Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Imbalanced gender ratios could affect views about casual sex and hook-up culture



The greater proportion of women than men on college campuses may contribute to a hook-up culture where women are more willing to engage in casual sex and are more aggressive toward other desirable women who are perceived as rivals, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

In the first experimental study to examine this issue, researchers found an imbalanced gender ratio affects views about casual sex for both men and women in ways that people may not consciously realize.

"If your gender is in the majority, then you have to compete with a lot of rivals, and you can't be as selective or choosy," said lead researcher Justin Moss, an adjunct psychology professor at Florida State University. "You might also have to cater to the demands of the other sex more often."

The gender ratio at U.S. colleges has become more skewed over the past decade as more women attend college and graduate at higher rates than men, who are more likely to drop out. Last year, 57 percent of college students in the United States were women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, with the gender ratio even more imbalanced at some schools. The study findings could have important practical implications about risky sexual behavior at colleges and in other areas, including efforts to reduce teen pregnancy rates and workplace sexual harassment, Moss said.

In one experiment, 129 heterosexual university students (82 women, 47 men) read one of two fake news articles stating that colleges in the local surrounding area were becoming either more female-prevalent or male-prevalent. The participants then completed a survey about their attitudes toward casual sex and their prior sexual history. The research was published online in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

When the gender ratio was favorable (one's own gender was in the minority), both men and women adopted more traditional sexual roles with women less interested in casual sex than men, according to the study findings. When the gender ratio was unfavorable (one's own gender was in the majority), those roles shifted as men and women tried to appear more desirable to the opposite sex. If there were more women than men, women stated they were more willing to engage in casual sex. If there were more men than women, men tended to place less importance on casual sex and be more open to long-term commitment.

In another experiment with 177 university students (73 women, 104 men), both men and women were more willing to deliver painful sound blasts to attractive same-sex competitors when the gender ratio was unfavorable. After participants read either the male-prevalent or female-prevalent article from the first experiment, they were told they would be competing on a time-reaction task against a same-sex partner in another room, although there was no real partner and the participants' responses were recorded by the researchers. One group was shown a picture of an attractive competitor who was described as an outgoing, sociable student, while the other group saw a photo of a less attractive competitor who didn't go out much and played a lot of video games.

In the time-reaction task, the participants were told to hit a computer key as soon as they heard a tone played through some headphones. When participants lost, they heard a painfully loud noise blast. When they won, they got to choose the length and volume of the noise blast that ostensibly would be inflicted on the competitor.

Participants who believed there was an unfavorable gender ratio were more likely to display unprovoked aggression with longer and louder noise blasts against attractive partners. The same effects weren't seen for unattractive partners, possibly because they weren't seen as a threat. When the gender ratio was favorable for participants, they were less aggressive toward attractive competitors.

The study participants were heterosexual so the findings don't necessarily apply to gay men or lesbian women. College campuses often have insular dating scenes so the research may not be as directly relevant to the general population where gender ratios are less skewed. However, Moss believes the same effects may be seen in other areas with imbalanced gender ratios, such as high schools or workplaces that are predominantly male or female, and even in smaller environments like bars.

"If a woman goes to a bar and notices a lot more women and thinks she has to compete, maybe she can consciously alter the course of her actions or leave and go to a different bar," Moss said. "Someone's personal views toward casual sex play an important role, but there also are environmental factors that people should consider."


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Live together or get married? Study finds similar emotional benefits


When it comes to emotional health, young couples -- especially women -- do just as well moving in together as they do getting married, according to a new national study.

Using data collected in the 2000s, researchers found that single young women experienced a similar decline in emotional distress when they moved in with a romantic partner or when they went straight to marriage for the first time.

Men experienced a drop in emotional distress only when they went directly to marriage, not when they moved in with a romantic partner for the first time.

But for young adults who moved on from that first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them.
The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences at The Ohio State University.
As recently as the early 1990s, young people still received emotional health benefits when they went from living together to getting married, Mernitz said.

"Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage," she said. "There's no additional boost from getting married."

The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State, said the results may reflect the fact that cohabiting today does not carry the same stigma as in previous generations. Nowadays, about two-thirds of couples live together before marriage.
 
"At one time marriage may have been seen as the only way for young couples to get the social support and companionship that is important for emotional health," Kamp Dush said.

"It's not that way anymore. We're finding that marriage isn't necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health."

Another significant finding was that the emotional benefits of cohabitation or marriage aren't limited to first relationships. The study found that young adults experienced a drop in emotional distress when they moved from a first relationship into cohabitation or marriage with a second partner.

"The young people in our study may be selecting better partners for themselves the second time around, which is why they are seeing a drop in emotional distress," Kamp Dush said.

The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. This study included 8,700 people who were born between 1980 and 1984 and were interviewed every other year from 2000 to 2010.

The NLSY97 is conducted by Ohio State's Center for Human Resource Research for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition to asking about their relationship status at each interview, participants were asked five questions assessing their levels of emotional distress. They reported on a scale of 1 (all of the time) to 4 (none of the time) how often in the past month they had felt 'downhearted and blue' and other symptoms.

This study has advantages over studies that simply compare groups of people who are single, married and cohabiting.

"We are able to look at people over a 10-year period and see what happens to them individually as they make these various transitions in their relationships," Mernitz said.

The study did find some gender differences, at least for first unions of marriage or cohabitation. For those entering a first union, men experienced a decrease in emotional distress only if they went directly into marriage. There was no change in distress for men who cohabited with a female partner.

That may be because men are more likely than women to report cohabiting as a way to test a relationship, which has been linked in other research to subsequent relationship problems.

Also, Kamp Dush noted that this study assessed only emotional distress. Other research suggests that behavioral indicators of health -- such as alcohol use or violence -- may be more accurate for men than emotional indicators.

In any case, the gender differences were visible for only first unions. There were no differences in emotional health changes for men and women entering their second union, whether they were marriage or cohabitation.

The study also found that individuals who gave birth (or whose partner gave birth) showed significant decreases in emotional distress compared to those who did not have a child.

That may seem surprising, given the stress associated with having a child, Kamp Dush said. But she noted that this study looked only at emotional distress. There may be other ways in which the stress of raising a child is manifested in these couples.

Kamp Dush said that marriage may provide some benefits over cohabitation that were not measured in this study, such as stability. But these findings provide evidence of a changing landscape in the United States.

"It's not commonly known that couples can get emotional benefits from moving in together without being married. That's something we should be talking about," she said.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Adolescents become less similar to their friends and more similar to romantic partners after they start a new romantic relationship


A new study published in Developmental Psychology put to test the hypothesis that adolescents become less similar to their friends and more similar to romantic partners after they start a new romantic relationship. Results of the study showed that adolescents who dated were more similar to dating partners than to friends on measures of alcohol abuse. Non-daters who started dating changed from being more similar to friends to being more similar to romantic partners. This is the first study to use longitudinal data to demonstrate changes in friend similarity that follow from the initiation of a romantic relationship.

"The results confirm what most friends complain about - romantic partners are a distraction from friendships," said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., one of the authors and a professor and graduate studies coordinator in the Department of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University. "It also is a stark reminder how the peer social world changes during adolescence. Same-sex friends become less important and romantic affiliations become more important."

Similarity is the hallmark of adolescent friendships and not coincidently, most single adolescents report friends to be among their most important relationships. However, the start of a new romantic relationship alters the balance of close relationships. As romantic relationships surpass friendships in terms of importance, adolescents are inclined to change to become more similar to their romantic partners, even if it means that differences arise with friends.

"Much attention is given to the role that friends play in the acquisition and reinforcement of health-risk behaviors," said Laursen. "Adolescents rarely drink alone, so concerns over peer pressure to experiment with and abuse alcohol are well placed. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that initial involvement in romantic relationships tend to coincide with initial exposure to alcohol."

In the first part of the study, participants (662 girls, 574 boys) ranging in age from 12 to 19 years, nominated friends and romantic partners, and completed a measure of alcohol abuse. Friends with romantic partners were less similar on rates of alcohol abuse than friends without romantic partners, especially if they were older and less well-liked by classmates.

The second part of the study focused on a subsample (266 boys, 374 girls) of adolescents who reported friendships that were stable across two consecutive years. At the outset, neither friend was involved in a romantic relationship. Using this longitudinal subsample made it possible to measure changes in friend similarity for those who did and did not begin a romantic relationship.

Similarity between friend reports of alcohol abuse declined after one or both of the adolescents became involved in a romantic relationship, to the point where they became more similar to their romantic partners than to their friends.

Levels of alcohol consumption did not differ for adolescents with romantic partners and adolescents without.

"The findings suggest that participation in a romantic relationship does not elevate the risk of alcohol abuse beyond that involved in participation in friendships," said Laursen. "Instead, it is the source of the risk that changes. Friends no longer shape drinking habits the way they used to. Romantic partners now dictate terms. Your friends were right: You aren't the same person you were when you were single."


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Couples who have sex weekly are happiest


More sex may not always make you happier, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. 
"Although more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week," lead researcher Amy Muise said. "Our findings suggest that it's important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, but you don't need to have sex everyday as long as you're maintaining that connection."
Some previous studies, and a plethora of articles and self-help books, have claimed that more sex equals more happiness. But this study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 Americans collected over four decades, is the first to find that association is not there after couples report having sex more than once a week on average. The study was not designed to identify the causal process, so does not tell us whether having sex up to once a week makes couples happier, or being in a happy relationship causes people to have more frequent sex (up to once a week).
In addition, these findings were specific to people in romantic relationships and in fact, there was no association between sexual frequency and wellbeing for single people, said Muise, a social psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto-Mississauga. It's possible that for single people, the link between sex and happiness is dependent on a number of factors such as the relationship context in which the sex occurs and how comfortable people are with sex outside of relationship. The findings, which were published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, are most representative of married heterosexual couples or those in established relationships.
In one study, researchers analyzed survey responses about sexual frequency and general happiness from more than 25,000 Americans (11,285 men, 14,225 women) who took the General Social Survey from 1989 to 2012. The biennial survey, conducted by the University of Chicago, has a nationally representative sample and covers a wide range of sociological issues, including opinions about race relations, religion and sex. For couples, happiness tended to increase with more frequent sex, but this is no longer true after couples report engaging in sex more than once a week. This study and other previous studies report that established couples tend to have sex about once a week on average. 
Despite common stereotypes that men want more sex and older people have less sex, there was no difference in the findings based on gender, age or length of relationship. "Our findings were consistent for men and women, younger and older people, and couples who had been married for a few years or decades," Muise said. 
Sex may be more strongly associated with happiness than is money. The researchers also conducted an online survey with 335 people (138 men, 197 women) who were in long-term relationships and found similar results as the first study. These participants were also asked about their annual income, and there was a larger difference in happiness between people who had sex less than once a month compared to people who had sex once a week than between people who had an income of $15,000-$25,000 compared to people who had an income of $50,000-$75,000 per year. 
"People often think that more money and more sex equal more happiness, but this is only true up to a point," Muise said. 
A third study analyzed survey results collected at three time points over 14 years from more than 2,400 married couples in the United States. There wasn't a strong link between sexual frequency and overall life satisfaction, but couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships as sexual frequency increased up to once per week, with no noticeable benefits of engaging in sex more often. 
The study findings don't necessarily mean that couples should engage in more or less sex to reach the weekly average, but partners should discuss whether their sexual needs are being met, Muise said. 
"It's important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner without putting too much pressure on engaging in sex as frequently as possible," she said.


Monday, November 2, 2015

New study suggests fair division of chores leads to better sex life


Looking for more and better sex? If you're a man, you might consider doing the dishes once in a while.

A new study out of the University of Alberta reveals that couples enjoyed more frequent and satisfying sex for both partners when men made a fair contribution to housework. The same study also found there's no relationship between the amount of housework male partners completed and the sexual functioning of a couple.

The new study contradicts a widely reported 2012 US study entitled Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage (Kornrich et al. 2012) that stated that when men perform what is regarded traditionally as female housework, things like doing the dishes, cooking and laundry, the couple had less sex.

"(That study) didn't ring true," said Dr. Matt Johnson, a family ecology professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. "It didn't fit with my intuition and background experiences as a couple's therapist."

Johnson pored over data from a five-year study of 1,338 German couples to see if the amount of housework the male partner did was a predictor of a couple's sex life. He didn't find any connection. He also looked men's perception of whether they made a fair contribution to housework, and how that was related to their sex life.

"In any relationship, the amount of housework is going to mean something different based on the couple's context, based on their own expectations for what each partner should be doing, and their comparison levels of what happens with other couples they know," Johnson explained.

He found that when men perceived their contributions to the division of labour as fair, the couple engaged in more frequent sex and both male and female partners were more satisfied with their sex life.

Johnson acknowledged there are cultural differences between Germany and the US and explained that Germany tends to have more traditional gender roles than the US. And men, on average, tend to do less housework there, based on some studies, than in North America.

"There are cultural differences but if the logic held from the prior studies, we would have expected to have a more pronounced negative impact of housework on sexuality in Germany because it's a bit more traditional. But that wasn't the case at all," said Johnson.

He added that the findings are important for couples seeking to maintain sexual intimacy while balancing the demands of daily life.

"Rather than avoiding chores in the hopes of having more sex, as prior research would imply, men are likely to experience more frequent and satisfying passion for both partners between the sheets when they simply do their fair share."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chapman University publishes research on attractiveness and mating


Chapman University has published research on what people find "desirable" and "essential" in a long-term partner based on two of the largest national studies of mate preferences ever conducted.

This research supports the long-held belief that people with desirable traits have a stronger "bargaining hand" and can be more selective when choosing romantic partners, but it also challenges other commonly held mating beliefs. The studies examined how heterosexual mate preferences differed according to a person's gender, age, personal income, education and appearance satisfaction.

"We looked at the extent to which attractiveness and resources are 'desirable' versus 'essential' to men and women when they are looking for a long-term partner," said David Frederick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University and a co-author on the study. "We've known for a long time that men care more about attractiveness in a long term partner, and women care more about resources. In two national datasets, we found that gender was by far the strongest predictor of what people want in a long-term mate: it was more important than age, income, education, or confidence in appearance. We found that although men have stronger preferences for a 'good looking' and 'slender' partner, men and women care equally about having a partner who is specifically attractive to them. Wealthier men and people who were more confident in their appearance had stronger preferences for a good-looking partner, and older men and women placed less importance on looks and income traits when seeking a long-term partner," continued Dr. Frederick.

The study took a "mating market" approach which is defined as heterosexual individuals compete with others of the same gender to make "bids" to members of the other gender for the purposes of securing a romantic partner. People with desirable traits are in a position to be more selective about what they look for in mate. The mating market metaphor can be extended to include a distinction between partner "necessities" (what people find essential in a partner) and partner "luxuries" (what people would prefer to have in a partner, but could live without).

Here are some of the findings broken down by category:

Gender Differences: Specifically, the study revealed that men and women differed in the percentage indicating:

  • it was 'desirable/essential' that their potential partner was good-looking (M 92 percent vs. W 84 percent),
  • had a slender body (M 80 percent vs. W 58 percent),
  • had a steady income (M 74 percent vs. W 97 percent),
  • and made/will make a lot of money (M 47 percent vs. W 69 percent).
  •  
There were also gender differences in whether it was 'very important/a must have' that their partner made at least as much money as they do (M 24 percent vs. W 46 percent) and had a successful career (M 33 percent vs. W 61 percent), but not in whether their partner was physically attractive to them (M 40 percent vs. W 42 percent).

Confidence in Physical Attractiveness: People who reported greater satisfaction with their own appearance did not have stronger preferences for a partner who is physically attractive to them, but they did report stronger preferences for partners who are good looking and slender - this was true for both men and women.

Income: People with higher incomes had stronger preferences for partners who are good looking - and this was true for both men and women. Men with higher incomes showed stronger preferences for women with slender bodies. Wealthier women had stronger preferences for men who had a steady income or made lots of money.

Education: Men with more education had stronger preferences for female partners who are good looking and slender; however for both men and women, education level was not related to preferences for steady income or making a lot of money.

Age: Older people - both men and women - had weaker preferences for a partner they find physically attractive, who make as much money as they do, and who has a successful career.

A total of nearly 28,000 heterosexual participants ages 18 to 75 years completed the surveys.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Men and women are different when it comes to feeling jealous about sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity



In the largest study to date on infidelity, Chapman University has learned men and women are different when it comes to feeling jealous. In a poll of nearly 64,000 Americans this study provides the first large-scale examination of gender and sexual orientation differences in response to potential sexual versus emotional infidelity in U.S. adults.

According to the findings, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be most upset by sexual infidelity (54 percent of men vs. 35 percent of women) and less likely than heterosexual women to be most upset by emotional infidelity (46 percent of men vs. 65 percent of women).

Participants imagined what would upset them more: their partners having sex with someone else (but not falling in love with them) or their partners falling in love with someone else (but not having sex with them). Consistent with the evolutionary perspective, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be upset by sexual infidelity and less likely than heterosexual women to be upset by emotional infidelity. Bisexual men and women did not differ significantly. Gay men and lesbian women also did not differ.

"Heterosexual men really stand out from all other groups: they were the only ones who were much more likely to be most upset by sexual infidelity rather than emotional infidelity," said David Frederick, Ph.D., and lead author on the study. He went on to note: "The attitudes of gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women have been historically understudied and under theorized in psychology, particularly in regards to tests of evolutionary perspectives."

Sexual and emotional infidelity can cause harm to both men and women, including leading to broken hearts and relationships coming to an abrupt and painful end; as well as abandonment, partner violence, and loss of resources when these resources are invested into affair partners.

"The responses of men and women to the threat of infidelity range from intense pangs of jealousy to elaborate displays of attention to woo their partner back. Jealousy can also trigger harmful and violent behavior, so it is important to understand what are the most potent triggers of jealousy," said Dr. Frederick.

The evolutionary perspective notes that men face a problem that women never face: paternal uncertainty. They never know if their child is genetically related to them, there is always a chance the child could have been fathered by another man. In contrast, women never face the problem of maternal uncertainty. Thus, while it is expected that both men and women experience sexual jealousy, men may exhibit particularly heightened responses compared with women. Further, while women do not face maternal uncertainty, they risk the potential loss of resources and commitment from partners if they channel their investment to another mate.

Sociocultural perspectives have generally claimed that no difference would be expected between men and women. However, this study notes that men are socialized to be masculine, which includes having great sexual prowess. If a man's partner commits sexual infidelity, this brings into question his sexual prowess and therefore threatens his masculinity, which leads him to react more negatively to his partner committing sexual rather than emotional infidelity.

In contrast, women are taught to think relationally and to be the emotional nurturers in a relationship. If their partner commits emotional infidelity, this may threaten her sense of self more so than if her partner commits sexual infidelity.
"There has been significant disagreement about whether or not men and women tend to differ in their responses to sexual and emotional infidelity. Most research relies on small samples or college samples. We set out to examine a broad and diverse sample of Americans," said Dr. Frederick.

Consistent with evolutionary perspective, one's reaction to sexual verses emotional infidelity is likely shaped by environmental and personal factors. This gender difference emerged across age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, and length. Factors such as age, income and whether people had children were unrelated to upset over sexual versus emotional infidelity. However, younger participants were notably more upset by sexual infidelity than older participants.

A review of ethnographic accounts from 16 societies found that infidelity was the most common cause of marital dissolution. A meta-analysis of 50 studies found that 34 percent of men and 24 percent of women have engaged in extramarital sexual activities. Infidelity in dating relationships is even higher.

A total of 63,894 participants ages 18-65 years completed the survey. On average, participants were in their late 30s.

The paper appears in the journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior.