Thursday, February 14, 2008

Teens, Romance, and ... Contraception?

New Research: The Quality of Teen Relationships Influences Decisions About Contraception

New research from Child Trends indicates that teens in strong, positive romantic relationships are more likely to use contraception. The study finds:
- Teens who identify their relationships as "romantic" and who spend more time with their partners in dating activities are more likely to use contraceptives.
- Female teens who discuss contraception with their partners before sex are twice as likely to practice safe sex.
- Female teens whose partners are similar to themselves, particularly in age, are more likely to use contraception.
- Teens continue habits from previous relationships. Those who used contraception consistently in an earlier relationship (either on their own initiative or from a partner) are more likely to also do so in a current relationship, indicating that teens may learn from their experiences across relationships.
A new fact sheet summarizes the findings of the study, which was published in the journal Demography and analyzes survey data from high school students to identify contraceptive use patterns. Among the other findings:
- Many teens use contraception inconsistently. In four out of 10 relationships, teens never or only inconsistently used contraception.
- Teens' contraceptive consistency varies across their sexual relationships. In other words, teens may use contraception every time they have sex with one partner, but may use contraception only sometimes or not at all with a different partner.
- Teens who engage in a high number of relationships are less likely to consistently use contraceptives across these relationships than their peers who have fewer relationships.
"Inconsistent use of contraceptives puts teens at a high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies," said Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., one of the study's authors. "Pregnancy prevention programs should pay more attention to the importance of partners and relationships in teens' sexual decision making and should consider integrating the multiple dimensions of sexual relationships into role-playing exercises to help teens learn how to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners."
Child Trends' analysis is based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative survey of youth in grades seven through twelve.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What men and women want in a partner

When it comes to romantic attraction men primarily are motivated by good looks and women by earning power. At least that’s what men and women have been saying for a long time. Based on research that dates back several decades, the widely accepted notion permeates popular culture today.

But those sex differences didn’t hold up in a new in-depth study of romantic attraction undertaken by two Northwestern University psychologists.

In short, the data suggest that whether you’re a man or a woman, being attractive is just as good for your romantic prospects and, to a lesser extent, so is being a good earner.

“Sex Differences in Mate Preferences Revisited: Do People Know What They Initially Desire in a Romantic Partner"” was published in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For a month, the romantic lives of study participants were scrutinized, including their prospects within and outside of a speed-dating event.

What people said and did in choosing romantic partners were two different matters.

“True to the stereotypes, the initial self-reports of male participants indicated that they cared more than women about a romantic partner’s physical attractiveness, and the women in the study stated more than men that earning power was an aphrodisiac,” said Paul Eastwick, lead author of the study and graduate student in psychology in the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

But in reality men and women were equally inspired by physical attraction and equally inspired by earning power or ambition.

“In other words good looks was the primary stimulus of attraction for both men and women, and a person with good earning prospects or ambition tended to be liked as well,” said Eli Finkel, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern. “Most noteworthy, the earning-power effect as well as the good-looks effect didn’t differ for men and women.”

Participants’ preferences based on their live romantic interactions contrasted with the ideal sex-differentiated preferences that they reported 10 days before the speed-dating event.

“We found that the romantic dynamics that occurred at the speed-dating event and during the following 30-day period had little to do with the sex-differentiated preferences stated on the questionnaires,” said Finkel.

The speed dating methodology gave the researchers an opportunity not available to earlier generations of researchers to compare stated romantic preferences with actual choices participants made about a series of potential partners.

The discrepancy between what people did and said in this dating situation fits with other research that shows that people often do a poor job explaining why they do things, often referring to accepted cultural theories to explain their own behavior.

The speed-dating methodology allowed the Northwestern researchers to move beyond the abstract world of romantic ideals to see how people actually rated a number of flesh-and-blood people regarding physical attractiveness, ambition and earning power.

“If you were to tell me that you prefer physically attractive romantic partners, I would expect to see that you indeed are more attracted to physically attractive partners,” said Eastwick. “But our participants didn’t pursue their ideal in this way. This leads us to question whether people know what they initially value in a romantic partner.”

What about the academic argument that men are primed much more than women to highly value beauty in romantic partners in an evolutionary quest for health, fertility and preservation of the gene pool" The new Northwestern research poses at least as many questions as it answers about the differences between the sexes. Is it possible after all that, when it comes to romantic attraction, men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus" The new study suggests that both sexes have similar romantic responses to each other right here on planet Earth.

Women more perceptive than men

Women are better than men in describing their feelings and those of their romantic partners than are men, while the latter tend to project their own feelings upon their partners more than women. This, according to a study undertaken by graduate student Dana Atzil Slonim and Dr. Orya Tishby of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in cooperation with Prof. Jacques Barber and Dr. Carol Foltz from the University of Pennsylvania.

The research was conducted in the United States among 97 couples, married and unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 46. Using a questionnaire, the researchers checked the sensitivities of couples in their relationships in three areas: participants’ wishes or desires towards their romantic partner; the perceived response of how their partner will respond to these wishes; and finally for their own responses to their partners’ responses.

The couples were asked to answer the survey in two ways: First, how they evaluate their relationship with their partners on the basis of the questionnaire; second, to rate how their partners would respond to the same issues raised in the questionnaire.

Generally speaking, the results of the survey showed a high consensus prevailed among couples regarding a desire to avoid conflict, and in perceptions of feelings of love, sensitivity and caring for each other. This was found to be especially true among the married couples who participated in the survey. The results showed that those couples were more similar in their attitudes towards one another than even they thought.

Despite this, there was a low level of agreement regarding perceptions on some specific issues. For example, the survey showed that men rated women as much more apprehensive about being abandoned than the women rated themselves. On the other hand, the women rated the men as much less apprehensive of being abandoned than the men rated themselves. Also, the women rated the men as more independent than the men felt about themselves, while the men rated the women as more fearful and less interested in sex than the women rated themselves.

Overall, the results of the survey showed that the women were much more accurate in describing the perceptions of their partners than were the men.

In some issues of relationships, the researchers felt that old male-female stereotypes tended to influence the responses. “Both sexes tend to lean on stereotypes in those areas that are more emotional, such as independence, the fear of being abandoned, fears in general and sexuality. In these areas, it would seem, the partners are not aware of the true thoughts and desires of the other,” the researchers say, who conclude on this basis that “this shows the great importance of open communication -- especially in emotionally-laden topics -- as a tool for reducing conflicts and improving the quality of couples’ lives.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is your dating partner happy?

Research finds it hard to know at times

Research tends to focus on the positives of self-monitoring -- a personality characteristic that accounts for how attuned individuals are to societal conventions as well as the degree to which “appropriateness” controls their behavior and moderates how they present themselves to others.

“High self-monitors are social chameleons,” says Northwestern University researcher Michael E. Roloff. “And, because they’re quick to pick up on social cues, are socially adept and unlikely to say things upsetting to others, they are generally well-liked and sought after.

"Research finds them to be excellent negotiators and far more likely to be promoted at work than their low self-monitoring peers.”

But there’s a downside for high self-monitors when it comes to their romantic relationships.

“High self-monitors may appear to be the kind of people we want to have relationships with, but they themselves are less committed to and less happy in their relationships than low self-monitors,” said the Northwestern professor of communication studies.

In “The Dark Side of Self-Monitoring: How High Self-Monitors View Their Romantic Relationships” in the journal Communication Reports, Roloff and co-authors Courtney N. Wright and Adrienne Holloway present their findings from a study of 97 single young adults.

“The desire to alter one’s personality to appropriately fit a given situation or social climate prevents high self-monitors from presenting their true selves during intimate interactions with their romantic partners,” says Roloff. “High self-monitors are very likeable and successful people. However, it appears they’re just not deep.”

Their propensity to self-censor prompts them to avoid face-threatening interactions that more honest self-disclosures potentially provide. The result: the partners of high self-monitors may be completely in the dark about the extent of their high self-monitoring partner’s degree of commitment and regard.

“It’s not that high self-monitors are intentionally deceptive or evil,” Roloff says. “They appear to have an outlook and way of achieving their goals that makes them attractive to us socially but that prevents them from being particularly happy or loyal in their romantic relationships.”

Conversely, the researchers found that low self-monitors -- people who are the least concerned with social appropriateness and are unlikely to mask their feelings or opinions to avoid confrontation or preserve their self-image -- are more committed to and more satisfied with their relationships.

Low self-monitors communicate in a more genuine, intimate way, but they also may say blunt and hurtful things to their partners. Their ‘disclosive’ communication and loyalty can extract a price from their partners.

Fortunately, says Roloff, self-monitoring is normally distributed, so the likelihood is that we wind up with partners who are neither excessively low nor excessively high self-monitors.

The Northwestern researchers surveyed study participants about the levels of emotional commitment in their romantic relationships and used five measures to assess their degrees of self-monitoring, intimate communication, levels of emotional commitment, relational satisfaction and relational commitment.

They did not survey the partners of study participants. “That may be something we eventually should look at,” Roloff says.

The Beauty Bias: Whom Can People Love?

Physical attractiveness is important in choosing whom to date. Good looking people are not only popular targets for romantic pursuits, they themselves also tend to flock together with more attractive others. Does this mean then that more attractive versus less attractive people wear a different pair of lens when evaluating others’ attractiveness?

Columbia University marketing professor, Leonard Lee, and colleagues, George Loewenstein (Carnegie Mellon University), Dan Ariely (MIT) and James Hong and Jim Young (HOTorNOT.com), decided to test this theory in the realm of an online dating site. The site HOTorNOT.com allows members to rate others on their level of physical attractiveness.

Lee and colleagues analyzed two data sets from HOTorNOT.com -- one containing members’ dating requests, and the other containing the attractiveness ratings of other members. Both data sets also included ratings of members’ own attractiveness as rated by other members.

The results, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, are revealing. Consistent with previous research, people with similar levels of physical attractiveness indeed tend to date each other, with more attractive people being more particular about the physical attractiveness of their potential dates.

Furthermore, people prefer to date others who are moderately more attractive than them.

Compared to females, males are more influenced by how physically attractive their potential dates are, but less affected by how attractive they themselves are, when deciding whom to date. Also, regardless of how attractive people themselves are, they seem to judge others’ attractiveness in similar ways, supporting the notion that we have largely universal, culturally independent standards of beauty (e.g. symmetric faces).

These results indicate that people’s own attractiveness does not affect their judgment of others’ attractiveness. People of different physical attractiveness levels might instead vary the importance they place on different desirable qualities in their dates. Lee and colleagues conducted a follow-up speed-dating study in which more attractive people placed more weight on physical attractiveness in selecting their dates, while less attractive people placed more weight on other qualities (e.g. sense of humor). Much like the famous line from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, people find a way to love the ones they can be with.