Monday, June 19, 2017

Riding a romantic roller coaster? Relationship anxiety may be to blame


Loves me, loves me not. Turns out that anxiety over that very question may be detrimental to the long-term success of a relationship. 
In a recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Florida State University graduate student Ashley Cooper explores how high levels of fluctuation in how secure an individual feels in his or her relationship may actually doom its success. 
"For people anxious in their attachments, they have anxiety as to whether the person is going to be there for them and whether they are worthy of others," said Cooper, a second-year doctoral student in the College of Human Sciences. "I was interested in how attachment security impacted partners' experiences in their relationship on a daily basis. Some couples experience instability from one day to the next in their relationship, so we sought out to explore what could increase or decrease this volatility."
Cooper and her colleagues found that individuals who experience high levels of anxiety about their partner's commitment were likely to experience more volatility in their feelings about the relationship from one day to the next. Furthermore, when women experienced this anxiety, their male partners experienced similar volatility in their feelings about the relationship. 
Researchers interviewed 157 couples and asked them a series of questions about how the couples communicated their attachment to each other, how comfortable they were in emotionally connecting with their partners, their relationship satisfaction and the type of conflict that existed in the relationship. 
Of the sample, 74 percent of the participants were dating and nearly 50 percent of participants were in relationships of two years or less. 
Researchers specifically looked at the couples in which one or both partners experienced high attachment avoidance -- that is, behaviors associated with the distrust of relying on other people -- and attachment anxiety -- behaviors associated with fears regarding consistent care and affection. 
When an individual reported high attachment avoidance, both the individual and partner reported generally low levels of relationship satisfaction or quality. When individuals reported high attachment anxiety, there tended to be increased volatility in relationship quality. 
Cooper said the findings will be helpful to clinicians involved in premarital or couples counseling and for individuals who experience drastic differences in their feelings about their relationships from day to day. 
"For the average person, stay attuned to what your partner is saying and avoid making assumptions that can escalate conflict," she said. "Trusting in your partner and your relationship is important to daily interactions and stability for your relationship."

How viewing cute animals can help rekindle marital spark


One of the well-known challenges of marriage is keeping the passion alive after years of partnership, as passions tend to cool even in very happy relationships. In a new study, a team of psychological scientists led by James K. McNulty of Florida State University has developed an unconventional intervention for helping a marriage maintain its spark: pictures of puppies and bunnies.
The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Previous research has shown that, in many instances, marriage satisfaction declines even when day-to-day behaviors stay the same. This led McNulty and colleagues to hypothesize that an intervention focused on changing someone's thoughts about their spouse, as opposed to one that targets their behaviors, might improve relationship quality.
Specifically, the research team wanted to find out whether it was possible to improve marital satisfaction by subtly retraining the immediate, automatic associations that come to mind when people think about their spouses.
"One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies," McNulty explained.
Repeatedly linking a very positive stimulus to an unrelated one can create positive associations over time - perhaps the most famous example of this kind of conditioned response is Pavlov's dogs, who salivated at the sound of a bell after being exposed to multiple pairings of meat and the bell sound.
McNulty and colleagues designed their intervention using a similar kind of conditioning called evaluative conditioning: Images of a spouse were repeatedly paired with very positive words or images (like puppies and bunnies). In theory, the positive feelings elicited by the positive images and words would become automatically associated with images of the spouse after practice.
Participants in the study included 144 married couples, all under the age of 40 and married for less than 5 years. On average, participants were around 28 years old and around 40% of the couples had children.
At the start of the study, couples completed a series of measures of relationship satisfaction. A few days later, the spouses came to the lab to complete a measure of their immediate, automatic attitudes toward their partner.
Each spouse was asked to individually view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of their partner. Those in the experimental group always saw the partner's face paired with positive stimuli (e.g., an image of a puppy or the word "wonderful") while those in the control condition saw their partner's face matched to neutral stimuli (e.g., an image of a button).
Couples also completed implicit measures of attitude towards their partner every 2 weeks for 8 weeks. To measure implicit attitude, each spouse was asked to indicate as quickly as possible the emotional tone of positive and negative words after quickly glimpsing a series of faces, which included their partner's face.
The data showed that the evaluative conditions worked: Participants who were exposed to positive images paired with their partner's face showed more positive automatic reactions to their partner over the course of the intervention compared with those who saw neutral pairings.
More importantly, the intervention was associated with overall marriage quality: As in other research, more positive automatic reactions to the partner predicted greater improvements in marital satisfaction over the course of the study.
"I was actually a little surprised that it worked," McNulty explained. "All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical."
It's important to note that McNulty and colleagues are not arguing that behavior in a relationship is irrelevant to marital satisfaction. They note that interactions between spouses are actually the most important factor for setting automatic associations.
However, the new findings suggest that a brief intervention focused on automatic attitudes could be useful as one aspect of marriage counseling or as a resource for couples in difficult long-distance situations, such as soldiers.
"The research was actually prompted by a grant from the Department of Defense - I was asked to conceptualize and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment," McNulty said. "We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships."


