Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Women Prefer Prestige Over Dominance in Mates

A new study in the journal Personal Relationships reveals that women prefer mates who are recognized by their peers for their skills, abilities, and achievements, while not preferring men who use coercive tactics to subordinate their rivals. Indeed, women found dominance strategies of the latter type to be attractive primarily when men used them in the context of male-male athletic competitions.


Jeffrey K. Snyder, Lee A. Kirkpatrick, and H. Clark Barrett conducted three studies with college women at two U.S. universities. Participants evaluated hypothetical potential mates described in written vignettes. The studies were designed to examine the respective effects of men’s dominance and prestige on women’s assessments of men.


Women are sensitive to the context in which men display domineering behaviors when they evaluate men as potential mates. For example, the traits and behaviors that women found attractive in athletic competitions were unattractive to women when men displayed the same traits and behaviors in interpersonal contexts. Notably, when considering prospective partners for long-term relationships, women’s preferences for dominance decrease, and their preferences for prestige increase.


“These findings directly contradict the dating advice of some pop psychologists who advise men to be aggressive in their social interactions. Women most likely avoid dominant men as long-term romantic partners because a dominant man may also be domineering in the household.” the authors conclude

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Researchers revisit male bisexuality

The landmark "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" report revealed major insights into bisexual behavior and orientation -- without even using the word "bisexual" -- when it was published 60 years ago by pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and his research team at Indiana University.

The iconic "Kinsey Report" unveiled the seven-point Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, commonly known as the Kinsey Scale, as a tool to gauge a person's sexual orientation or experiences with both sexes.

While the Kinsey Scale has become a fixture in sexuality textbooks and even popular culture, the rating system and Kinsey's findings regarding male bisexuality, and cultural influences on male sexuality in general, have largely been overlooked by today's sex researchers, according to an article in the December issue of the "Journal of Bisexuality."

For this article, which is part of a special issue recognizing the 60th anniversary of the first "Kinsey Report," sex researchers from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at IU collaborated with Paul H. Gebhard, an original member of Kinsey's research team and later a long-time director of The Kinsey Institute at IU, to reflect on research involving male bisexuality since the "Kinsey Report" and potential directions for future research.

"Overall, Kinsey would be disappointed," Gebhard told the researchers, Michael Reece and Brian Dodge, director and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Kinsey believed that culture plays a key role in a person's sexual behavior. Gebhard said Kinsey and his research team avoided looking for causes for sexual orientation out of concern that the findings could be used against people. Through sexual history interviews, they instead sought to capture snapshots of human sexual experience, which proved to be fluid, according to their research, with individual sexual preferences or orientation often moving along the heterosexual-homosexual scale during one's lifetime.

Since Kinsey's day, Gebhard noted that many researchers have moved to a medical model of sex research -- looking for genetic causes of homosexuality, often conducting research solely in the context of sexually transmitted disease transmissions or in an attempt to define what is "normal," usually using heterosexuality as the reference point. The place for bisexual individuals in sexuality research is vague, with research generally categorizing people either "homosexual" or "heterosexual," giving scant recognition to the continuum described by the sexual orientation scale.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing that research is evolving," Dodge said. "Biology and genetics, of course, are part of the picture. But we seem to be swinging in the direction where some scientists are using these as universal explanatory constructs and trying to minimize, or even negate, the role of an individual's culture and environment, aspects that Kinsey thought were most important."

Gebhard, 92, is the last living member of the original Kinsey research team. He is professor-emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at IU and served as director of the Kinsey Institute from 1956-1982, when it was called the Institute for Sex Research. He lives in southern Indiana.

He and his co-authors offered the following suggestions for future research focusing on male bisexuality:

*Move away from a disease-focused lens. Dodge said the medical model of sexuality research has established heterosexuality as the norm even though Kinsey's findings indicated it was natural for people to move across the Kinsey Scale throughout their lives.

*Improve sampling methods for bisexuality research. Dodge acknowledged that finding "bisexual" participants for studies is often challenging but important, requiring innovative techniques. All too often, however, researchers recruit participants from predominantly "gay-identified" venues, like bars, which are considered convenient yet lack the bisexual individuals that researchers seek.

*Revive the concept of the Kinsey continuum. Dodge suggested the need for a revival of the discussion surrounding this concept in research circles, as well as popular culture. "The implications of Kinsey's findings with regard to this scale are significant," Dodge said. "People should not be pigeon-holed into social categories, such as homosexual, heterosexual or even bisexual. This scale comes as close as anything I've seen to help with an understanding of where people are currently and across the lifespan."

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For more information about the scale, visit http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/ak-hhscale.html.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Link between aggression, status and sex

Have you ever wondered why it seems like the littlest things make people angry? Why a glance at the wrong person or a spilled glass of water can lead to a fist fight or worse? University of Minnesota researcher Vladas Griskevicius has three words to explain why people may be evolutionarily inclined to make a mountain out of molehill: aggression, status and sex.

Although hostility or belligerent acts might not immediately appear to be linked to reproduction, new research forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that mating goals may underlie behaviors such as aggression. Griskevicius, a marketing professor at the U of M's Carlson School of Management, and his co-authors, have found conclusive evidence that merely activating a desire for status can trigger aggression. Aggressive displays, which may result in enhanced status, indirectly boost an individual's ability to attract a mate and, thereby, reproduce.

"It all boils down to the fact that status for men typically equals sex. Across different cultures and time, the higher status men have, the more sex or better-quality partners they may have," said Griskevicius. "At the gene-level, nobody wants to go down in an evolutionary blaze of glory--no one wants their genes to become extinct. Additionally, unlike low-status women, low-status men are in serious danger of not reproducing, since they make especially undesirable mates."

To listen to Griskevicius describe his research, go to http://mediamill.cla.umn.edu/mediamill/embed/22978

"Think of it this way," said Griskevicius, "For men, fighting for status is akin to fighting for the survival of their genes. Not caring about status, which can be implied by backing away from a fight, can be evolutionary suicide. Aggression can lead to status. A higher status leads to sex, and that leads to more or higher-quality offspring."

The evolved pull of aggression was shown in a series of three studies. Results showed that if men have status or sex on their minds (e.g., they are thinking about a promotion at work or an attractive opposite-sex individual), they will more quickly respond aggressively to a trivial insult. The slight seems much more substantial when a man has sex or status on his mind. Men are especially likely to respond aggressively when there are other men around to watch the situation, suggesting that much of aggression is about display, rather than self-defense.

Statistics reinforce this idea; police reports show that "trivial altercations" is the leading reason for homicide. But Griskevicius warns that his work should not suggest that people are attracted to aggression. Rather, "it is all about status--the one who wins the game--he's the one that gets the girl. And at the end of the day, if those genes are passed on, the aggressor is the ultimate winner."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Myth about 'dirty old men' supported by science

Middle-aged men want younger women, often touting their intelligence and their high income; this is shown in research at Gothenburg University and Oxford University that studied 400 lonely hearts ads to see how men and women choose partners

Middle-aged men want younger women, often touting their intelligence and their high income. This is shown in research at Gothenburg University and Oxford University that studied 400 lonely hearts ads to see how men and women choose partners.

Research in the theory of evolution includes a number of accepted theories about how men and women choose their partners. Among the more established ones is that men place more emphasis on attractive appearance, whereas resources and social status are more important to women.

By examining lonely hearts advertisements, researchers at the University of Gothenburg and the University of Oxford have now tested how valid these presumed preferences are when modern individuals choose partners.

In the study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, the researchers looked at 400 lonely hearts ads in the Swedish newspapers Göteborgs-Posten and Aftonbladet and on the Websites Spraydate and match.com.

To some extent, the findings support established theories:

Women, more than men, look for solid resources and social status. As a result men also offer this in their ads, through formulations like 'large house' and 'economically independent.'
Men in all categories prefer younger partners. Of a total of 97 men who mentioned age in their ads, only three were looking for an older partner – among men aged 40 to 59, only one out of 67.
Younger women, on the other hand, prefer older men: fully 14 of 16 women aged 20-39 were looking for an older partner. Among women over 60, however, the majority were looking for a younger man.
Another point of departure for the study was that men are more fixated on appearance than women are. This turned out not to be the case.

"When it comes to physical characteristics, it turned out that men and women were the same. Both used words like, 'athletic,' 'beautiful,' 'pretty,' 'tall,' 'handsome,' and 'trim' to the same extent, and this goes both for their descriptions of themselves and for the characteristics they were looking for in a partner," says Jörgen Johnsson at the Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, one of the researchers behind the study.

"This might indicate that men have learned to respond to women's interest in looks, therefore stressing to the same extent their attractiveness in the ads. The fact that both sexes focus on looks may also be influenced by our times, with the great fixation on appearance in the media."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Changes in Marital Satisfaction in Late Middle Age

Is Empty Nest Best? Changes in Marital Satisfaction in Late Middle Age

The phrase “empty nest” can conjure up images of sad and lonely parents sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for their children to call or visit. However, a new study, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that an empty nest may have beneficial effects on the parents’ marriage.

University of California, Berkeley psychologists Sara M. Gorchoff, Oliver P. John and Ravenna Helson tracked the marital satisfaction of a group of women over 18 years, from the time they were in their 40s to when they were in their early 60s.

The results of this study revealed that marital satisfaction increased as the women got older. Marital satisfaction increased for women who stayed with the same partners and for women who remarried.

What was most striking about the results was that women who had made the transition to an empty nest increased more in marital satisfaction than women who still had children at home. Even more interesting, it was shown that an empty nest does not increase levels of marital satisfaction simply because the parents have more time to spend with each other. Instead the results suggest that women whose children had left home enjoyed their time with their partners more compared to women whose children were still at home. In other words, it was an increase in the quality, and not the quantity, of time spent together once children moved out, that led to increases in marital satisfaction.

Gorchoff is quick to point out that the results do not suggest that all children should be sent away to boarding school for the sake of their parents’ marriage. Rather, she notes that “this research does suggest that women should not wait until their children leave home to schedule enjoyable time with their partners.”

Too much commitment unhealthy for relationships?

Too much commitment may be unhealthy for relationships, UH psychology professor says

Relationship-contingent self-esteem can trigger depression and anxiety, eroding bonds

Romantic relationships establish special bonds between partners. Oftentimes, passionate rapport leads to permanent partnerships, and ultimately, the start of families.

Sometimes, however, one or both partners place too much emotional weight on their relationship. As a result, men or women may tend to evaluate their self-worth solely based on the outcomes of their romantic interactions. This is what psychologists term as relationship-contingent self-esteem (RCSE), and, according to University of Houston researcher Chip Knee, it's an unhealthy factor in romantic relationships.

"Individuals with high levels of RCSE are very committed to their relationships, but they also find themselves at risk to become devastated when something goes wrong -- even a relatively minor event," said Knee, UH assistant professor of psychology and director of the university's Interpersonal Relations and Motivation Research Group. "An overwhelming amount of the wrong kind of commitment can actually undermine a relationship."

Knee added that RCSE can trigger depression and anxieties during even the most minor or common relationship-based incidents, such as miscommunication, short spats over noncritical matters or a critique of one's personality or appearance.

It also factors into one or more partners developing manic, obsessive (or needy) behaviors with regard to love.

RCSE might place one at risk for serious mood changes after break-ups, divorce or threats to one's relationship. Identifying it during the early stages of a relationship can prevent such negative outcomes or help partners recognize that they are incompatible.

Knee and a group of researchers observed the impact of RCSE among heterosexual college students in a series of studies. Their findings were presented in the paper "Relationship-Contingent Self-Esteem - The Ups and Downs of Romantic Relationships," published in the flagship Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Collaborating with Knee were Amber L. Bush of UH, Amy Canevello of the University of Michigan and Astrid Cook of Idiro Technologies.

Included in these studies was a 14-day diary procedure in which 198 participants recorded the most positive and negative events in their romantic relationships.

Also documented in this daily diary were participants' feelings about themselves and their relationships.

"What we found with this particular study was that people with higher levels of RCSE felt worse about themselves during negative moments in their relationships," Knee said. "It's as if it doesn't matter why the negative occurrence happens or who was at fault. The partners with stronger RCSE still feel badly about themselves."

Individuals with RCSE also are prone to react more emotionally to relationship-based situations, Knee added. Instead of taking a step back, analyzing a situation and determining how to best address it, those with RCSE respond immediately and impulsively.

"When something happens in a relationship, these individuals don't separate themselves from it," he said. "They immediately feel personally connected to any negative circumstance in a relationship and become anxious, more depressed and hostile."