Thursday, January 27, 2011

Men more likely to stick with girlfriends who sleep with other women than other men

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Men are more than twice as likely to continue dating a girlfriend who has cheated on them with another woman than one who has cheated with another man, according to new research from a University of Texas at Austin psychologist.

Women show the opposite pattern. They are more likely to continue dating a man who has had a heterosexual affair than one who has had a homosexual affair.

The study, published last month in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, provides new insight into the psychological adaptations behind men's desire for a variety of partners and women's desire for a committed partner. These drives have played a key role in the evolution of human mating psychology.

"A robust jealousy mechanism is activated in men and women by different types of cues — those that threaten paternity in men and those that threaten abandonment in women," says Jaime C. Confer, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate in evolutionary psychology.

Confer conducted the study with her father, Mark D. Cloud, a psychology professor at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.

The researchers asked 700 college students to imagine they were in a committed romantic and sexual relationship with someone they've been dating for three months. They were then asked how they would respond to infidelity committed by the imagined partner.

Some participants were told their partners had been unfaithful with a man, others with a woman. Some were told their partners had an affair with one person, others with multiple partners. Some were told the infidelity happened once, others twice.

Regardless of the number of episodes or partners, the study found that:

Overall, men demonstrated a 50 percent likelihood of continuing to date a partner who has had a homosexual affair and a 22 percent likelihood of staying with a woman after a heterosexual affair.
Women demonstrated a 28 percent likelihood of continuing to date a boyfriend who has had a heterosexual affair and a 21 percent likelihood of staying with someone who has had a homosexual affair.
The findings suggest men are more distressed by the type of infidelity that could threaten their paternity of offspring. Men may also view a partner's homosexual affair as an opportunity to mate with more than one woman simultaneously, satisfying men's greater desire for more partners, the authors say.

"These findings are even more remarkable given that homosexuality attitude surveys show men have more negative attitudes toward homosexuality and to be less supportive of civil rights for same-sex couples than women. However, this general trend of men showing lower tolerance for homosexuality than women is reversed in the one fitness-enhancing situation—female homosexuality," say the authors.

Conversely, women objected to continuing a relationship following both types of affairs, but especially so for a boyfriend's homosexual affair. Such an affair may be seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with the current relationship and a prelude to possible abandonment, according to the authors.

Participants were also asked the outcomes of real-life infidelity experiences. Results mirrored those of the imagined infidelity scenarios: Men were significantly more likely than women to have ended their actual relationships following a partner's (presumably heterosexual) affair.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Language of Young Love: The Ways Couples Talk Can Predict Relationship Success

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We know that people tend to be attracted to, date, and marry other people who resemble themselves in terms of personality, values, and physical appearance. However, these features only skim the surface of what makes a relationship work. The ways that people talk are also important. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that people who speak in similar styles are more compatible.

The study focused on words called “function words.” These aren’t nouns and verbs; they’re the words that show how those words relate. They’re hard to explicitly define, but we use them all the time—words like the, a, be, anything, that, will, him, and and. How we use these words constitutes our writing and speaking style, says study coauthor James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin.

“Function words are highly social and they require social skills to use,” he says. “For example, if I’m talking about the article that’s coming out, and in a few minutes I make some reference to ‘the article,’ you and I both know what the article means.” But someone who wasn’t part of that conversation wouldn’t understand.

Pennebaker, Molly Ireland, and their colleagues examined whether the speaking and writing styles couples adopt during conversation with each other predict future dating behavior and the long-term strength of relationships. They conducted two experiments in which a computer program compared partners’ language styles.

In the first study, pairs of college students had four-minute speed dates while their conversations were recorded. Almost every pair covered the same topics: What’s your major? Where are you from? How do you like college? Every conversation sounded more or less the same to the naked ear, but text analysis revealed stark differences in language synchrony. The pairs whose language style matching scores were above average were almost four times as likely to want future contact as pairs whose speaking styles were out of sync.

A second study revealed the same pattern in everyday online chats between dating couples over the course of 10 days. Almost 80 percent of the couples whose writing style matched were still dating three months later, compared with approximately 54 percent of the couples who didn’t match as well.

What people are saying to each other is important, but how they are saying it may be even more telling. People aren’t consciously synchronizing their speech, Pennebaker says. “What’s wonderful about this is we don’t really make that decision; it just comes out of our mouths.”

INTERACTIVE APPLICATION: Are you wondering whether you and your partner have matching language styles? Visit James Pennebaker’s “In Synch: Language Style Matching” application online to find out!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Young Adults' Sexual Relationships Increasingly Favor Men

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While young women's educational and career opportunities have skyrocketed over the past two decades, their opportunities for stable, long-term relationships have declined, according to new research from sociologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

In their new book "Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying," (Oxford, 2011) researchers Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker detail the sexual attitudes, behaviors and experiences of Americans between the ages of 18 and 23. The research goes beyond the clichés about salaciousness within the largely white Greek system to provide a nuanced view of the experiences of a much wider swath of young adults.

"Hooking up gets all the attention but most sex occurs in relationships," says Regnerus.

In an era when marriage is often far from the minds of young Americans, the book provides a fuller understanding of why that is, how the place of sex in romantic relationships has shifted and what that means for young adults. The outlook for relationship security, he claims, is more grim than ever.

"There have been many changes in romantic and sexual behavior over the past 30 years," says Regnerus. "One is that the 'price of sex' among unmarried Americans has dipped to an all-time low."

Regnerus and Uecker describe the "price of sex" as the cost — to men — of romance, status, stability and commitment that men exchange for access to sex in a relationship. They argue that despite women's successes, contemporary relationships are becoming more male-centered than ever, with men gaining access to sex earlier and more often, yet providing fewer and later commitments than a generation ago.

"It is, in part, one of the unintended consequences of women's educational and professional success," Regnerus says. "Women no longer need men. When that's the case, how relationships develop will change. And they have.

"Men's economic and educational successes have stalled, creating an environment in which fewer educated and financially-stable men are selecting mates from a larger pool of educated and financially-stable women," he says. "It's created an imbalance that tips relationship power in the direction of the men. Instead of men competing for women, today women feel like they must compete for men."

The authors used data from four national surveys and dozens of face-to-face interviews to compile this unprecedented study.

Men also generally display few emotional consequences in their sexual choices, while women have a harder time dealing with "no strings attached" sex, the authors write. "For them, the strings are often what makes sex satisfying," says Regnerus. Women, he notes, also "seem to be happier when they’re in a relationship than when they’re not."

The book also looks at differing sexual attitudes and practices among conservatives and liberals. Conservatives tend to marry earlier but also divorce earlier, while liberals often exhibit a longer period of sexual experimentation before marriage.

YOUNG COUPLES CAN’T AGREE ON WHETHER THEY HAVE AGREED TO BE MONOGAMOUS

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While monogamy is often touted as a way to protect against disease, young couples who say they have discussed monogamy can’t seem to agree on what they decided. And a significant percentage of those couples who at least agreed that they would be monogamous weren't.

A new study of 434 young heterosexual couples ages 18-25 found that, in 40 percent of couples, only one partner says the couple agreed to be sexually exclusive. The other partner said there was no agreement.

Public health researchers Jocelyn Warren and Marie Harvey of Oregon State University looked at data from the PARTNERS Project, a Center for Disease Control-funded study conducted by Harvey. The researchers said this study showed that many couples are misjudging their partners’ risk behaviors. The results are in a forthcoming article published online in the Journal of Sex Research.

“Other studies have looked at perceptions related to monogamy, but this is really the first one that explores the discussions that heterosexual couples are – or aren’t – having about monogamy,” Warren said. “Miscommunication and misunderstandings about sexual exclusivity appear to be common.”

Previous research has shown that condom use tends to decline as relationships become more intimate and steady over time. Yet Warren and Harvey’s study shows that some couples may not be communicating effectively on the terms of their relationship. Even among those who agreed they had an explicit agreement to be monogamous, almost 30 percent had broken the agreement, with at least one partner having had sex outside the relationship.

Harvey, a leading researcher in the field of sexual and reproductive health, said this study adds to a growing body of research on safer sex communication.

“Couples have a hard time talking about these sorts of issues, and I would imagine for young people it’s even more difficult,” she said. “Monogamy comes up quite a bit as a way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. But you can see that agreement on whether one is monogamous or not is fraught with issues.”

The couples surveyed included both married and non-married couples. Interestingly, couples with children were less likely to have a monogamy agreement in place. Married couples were no more likely to have an explicit monogamy agreement in place than other couples.

