet sites of the world looking for love. Finding that love connection isn’t always easy because your new found guy may end up having too many Star Trek figurines or your new found gal may have one too many cats. While there are seemingly a million things that can go wrong, people do fall in love.
But is it possible that some people fall easier than others?
The other day, I asked my kids (7 and 8 years old) to sign a birthday card for a relative that they had only met a few times. I expected that their misspelled words and child-like handwriting would be appealing to the card’s recipient. What I didn’t expect was for their messages to be full of love: “I love you,” “xoxox,” and hearts dotting each letter "i". Where were these demonstrative notes for a relatively unknown person coming from? Should I be worried about my overly affectionate children?
We’re all likely familiar with the idea that love is energizing; for example, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes encapsulated this notion in their 1982 single Up Where We Belong when they sang, “Love lifts us up where we belong....” But does love really physically energize us? It’s definitely possible. Love is associated with positive emotions and simply thinking about love can trigger stress responses (such as increases in cortisol) in the body, responses thought to result from arousal or passion. One intriguing thing that can happen when your body releases cortisol is that you get an accompanying rush of glucose (blood sugar) to give you extra energy. Since thinking about your romantic partner can increase stress hormones like cortisol, it may follow that you can also get a glucose boost from thinking about your partner.
It's time for a snack and you're wondering what to eat, preferably something healthy as you're trying to stay fit. There may be a simple solution; research demonstrates that the simple act of looking at a friendship-based love symbol, such as a heart, can sway your appetite toward a healthy craving (e.g. an apple). Whereas looking at a sexual-based love symbol, such as a picture of a kiss mark, could lead you to giving into the Snickers bar you’ve been thinking about. As such, it may be wise to surround yourself with some heart pictures to help curb your appetite!
Raska, D., & Nichols, B. S. (2012). Using subtle reminders of love to foster healthy snack choices. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 11(6), 432-442. doi:10.1002/cb.1381
Lauren Acri is a student at Monmouth University and a Psychology major.
She is currently a research assistant in the Gender Development Laboratory investigating the role gender plays in early childhood.
You have likely heard someone in a relationship say something like “She makes me a better person.” Alternatively, you may have also heard people say things like (with apologies to Stone Temple Pilots) “I’m half the man (or woman) I used to be.” Though these statements convey feelings of overall relationship satisfaction in the former case, or dissatisfaction in the latter case, something else important is being communicated – that romantic partners are capable of modifying our sense of who we are as individuals (i.e., sense of self).
Michelle Kaufman is a researcher that focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globetrots regularly, engaging in ethnographic work along the way in order to inform the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited Tanzania and investigated how people celebrate Valentine’s Day.
While in Tanzania last month, I asked everyone I met about Valentine’s Day. Do Tanzanians celebrate it, and how?
Who celebrates Valentine’s Day in Tanzania? First, Valentine’s Day is not commonly celebrated in Tanzania. Not surprisingly, it is viewed as a holiday for urban, wealthier people, and mostly for the youth. Those living in rural areas or those who are living day-to-day just trying to survive don’t give Valentine’s Day much thought (they are more focused on things like food, shelter, etc.). All my informants made it clear right away that this is a holiday for the well off with expendable income.
*Wikipedia defines “middle age” as 41 – 60, so it must be true.
Everyone in a long-term romantic relationship has a story. Each of our stories is unique. Our story begins when we were 21 (Charlotte) and 25 (Patrick). We were both coming off other long-term, serious (or so we thought) relationships, and we really didn’t know what we wanted out of a relationship or what we could offer a partner. Now, 17 years and 2 kids later, we both feel pretty lucky that things have worked out as well as they have. Back then, we had no idea what challenges we would face or how we would help each other maneuver through them. We were young and optimistic, but there was so much we didn’t know.
Due to practice and a bit of research (it doesn’t hurt that we are both researchers who study romantic relationships!), we know a little more about relationships now. However, we are still never sure what to do each Valentine’s Day (see past reflections on this matter here and here). It seems like a holiday for “new lovers,” and we’ve known each other too long to feel “new” to each other. What are those of us approaching middle age and in long-term relationships supposed to do on this holiday?
Being the nerds that we are, we decided to review some relevant research to help answer this question, and we offer a few tips in case you find yourself in a similar predicament.
How do you know if your relationship is built to last?
Maybe you’ve been there—you meet someone, you fall hard, everything seems to be going so well, and then, like a failing EKG on House, things slowly...die. You see each other less. Texts linger unreturned. If you’re lucky, you have “the talk.” If you’re not so lucky, you just wonder what’s going on for a few months. Ugh.
In the 28th installment of SAGE's Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Professor Harry Reis (University of Rochester) discusses how and why everyday acts of compassionate love benefit our relationships.
In collaboration with Michael Maniaci and Ronald Rogge (also of the Univ. of Rochester), the researchers asked 175 newlywed couples to complete daily diaries for a period of two weeks. In each daily diary participants reported on their own compassionate acts as well as their perception of their partners’ compassionate acts.
The key to decoding your relationship’s future could be sitting in your pocket right now. It’s not your wallet, or those breath mints, or that crumpled lottery ticket. It’s your cell phone.
Similar to how a runny nose and sore throat can quickly let us know we have a cold, the right kind of information about our romantic relationships can tell us a lot about their future potential. For example, researchers know that a couple’s level of love, commitment, and “positive illusions” are powerful predictors of future relationship success (see my last article here), whereas the number of fights couples have and their respective personality traits are surprisingly less important (see more here.). I call these “predictive elements” -- i.e., the punchy details that psychologists use to predict the quality or future outcome of relationships (basically, whether or not a couple will live happily ever after). Although we cannot rely on these elements to foresee the precise outcome of any particular relationship, it is safe to think of them as useful clues. Predictive elements are like the weather report from a station you trust. If they say there’s a 90% chance of rain, then you should probably pack an umbrella.