Monday, June 12, 2017

Sexual stereotypes can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships


Female college students who believe women are subservient and who endorse music media's degradation of women are more likely to be involved in an unhealthy sexual relationship, according to research from WSU's Murrow Center for Media & Health Promotion Research.

Stacey J.T. Hust, associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, and her colleagues found that college women who believe in traditional gender stereotypes were significantly less likely to ask for and adhere to their partner's consent to sexual activity and were less likely to refuse unwanted sexual advances.

The research team also found that acceptance of music media's degradation of women was associated with unhealthy sexual consent negotiation.

"Our findings suggest college women's acceptance of degrading media portrayals of women, like those we see in current popular music videos such as DJ Khaled's "I'm the One" or Katy Perry's "Bon Appétit," plays a role in their real-life sexual relationships," Hust said.

"Holding stereotypical beliefs about sexuality and endorsing music that degrades women may be a reflection of a broader attitude that men hold power over women," suggests Kathleen Boyce Rodgers, associate professor of human development and the second author of the study.

College should be an ideal time to encourage students' participation in sexual assault prevention programs due to the prevalence of sexual experimentation and the subsequent risk for sexual assault victimization and perpetration during this time. "Our study suggests that programs that utilize media to empower women to reject traditional sexual scripts could create awareness and stimulate conversation about consent, sexual expectations and stereotypes," Rodgers said.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Religious individuals regret having casual sex only slightly more


The cultural differences between the United States and Norway are relatively small, but the cultures differ significantly from one another in a few very relevant areas.
Norwegians tend to be more sexually liberal than Americans. Americans are clearly more religious than Norwegians.
However, despite these differences, Norwegians and Americans regret casual sex about equally. They also regret missing an opportunity for casual sex to about the same degree.
"We find only small differences between the two nations when it comes to sexual regret," says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at NTNU - the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Department of Psychology.
"There is a difference between religious and non-religious individuals, but this difference is quite small," says Mons Bendixen, Associate Professor in the same department.
Norwegian psychologists Bendixen and Kennair have collaborated on a recent study with psychologists David Buss, Kelly Asao and Joy Wyckoff at the University of Texas at Austin.
Big gender difference the most important
Bendixen and Kennair have looked at sexual regret previously, and their new findings replicate the main findings from their previous study.
Women regret their most recent one-night stand much more at than men do. Men regret a missed opportunity much more than women do. Hardly any women regret passing up a sexual encounter.
This big gender difference strongly dominates the results, regardless of how religious or sexually liberal people consider themselves to be. 
"The fact that we find this gender difference in both Norway and the United States suggest there is more to the gender difference in sexual behavior than cultural norms and gender roles," says Wyckoff.
Religious or liberal
Study participants were asked if they considered themselves to be religious. They were also asked how important they believed it was to follow their religious doctrines. Here the two countries differ significantly.
On average, Americans find it far more important to live by the precepts of their faith.
Most Norwegians, on the other hand, have more sexually liberal attitudes, and on average have moderately more casual sex than Americans do.
"Although the differences between the cultures may be small from an anthropological perspective, the differences we have measured are relevant to sexual regret," Professor Kennair said.
Americans fantasize more about sex
However, national differences in religiosity or sexual liberalism are small compared to the gender differences related to men's and women's contrasting levels of regret.
But refraining from having casual sex does not mean you do not want to have it. On the contrary, although "Americans have less casual sex, they fantasize more than Norwegians do about having sex with people they meet," says Bendixen.
Evolutionary sexual psychology
Why does the gender difference so completely overshadow religion when it comes to regret? This question leads directly into the discussion of whether culture or biology dominates our behaviour.
"Nature versus nurture is a false dichotomy," Asao points out, "Sexual regret is the result of the complex interaction between reproductive biology and cultural moral standards."
"Sexual regret involves counterfactual thinking and emotions, and it is rooted in the human mind just like our sexual psychology," says Kennair.
The cost of casual sex that can result in children differs markedly for women and for men.
High cost for women
For our foremothers, the cost of casual, unrestricted sex was potentially very high in terms of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Without the investment of a committed partner, the offspring's chances of survival were greatly reduced.
"When this happens over hundreds of generations, we get a selection of women who are less likely to have casual sex and who experience this as less positive when it happens," Bendixen says.
"Women did not only face greater costs from poor casual sex choices, but also received fewer benefits from increased casual sex because women's reproductive success is limited by reproductive biology, whereas men's success is limited by access to fertile women," says Kelly Asao.
Low cost for men
For our forefathers, there were few costs of having casual sex, since it did not entail any investment.
The costs for men were instead linked to passing up opportunities for sex, because men can potentially increase their reproductive fitness by impregnating many women. That is, they can ensure that they pass on a larger proportion of their genes to the next generation. 
"None of this is consciously articulated, of course," says David Buss. "Rather, male and female sexual psychology is the end product of a long prior history in which men and women have faced different adaptive problems in the context of selecting or foregoing sex partners."
All of which then means that we are more likely to be descendants of men who did not pass up the chance.
The researchers believe that the sexual psychology of women and men has become relatively differentiated through this selection process, resulting in clear gender-specific patterns of thinking and feeling after individuals choose either to have casual sex or to pass up the opportunity.
These attitudes persist today despite easy access to contraceptives and good social support schemes for mothers without partners, and despite cultural conditions such as religiosity and sexual liberalism.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sexual satisfaction: Treating a woman with oxytocin also benefits her male partner



The results of a study conducted at MedUni Vienna under the direction of Michaela Bayerle-Eder, doctor of internal and sexual medicine, showed that the sexual response of men, whose female partners had been treated with the "bonding hormone" oxytocin or a placebo, was enhanced -- even to the extent of improving their erectile function. This effect was not a function of the substance administered, so that the result is attributable to the improvement in communications within the long-term relationship.

Approximately one year ago, in a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the researchers found that treating women with sexual dysfunction with the hormone oxytocin improved their sexual response but also that the comparison group, who had only been given a placebo, showed an almost identical improvement. The specialists in sexual medicine therefore also investigated the effects upon the women's male partners.

This study has now shown that treating the female partners with oxytocin not only enhances their own sexuality but also that of their male partners. Since the effect was found not only in the group receiving the active agent but also in the placebo group, it is once again thought to be triggered by the improved communication within the relationship.

The specific results: "The mere fact that the couple discussed sexuality more in their relationship and that they had to keep a joint diary helped to enhance their sexual response," summarises Bayerle-Eder. The results were just as good in the placebo group as they were in the group of couples where the women were given oxytocin. Says Bayerle-Eder: "This is of major importance for all sex therapists. It is not just the medication that helps but rather, and more importantly, the functional social interaction within a relationship."

This is particularly important for older couples in long-term relationships. The 30 couples in the study had been together for between 2 and 33 years and were aged between 41 and 65.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mate's looks all important for daughters, a little less important for mothers


When mothers and their daughters have to choose potential partners, they do not look much further than skin deep. Mothers are not quite as picky though, and will choose a man who is only reasonably attractive for their daughters. Daughters on the other hand prefer an attractive man, no matter how respectful, friendly, ambitious or intelligent he may be. This is according to the authors of a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, led by Madeleine Fugère of the Eastern Connecticut State University in the US.

The research team assessed the mate preference of 80 women between the ages of 15 and 29 years old, and one or both of their parents. Only data collected from the 61 mothers present were analysed for the purposes of the current study. The women were presented with colour photographs of three male targets varying in attractiveness. Each photograph was paired with one of three trait profiles. The "respectful" profile included the traits "respectful, trustworthy, and honest;" the "friendly" profile included being "friendly, dependable, and mature;" and the "pleasing" profile meant that the man was "of a pleasing disposition, ambitious, and intelligent." The women had to rate the photographs and trait descriptions in response to how attractive they found the man, how favourably they rated his personal description, and whether they'd consider the person as a dating partner for themselves or their daughters.

Physical attractiveness strongly influenced how women and their mothers saw the target men. The attractive and moderately attractive ones came up trumps. Men with the most desirable personality profiles were rated more favourably than their counterparts only when they were also at least moderately attractive. Even when unattractive men possessed the most desirable traits, the mothers and daughters did not view them as potential dating material.

"We conclude that a minimum level of physical attractiveness is a necessity for both women and their mothers," says Fugére.

It was also found that daughters are pickier than their parents when it comes to choosing between potential mates. Mothers rated all men, even the least attractive ones, as potentially desirable partners for their daughters, while the younger women did not.

"This may signal that unattractiveness is less acceptable to women than to their mothers," states Fugère. "It might also mean that women and their mothers may have different notions of what constitutes a minimally acceptable level of physical attractiveness, with mothers employing a less stringent standard than their daughters."

She explains further that when women and their parents are asked their opinion about potential mates, they always rate traits like respectfulness and friendliness as more important than physical attractiveness. "Yet, in doing so, they assume that the potential mates at least meet a minimally acceptable standard of physical attractiveness. However, when a range of attractiveness levels is presented, physical attractiveness takes priority over other characteristics."


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Romantic Rejection: There's a Placebo for That


The use of placebos to alleviate physical pain is well established, but placebo effects on emotional pain are not as well understood. In a new functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, researchers examined the impact of a placebo on social pain stemming from a recent romantic breakup. 

Young adults who were told that the saline nasal spray they received was a powerful analgesic for both physical and emotional pain reported reduced negative feelings while viewing a photograph of their ex compared to those who were told that the same spray was used to improve the quality of fMRI images. Those in the placebo group also had reduced activation of a pattern of brain activity associated with social rejection.
 The placebo increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in both the social pain test and in a separate physical pain condition in which heat was applied to participants' forearms (however, the placebo effect was more modest in this pain condition). The researchers further identify a pathway between the dlPFC and the periaqueductal gray in the brainstem involved in the regulation of social pain. Overall, the findings suggest that this brain network may underlie the placebo effect across a range of mental health conditions.