Only commitment was related to sustained monogamy. Relationship commitment was assessed using an accepted measurement scale where participants rated themselves from one to five (five being highest) on questions such as “You view your relationship as permanent.” With every unit increase in the commitment scale, the odds that the couple had a sustained monogamy agreement increased almost three-fold.

“Relationship variables appear to be related to monogamy,” Harvey said. “But factors such as marriage and children did not increase the likelihood that the couple had agreed to monogamy.”

Warren said couples become monogamous generally for emotional reasons, to show love and trust in a relationship. Yet the concern is that a lack of communication between heterosexual couples is leading to unintended risks.

Harvey said the sexual behavior and protection of young couples is ripe for intervention. She recommends that those who work with young people in clinical and community settings ask what kind of protection they are using. “And if they answer that their partner is monogamous, they may want to think about advising that young person to use protection,” Harvey said.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Partners Perceive Each Other's Emotion During A Relationship Fight

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Some of the most intense emotions people feel occur during a conflict in a romantic relationship. Now, new research from Baylor University psychologists shows that how each person perceives the other partner's emotion during a conflict greatly influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in themselves.

Dr. Keith Sanford, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor in Baylor's department of psychology and neuroscience, College of Arts and Sciences, and his research team studied 105 college students in romantic relationships as they communicated through different arguments over an eight-week period. Sanford focused on how emotion changed within each person across episodes of relationship conflict. They found demonstrated links between different types of emotion, different types of underlying concern, and different types of perceived partner emotion.

Sanford distinguished between two types of negative emotion as "hard" and "soft." "Hard" emotion is associated with asserting power, whereas "soft" emotion is associated with expressing vulnerability. Sanford's research also identified a type of underlying concern as "perceived threat," which involves a perception that one's partner is being hostile, critical, blaming or controlling. Another type of concern is called "perceived neglect," which involves a perception that one's partner is failing to make a desired contribution or failing to demonstrate an ideal level of commitment or investment in the relationship.

Sanford said the results show that people perceive a threat to their control, power and status in the relationship when they observe an increase in partner hard emotion and they perceive partner neglect when they observe an increase in partner flat emotion or a decrease in partner soft emotion. Both perceived threat and perceived neglect, in turn, are associated with increases in one's own hard and soft emotions, with the effects for perceived neglect being stronger than the effects for perceived threat.

"In other words, what you perceive your partner to be feeling influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in yourself, whether what you perceive is actually correct," Sanford said. "In a lot of ways, this study confirms scientifically what we would have expected. Previously, we did not actually know that these specific linkages existed, but they are clearly theoretically expected. If a person perceives the other as angry, they will perceive a threat so they will respond with a hard emotion like anger or blame. Likewise, if a person is perceived to be sad or vulnerable, they will perceive a neglect and will respond either flat or soft."

The study appeared in the journal Personal Relationships.

Sanford said some of the most interesting results in the study pertain to a complex pattern of associations observed for soft emotion. As expected, partner soft emotion was associated with decreased concerns over neglect, whereas self soft emotion was associated with increased concerns over neglect. Sanford said this is consistent with the idea that soft emotion is a socially focused emotion, often triggered by attachment-related concerns, and that expressions of soft emotion signal one's own desire and willingness to invest in a relationship.

The study was supported in part by funds from the Faculty Research Investment Program and the Vice Provost for Research at Baylor.

Website

While every relationship has conflicts, it is how a couple deals with and resolves the conflict that is important. Sanford, who has conducted extensive research on how couples can best resolve relationship conflicts, has created a conflict resolution web site for couples totally based on his research. Called the Couple Conflict Consultant, the program utilizes a personalized approach, instead of forcing participants into a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

To take a conflict resolution test, click here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Men with macho faces attractive to fertile women, researchers find

When their romantic partners are not quintessentially masculine, women in their fertile phase are more likely to fantasize about masculine-looking men than are women paired with George Clooney types.

But women with masculine-looking partners do not necessarily become more attracted to their partners, a recent study co-authored by a University of Colorado at Boulder researcher concludes.

Meanwhile, a man's intelligence has no effect on the extent to which fertile, female partners fantasize about others, the researchers found. They say the lack of an observed "fertility effect" related to intelligence is puzzling.

The findings augment the emerging understanding of how human sexual selection evolved over time, and how the vestiges of that evolution are evident today.

The findings come from a study published recently in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. The study was conducted by Steven Gangestad and Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico and Christine Garver-Apgar, a postdoctoral fellow at CU's Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

A "masculine face" has a relatively pronounced chin, strong jaw, narrow eyes and well-defined brow. George Clooney fits this bill, Gangestad suggests. A less-masculine face, on the other hand, would include a less-pronounced jaw and wider eyes, a la Pee-wee Herman.

But this does not mean that pretty boys are less attractive as life partners.

"When they rate men's sexiness, in a sense, that's when (women) show the shift," Gangestad told LiveScience, an online journal. "If they rate men's attractiveness as a long-term partner, then they don't show it."

The team interviewed 66 heterosexual couples in which women's ages ranged from 18 to 44. Their relationships ranged from one month to 20 years in length. Nine couples were married.

A host of studies has shown that women's interest in men with masculine features peaks during ovulation. But this study is the first to confirm that the effect occurs in real couples.

"The effects of facial masculinity and attractiveness fit in a larger picture that has emerged," says Garver-Apgar.

The prevailing wisdom during much of the last half-century was that women did not experience estrus, the period in which other primates signal their fertility with swollen genitals. But newer research suggests that women may not have lost all remnants of estrus.

Evolutionary biologists have documented that women are choosy when fertile, and their freedom to choose mates is increased because their fertile phase is not advertised as it is in other primates. A growing body of evidence suggests that, when most fertile, women gravitate toward males who show signs of good genetic quality.

Masculine facial features suggest that a man is of good genetic quality, because he had the resources during development not only to survive but also to expend energy on a macho visage. Rugged-looking jaws and eyebrows are signals of testosterone.

Instead of using his energy on other features or to maintain his immune system, the masculine-looking male may have had a "surplus energy budget," Garver-Apgar says.

During development, individuals make trade-offs. They can build big brains, large muscles or stronger immune systems. Brains, brawn and immunity may all compete for the same resources.

While it is not surprising that women's gazes would fall on masculine-looking men when they are most fertile, Garver-Apgar says the lack of a similar effect with intelligence is perplexing.

"That we didn't find any effect of men's intelligence on their partners' sexual interests across the cycle is important because some evidence suggests that intelligence associates with genetic quality."

But the data on the intelligence-attraction equation are mixed. If intelligence correlates with good genetic quality, Garver-Apgar wonders, why is it that intelligence is not among those traits that women prefer mid-cycle? "Why don't you see a fertility effect?"

Further research should help answer those questions, she and her co-authors suggest.

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For more on this story, see Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine at http://artsandsciences.colorado.edu/magazine.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

High-Earning Women Want Older, More Attractive Partners

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Research at the University of Abertay Dundee discovered that as women become more financially independent, they want an older, more attractive male partner.

Studies have previously found that women place greater emphasis on whether a man can provide for them, while men place more importance on good looks. The new study revealed that as women earn more and become more independent, their tastes actually change.

The finding suggests that greater financial independence gives women greater confidence in choosing their partner. Instinctive preferences for material stability and security become less important, physical attractiveness becomes more important, and the age of partner women pick also increases.

Lead researcher Dr Fhionna Moore, a psychology lecturer at the University of Abertay Dundee, said: "Previous research shows that men place greater importance on physical attractiveness when picking a partner, whereas women focus much more on whether someone can provide material resources.

"We'd assumed that as women earn more, their partner preferences would actually become more like those of men, with a tendency towards preferring younger, more attractive partners rather than those who can provide and care for children.

"However, the preferred age difference did not change as we'd expected -- more financially independent women actually preferred even older men. We think this suggests greater financial independence gives women more confidence in partner choices, and attracts them to powerful, attractive older men."

The study was conducted online with 3770 heterosexual participants, who were asked questions about their background and personal situation, and their level of financial independence. 1851 women and 1919 men took part in the research.

Participants ranked a series of criteria such as physical attraction, financial prospects and sense of humour in order of importance, with these results matched against their income and financial independence.

"The behaviour of men and women does become more similar as women earn more, but only in terms of the importance of physical attraction," Dr Moore added. "But the similarities stop there: greater income makes women prefer even older men, and men prefer even younger women."

The popular stereotype of powerful women adopting male patterns of behaviour is strongly questioned by these new results.

Instead, as women become more independent it seems they have the confidence to pick partners from a wider age range -- and are much more confident in making physical attraction their number one consideration.

The research is published in the latest online issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology.