Category: Dating

Sorry romantics, new findings suggest love at first sight is really lust at first sight

GettyImages-BD2334-001.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Reporter: “When did you know she [Meghan Markle] was the one?”

Prince Harry: “The very first time we met”

It’s a trope of Hollywood: when two people realise in an instant that they have met the one they want to spend the rest of their lives with. In reality too, happy long-term couples will tell you, perhaps a little too smugly, and doing that gazing into each other’s eyes thing, how it was simply “love at first sight”. Mutual, of course.

We’re sorry to spoil the mood music, but a new paper in Personal Relationships – one of the first attempts to study this phenomenon scientifically – concludes that while believing one has fallen instantly in love does seem to be a genuine experience, it’s not really about love at all, but more to do with physical attraction (and it’s rarely mutual). And while people who remember having fallen in love with their partner at first sight do describe their relationship as more passionate in the present, their recall is probably little more than a “confabulated memory” – a “projection of their current feelings into the past”.

Continue reading “Sorry romantics, new findings suggest love at first sight is really lust at first sight”

Men and women interpret the sexual intent behind dating behaviours very differently

GettyImages-155442288.jpg
Men tend to overestimate the sexual intent behind women’s behaviours on a date

By Alex Fradera

Imagine you’re out one evening with someone you met recently – you take your date’s hand in yours, or compliment your date’s appearance, or you kiss him or her passionately. For each behaviour, how likely is it that you wanted to have sex with that person for the first time? Researchers have put this question to heterosexual women, then they’ve asked men how they would interpret a woman’s intentions if she had behaved in these ways. The contrast in their answers is striking: men judge woman’s sexual intent as much higher than women do.

We could conclude from this that men read sex into situations where it isn’t there. But another explanation could be that men aren’t far off – it’s just that women under-report their true intentions. Which is closer to the truth? And what about men’s own sexual intentions – do women get those right?

In a new article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involving hundreds of US participants recruited online, Isabelle Engeler from IESE Business School and Priya Raghubir at New York University shine some light on the different ways men and women interpret the same dating behaviours.

Continue reading “Men and women interpret the sexual intent behind dating behaviours very differently”

What is it like to be the partner of someone who is transgender?

GettyImages-530594532By Emma Young

The experiences of people who’ve been through a gender transition have been studied and analysed by psychologists – showing, for example, improved psychological wellbeing and self-esteem after hormone treatment. But when it comes to their partners, there’s been much less research. According to a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, though, they often go through a kind of life transition of their own, and while there are certainly challenges, there are often positive changes, too.

Continue reading “What is it like to be the partner of someone who is transgender?”

The reasons we stay friends with an ex

3rd Annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala Benefiting J/P HRO Presented By Giorgio Armani - Inside
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have remained close since their “conscious uncoupling” in 2014

By Emma Young

Why do we sometimes stay friends with ex-partners? There may be many reasons, but according to a new paper in Personality and Individual Differences they fall into seven main categories – and men and women don’t quite see eye-to-eye on them. The research also found that certain personality traits were related to motivations for staying friends after a break-up.

Continue reading “The reasons we stay friends with an ex”

Attractive people have shorter relationships and are more interested in alternative partners

87th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Scarlett Johansson announced her split from Romain Dauriac this January

By Christian Jarrett

You probably won’t be reaching for your violin too quickly but a series of new studies provide compelling evidence that beauty is a kind of “relationship liability”. While more physically attractive people have a clear advantage when it comes to finding partners, the results suggest that their relationships are more likely to breakdown, at least in part because they take greater interest in alternative partners, especially when dissatisfied in their current relationship.

The results add further nuance to our understanding of how physical beauty impacts people’s lives. While good-looking folk seem to enjoy many advantages in life, on average, such as higher pay, more happiness and others assuming they are friendly and intelligent, it seems there are complicating factors: jealousy is one, and this new research, published in Personal Relationships, suggests that less stability in their romantic relationships is another.

Continue reading “Attractive people have shorter relationships and are more interested in alternative partners”

Feeling authentic in a relationship comes from being able to be your best self, not your actual self

Couple Hero SilhouetteBy Christian Jarrett

Feeling authentic in a relationship – that is, feeling like you are able to be yourself, rather than acting out of character – is healthy, not just for the relationship, but for your wellbeing in general. This makes sense: after all, putting on a fake show can be exhausting. But dig a little deeper and things get more complicated because there are different ways to define who “you” really are.

Is the real you how you actually think and behave, for instance? Or, taking a more dynamic perspective, is it fairer to say that the true you is the person you aspire to be: what psychologists call your “ideal self”?

For a paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Muping Gan and Serena Chen asked members of the public about this and 70 per cent of them thought that the ability to be your actual self was more important for feeling authentic in a relationship than being able to be your ideal self.

But contrary to this folk wisdom, across several studies, the researchers actually found evidence for the opposite – that is, feelings of authenticity in a relationship seem to arise not from being our actual selves in the relationship, but from feeling that we can be our best or ideal self.

Continue reading “Feeling authentic in a relationship comes from being able to be your best self, not your actual self”

Men who can tell a good story are seen as more attractive and higher status

The results fit with evolutionary theory

Stories can change how we think about the world, about the people they describe, and even ourselves. According to new research, they also influence our attitude to the storyteller. An article published in the journal Personal Relationships suggests that people portrayed as stronger storytellers are considered as higher status than those that aren’t – and this status can make them more romantically attractive, at least in the eyes of women. Cue editing of Tinder bios across the globe.

John Donahue and Melanie Green ran experiments with US undergraduate samples (388 in total, 55 per cent women, two-thirds Caucasian, average age 20) who were asked to rate the attractiveness of a potential partner of the opposite sex based upon basic printed information. In the first experiment, participants received a photo and a short biography of a would-be partner which included information on their storytelling abilities. Participants in the strong storytelling condition, for example, heard that the person “often tells really good stories…he makes the characters and settings come alive.” Other conditions emphasised the mediocrity of the person’s storytelling or did not mention it at all. Stronger female storytellers did not tempt male participants, nor did male raconteurs foster extra female interest in short-term dating. But women were more interested in talented male story-tellers as long-term partners.

A further experiment held the design but added another category of attraction – “Do you think this person would make a good spouse?” – and a measure of the person’s perceived status. Both male and female participants considered storytellers to have higher status than non-storytellers. But for men, that didn’t translate into finding women more attractive, whereas for female raters, there was a clear route from men’s storytelling ability to status to desirability as a long-term partner or spouse.

To examine other explanations for the lure of the story-teller beyond the effect of status, the researchers ran another experiment where participants actually read a story, supposedly recounted by the potential partner. Some stories were fluid with lively vocabulary, and, as hoped, participants rated them as better and more involving than others that told the same facts in a hesitating and digressive manner.

But surprisingly, attraction didn’t depend on being swept up in the story – that is, would-be partners who’d produced a more engrossing story were not rated as more attractive than the bores. I should note, however, that a short oral anecdote transcribed onto paper is not the strongest way to entangle someone in the magic of story, and the researchers acknowledged that other unmeasured qualities of the story, such as personal identification, or sheer enjoyment, may well affect attraction.

Donahue and Green advance an evolutionary theory for their findings: females, with a biologically high investment into producing young, have evolved to seek mates with resources, and storytelling aptitude reflects advantages that prehistorically meant the difference between life and death. But there are other explanatory lenses: for example, that men are socialised to be suspicious of women who take space and focus, considering that active status a threat that masks any liking they might have for storytelling traits, whereas women are socialised to appreciate first impressions of male competence. I suspect there is a rich, specific picture of when and why storytellers appeal, a picture that will depend on looking across cultures and at the specific effects their stories arouse in us. For now, this evidence suggests that young western males who can spin a good yarn are seen, on first blush, as a better catch.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

DONAHUE, J., & GREEN, M. (2016). A good story: Men’s storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/pere.12120

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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The secret to a conflict-proof relationship? Feeling like your partner understands you

A relationship under strain can be helped by a dose of understanding. In itself, this is no new insight, and it makes sense that understanding your partner and looking for mutual solutions is healthier than looking to win the argument or change them. But new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that quite aside from any practical value of understanding, simply feeling understood can nullify conflict’s impact – or even allow it to improve relationships.

Amie Gordon and Serena Chen at the University of California conducted several studies with participants recruited through online research pools, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties; all were in an ongoing relationship with at least six months behind it. The first survey-based study showed that the higher the frequency of conflicts in a relationship, the less satisfying it was to participants – unless they felt that their partner understood them well (feeling understood was measured by agreement with statements like  “My partner nearly always knows exactly what I mean”).

In the second study, participants who wrote about a specific conflict that had occurred in their current relationship articulated a lower satisfaction within that relationship immediately post-conflict, compared with a control group who wrote about a neutral event – if, and only if, they were asked to consider a conflict where their partner didn’t understand them. This suggests that conflict needn’t be harmful to a relationship if it occurs in the context of feeling understood.

A diary study over a fortnight showed this effect of feeling understood (this time measured by items like: “Today, how much do you think your partner was able to accurately understand what you were thinking and feeling?”) wasn’t merely a product of laboratory context: here too, as participants went about their lives, conflicts accompanied by feeling understood by one’s partner didn’t appear to harm people’s satisfaction with the relationship.

All these results point to the beneficial effect of feeling understood – yes, there are some alternative explanations for the results, but the studies addressed these. For example, it’s true that when participants felt understood, conflicts were more likely to be resolved, and often (although not always) involved the participant believing they themselves were understanding. Thanks to a key experiment involving video, described below, we know also that these conflicts are typically conducted in a more positive tone. But when these factors were accounted for, the beneficial effect of feeling understood remained. These types of conflicts weren’t for smaller stakes, and the diary study, by controlling for previous-day relationship satisfaction, confirmed that this was not a third variable driving both higher satisfaction scores and a willingness to feel understood.

One of the most compelling experiments in the new research involved both partners in a relationship being invited into the lab to discuss, while being videotaped, a topic that was a source of conflict within their relationship. Afterwards, they completed similar surveys to the other studies, and analysis of this replicated the prior finding, as well as producing two other intriguing findings (note, these do warrant retesting and replication before we put too much faith in them). The pre-and post-conflict measures of satisfaction available here showed that participants who felt understood during the conflict left the the session more satisfied than when they began. In other words, when participants felt their partner understood them, the conflict apparently wasn’t just less harmful, it was actually beneficial. And when one partner felt understood, the other felt happier, even after controlling for how understood they felt themselves. It seems there’s a virtuous circle at play: When you feel understood, that increases your partner’s faith in the relationship.

Regardless of whether we get what we want, how soft and fluffy the encounter was, or its stakes, when we feel understood, it seems our relationships can handle, even flourish, from conflict. Some of that is about feeling cared for, some of it is faith that your partner actually considers what you have to be a partnership: the researchers identified both motivations as having a part to play. But beyond these, feeling understood remained as an end in itself, simply worthwhile. However simple such a need might seem to fulfil, beware: Gordon and Chen point to two ways we can fall short and allow conflicts to rankle. One is not understanding – not being willing to see the other’s concerns. The other is to conclude you are being misunderstood or ignored despite your partner doing their best to understand, as if you’re unable to penetrate your historically-founded conclusions about what they are capable of.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Gordon AM, & Chen S (2015). Do You Get Where I’m Coming From?: Perceived Understanding Buffers Against the Negative Impact of Conflict on Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of personality and social psychology PMID: 26523997

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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The psychology of "mate poaching" – when you form a relationship by taking someone else’s partner

According to one estimate, 63 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women are in their current long-term relationships because their current partner “poached” them from a previous partner. Now researchers in the US and Australia have conducted the first investigation into the fate of relationships formed this way, as compared with relationships formed by two unattached individuals.

An initial study involved surveying 138 heterosexual participants (average age 20; 71 per cent were women) four times over nine weeks. All were in current romantic relationships that had lasted so far from 0 to 36 months. Men and women who said they’d been poached by their current partner tended to start out the study by reporting less commitment to their existing relationship, feeling less satisfied in it, committing more acts of infidelity and looking out for more alternatives.What’s more, over the course of the study, these participants reported progressively lower levels of commitment and satisfaction in their relationships. They also showed continued interest in other potential romantic partners and persistent levels of infidelity. This is in contrast to participants who hadn’t been poached by their partners – they showed less interest in romantic alternatives over time.

The researchers led by Joshua Foster attempted to replicate these results with a second sample of 140 heterosexual participants who were surveyed six times over ten weeks. Again the participants who said they’d been poached by their partners tended to report less commitment and satisfaction in their current relationships, and more interest in romantic alternatives. However, unlike the first sample, this group did not show deterioration in their relationship over the course of the study. The researchers speculated this may be because the study was too short-lived or because deterioration in these relationships had already bottomed out.

It makes intuitive sense that people who were poached by their partners showed less commitment and satisfaction in their existing relationship. After all, if they were willing to abandon a partner in the past, why should they not be willing or even keen to do so again? This logic was borne out by a final study of 219 more heterosexual participants who answered questions not just about the way their current relationship had been formed, but also about their personalities and attitudes.

Foster and his team summarised the findings: “individuals who were successfully mate poached by their current partners tend[ed] to be socially passive, not particularly nice to others, careless and irresponsible, and narcissistic. They also tend[ed] to desire and engage in sexual behaviour outside of the confines of committed relationships.” The last factor in particular (measured formally with the “Socio-sexual Orientation Inventory-revised”) appeared to explain a large part of the link between having been poached by one’s partner and having weak commitment to the new relationship.

Across the three studies, between 10 and 30 per cent of participants said they’d been poached by their current partners. This shows again that a significant proportion of relationships are formed this way, the researchers said, and that more research is needed to better understand how these relationships function. “We present the first known evidence [showing] specific long-term disadvantages for individuals involved in relations that formed via mate poaching,” they concluded.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Foster, J., Jonason, P., Shrira, I., Keith Campbell, W., Shiverdecker, L., & Varner, S. (2014). What do you get when you make somebody else’s partner your own? An analysis of relationships formed via mate poaching Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 78-90 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2014.07.008

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Other people can tell whether your partner is cheating on you

Do humans have an infidelity radar?

We can identify a surprising amount of information about each other from the briefest of glimpses – a process that psychologists call thin-slicing. In the latest study in this area, a group led by Nathaniel Lambert have explored whether we can watch a romantic couple interact and tell within minutes whether one of them is a cheat.

Fifty-one student participants (35 women) in a relationship answered survey questions about their own infidelities toward their current partner. They and their partner were then filmed for three to five minutes performing a drawing task, in which one person is blindfolded and the other guides them as to what to draw.

Six trained coders (one man) later watched these clips and answered questions about whether the study participant in each couple had shown romantic interest in another person; flirted or made advances toward another person; or had sex with someone else. Answers to these questions were averaged to create an overall cheating verdict.

The coders’ cheating scores were correlated with the students’ self confessed levels of infidelity (the beta coefficient was .32; the researchers described the effect size as “moderate”). Further analysis showed this association was not simply due to the coders judging the participants’ social dominance, nor to them simply rating the male participants as more unfaithful on average. The researchers checked these possibilities because past research has linked social dominance with infidelity and because men are more often unfaithful than women.

Lambert’s team think these results show we’ve evolved a radar for spotting cheaters, an ability they think will have helped our ancestors to thrive, given the “adverse consequences of infidelity”. But what were the coders looking out for when they watched the videos?

A second study with 43 more undergrads was similar but this time the researchers also asked the coders to rate the participants’ commitment and trustworthiness. Again, the coders’ judgements of infidelity correlated with the students’ own admissions of having been unfaithful. Moreover, the coders’ judgments of infidelity were mediated by their verdicts about trustworthiness and commitment, so they seemed to be using inferences about these traits to inform their detection of cheating.

“Many people are interested in forming meaningful long-term romantic relationships and our research indicates that people may be internally programmed to identify inclinations that could be devastating to their relationship,” the researchers said. “Specifically, objective coders identified cheaters, and thus individuals seeking a committed relationship may be well advised to listen to their intuition or at least think twice before committing to someone they suspect may be inclined to cheat.”

Unfortunately, as well as being restricted to students and dating relationships, this research leaves many questions unanswered. We’re given little information about the coders, nor the training they received. Also, although we’re told the coders’ cheating judgments correlated with the students’ self-reported infidelity scores more than you’d expect if the coders were just guessing, it’s not possible from the available data to establish the rate of false alarms – those times that the coders felt a participant was a cheater when in fact they were not. You can imagine real life accusations based on such false alarms could cause a lot of emotional damage. Finally, the study unfortunately tells us nothing about exactly what behavioural cues (such as body language and tone of voice) the coders were using to make their judgments about infidelity.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

LAMBERT, N., MULDER, S., & FINCHAM, F. (2014). Thin slices of infidelity: Determining whether observers can pick out cheaters from a video clip interaction and what tips them off Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/pere.12052

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.