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."