Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Married with children the key to happiness?

New study shows that raising kids makes married people happier


Having children improves married peoples’ life satisfaction and the more they have, the happier they are. For unmarried individuals, raising children has little or no positive effect on their happiness. These findings (1) by Dr. Luis Angeles from the University of Glasgow in the UK have just been published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

Previous research suggests that increasing numbers of children do not make people any happier, and in some cases the more children people have, the less satisfied they are with their lives. Rather bleakly, this has been attributed to the fact that raising children involves a lot of hard work for only a few occasional rewards.

Dr. Angeles believes that this explanation is too simplistic. When asked about the most important things in their lives, most people place their children near or even at the top of their list. Contrary to previous work, Dr. Angeles’ analysis of the relationship between having children and life satisfaction takes into account the role of individual characteristics, including marital status, gender, age, income and education.

For married individuals of all ages and married women in particular, children increase life satisfaction and life satisfaction goes up with the number of children in the household. Negative experiences in raising children are reported by people who are separated, living as a couple, or single, having never been married. Children take their toll on their parents’ satisfaction with social life, and amount and use of leisure time.

Dr. Angeles concludes: “One is tempted to advance that children make people better off under the ‘right conditions’ - a time in life when people feel that they are ready, or at least willing, to enter parenthood. This time can come at very different moments for different individuals, but a likely signal of its approach may well be the act of marriage.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Looks, $ Equally Attractive To Men and Women

What Men And Women Say And Do In Choosing Romantic Partners Are Two Different Matters

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.

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 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.

Red Enhances Men's Attraction To Women

A groundbreaking study by two University of Rochester psychologists to be published online by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology adds color—literally and figuratively—to the age-old question of what attracts men to women.

Through five psychological experiments, Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology, and Daniela Niesta, post-doctoral researcher, demonstrate that the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men are unaware of the role the color plays in their attraction.

The research provides the first empirical support for society's enduring love affair with red. From the red ochre used in ancient rituals to today's red-light districts and red hearts on Valentine's Day, the rosy hue has been tied to carnal passions and romantic love across cultures and millennia. But this study, said Elliot, is the only work to scientifically document the effects of color on behavior in the context of relationships.

"It's only recently that psychologists and researchers in other disciplines have been looking closely and systematically at the relationship between color and behavior. Much is known about color physics and color physiology, but very little about color psychology," said Elliot. "It's fascinating to find that something as ubiquitous as color can be having an effect on our behavior without our awareness."

Although this aphrodisiacal effect of red may be a product of societal conditioning alone, the authors argue that men's response to red more likely stems from deeper biological roots. Research has shown that nonhuman male primates are particularly attracted to females displaying red. Female baboons and chimpanzees, for example, redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation, sending a clear sexual signal designed to attract males.

"Our research demonstrates a parallel in the way that human and nonhuman male primates respond to red," concluded the authors. "In doing so, our findings confirm what many women have long suspected and claimed – that men act like animals in the sexual realm. As much as men might like to think that they respond to women in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some degree, their preferences and predilections are, in a word, primitive."

To quantify the red effect, the study looked at men's responses to photographs of women under a variety of color presentations. In one experiment, test subjects looked at a woman's photo framed by a border of either red or white and answered a series of questions, such as: "How pretty do you think this person is?" Other experiments contrasted red with gray, green, or blue.

When using chromatic colors like green and blue, the colors were precisely equated in saturation and brightness levels, explained Niesta. "That way the test results could not be attributed to differences other than hue."

In the final study, the shirt of the woman in the photograph, instead of the background, was digitally colored red or blue. In this experiment, men were queried not only about their attraction to the woman, but their intentions regarding dating. One question asked: "Imagine that you are going on a date with this person and have $100 in your wallet. How much money would you be willing to spend on your date?"

Under all of the conditions, the women shown framed by or wearing red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same women shown with other colors. When wearing red, the woman was also more likely to score an invitation to the prom and to be treated to a more expensive outing.

The red effect extends only to males and only to perceptions of attractiveness. Red did not increase attractiveness ratings for females rating other females and red did not change how men rated the women in the photographs in terms of likability, intelligence or kindness.

Although red enhances positive feelings in this study, earlier research suggests the meaning of a color depends on its context. For example, Elliot and others have shown that seeing red in competition situations, such as written examinations or sporting events, leads to worse performance.

The current findings have clear implications for the dating game, the fashion industry, product design and marketing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Did Early Humans Start Walking for Sex?

Jamie Shreeve
Science editor, National Geographic magazine
October 1, 2009
The big news from the journal Science today is the discovery of the oldest human skeleton—a small-brained, 110-pound (50-kilogram) female of the species Ardipithecus ramidus, nicknamed "Ardi." She lived in what is now Ethiopia 4.4 million years ago, which makes her over a million years older than the famous Lucy fossil, found in the same region 35 years ago.

(Full story: "Oldest 'Human' Skeleton Found—Disproves 'Missing Link.'")
PICTURES: 7 Major "Missing Links" Since Darwin
Buried among the slew of papers about the new find is one about the creature's sex life. It makes fascinating reading, especially if you like learning why human females don't know when they are ovulating, and men lack the clacker-sized testicles and bristly penises sported by chimpanzees.

(See pictures of Ardipithecus ramidus.)

One of the defining attributes of Lucy and all other hominids—members of our evolutionary lineage, including ourselves—is that they walk upright on two legs. While Ardi also walked on two legs on the ground, the species also clambered about on four legs in the trees. Ardi thus offers a fascinating glimpse of an ape caught in the act of becoming human. (Interactive: Ardi's key features.)

The problem is it is doing it in the wrong place at the wrong time—at least according to conventional wisdom, which says our kind first stood up on two legs when they moved out of the forest and onto open savanna grasslands. At the time Ardi lived, her environment was a woodland, much cooler and wetter than the desert there today.

So why did her species become bipedal while it was still living partly in the trees, especially since walking on two legs is a much less efficient way of getting about?

According to Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University, it all comes down to food, and sex.

In apes—both modern apes and, presumably, the ancient ancestors of Ardipithecus—males find mates the good old-fashioned apish way: by fighting with other males for access to fertile females. Success, measured in number of offspring, goes to macho males with big sharp canine teeth who try to mate with as many ovulating females as possible. Sex is best done quickly—hence those penis bristles, which accelerate ejaculation—with the advantage to the male with big testicles carrying a heavy load of sperm. Among females, the winners are those who flaunt their fertility with swollen genitals or some other prominent display of ovulation, so those big alpha dudes will take notice and give them a tumble, providing a baby with his big alpha genes.

Let's suppose that some lesser male, with poor little stubby canines, figures out that he can entice a fertile female into mating by bringing her some food. That sometimes happens among living chimpanzees, for instance when a female rewards a male for presenting her with a tasty gift of colobus monkey.

Among Ardipithecus's ancestors, such a strategy could catch on if searching for food required a lot of time and exposure to predators. Males would be far more successful food-providers if they had their hands free to carry home loads of fruits and tubers—which would favor walking on two legs. Females would come to prefer good, steady providers with smaller canines over the big fierce-toothed ones who left as soon as they spot another fertile female. The results, says Lovejoy, are visible in Ardipithecus, which had small canines even in males and walked upright.

Lovejoy's explanation for the origin of bipedalism thus comes down to the monogamous pair bond. Far from being a recent evolutionary innovation, as many people assume, he believes the behavior goes back all the way to near the beginning of our lineage some six million years ago.

But there is one other, essential piece to this puzzle that leaves no trace in the fossil record. If the female knew when she was fertile, she could basically cheat the system by taking all the food offered by her milquetoast of a provider, then cuckold him with a dominant male when she was ovulating, scoring the best of both worlds. The food-for-sex contract thus depends on what Lovejoy calls "the most unique human character"—ovulation that not only goes unannounced to the males of the group, but is concealed even from the female herself.

Regular meals, monogamy, and discretion—who would have thought our origins were so sedate?