Friday, February 26, 2016

Women who feel more at risk of crime also prefer physically dominant partners

Women who prefer physically formidable and dominant mates (PPFDM) tend to feel more at risk of crime regardless of the situation or risk factors present, according to research from the University of Leicester.
Previous research suggests that women who grow up in high-crime areas and perceive they are at risk of criminal victimisation find dominant men more appealing, perhaps because of the protection they can offer. 
However, the University of Leicester team suggests that women who are attracted to dominant men generally feel more at risk of victimisation, even when their risk of victimisation is actually low. 
PhD researcher Hannah Ryder from the University of Leicester's Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, explained: "PPFDM appears to be associated with women's self-assessed vulnerability. Women with strong PPFDM feel relatively more at risk, fearful, and vulnerable to criminal victimisation compared to their counterparts, regardless of whether there are situational risk factors present.
"Our research suggests that the relationship between feelings of vulnerability, as measured by fear of crime, and women's preference for physically formidable and dominant mates is stable, and does not update according to environmental circumstances or relative level of protection needed."
The study involved assessing whether the relationship between fear of crime and PPFDM was higher for crimes that cause relatively higher physical and psychological pain, such as sexual assault.
Across two studies in the lab and field, women observed images and real life situations that varied in the risk of crime, such as crime hotspots and safespots, and were asked to rate their perceived risk of victimisation - a measure of fear of crime - of various crimes. 
This included male - and female - perpetrated physical assault and robbery and male-perpetrated rape. 
In both studies, the research team also administered a scale that measured women's PPFDM, and assessed the association between women's PPFDM score and their risk perception scores. 
The study found that women's fear of crime significantly differed in response to crime cues - for example location and time of day - and that overall fear of crime was related to PPFDM. 
However, the relationship between PPFDM and fear did not vary in relation to risk situation, perpetrator gender, or crime type, suggesting that the psychological mechanisms underlying the relationship between perceived risk of victimisation and PPFDM are general in nature. 
The research was undertaken as part of Hannah's PhD project at the University of Leicester and was funded by a Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG) research grant. 
Study co-authors include Dr Heather Flowe from Loughborough University, Dr John Maltby and Lovedeep Rai from the University of Leicester and Dr Phil Jones from the University of Birmingham. 
The study, 'Women's fear of crime and preference for formidable mates: How specific are the underlying psychological mechanisms?' published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour is available here:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What keeps passion alive in long-term relationships

A Chapman University psychologist and his interdisciplinary research team have just published a study examining the sexual satisfaction -- or dissatisfaction -- of heterosexual couples in long-term relationships, and what contributes to keeping sexual passion alive. In one of the largest studies to date that scientifically examines what contributes to a satisfying long-term sex life, the findings indicate foreplay, setting the mood, mixing it up, and expressing love are all factors that satisfied couples said they do regularly.
"Sexual satisfaction and maintenance of passion were higher among people who had sex more frequently, received more oral sex, had more consistent orgasms, incorporated more variety of sexual acts, took the time to set a mood and practiced effective sexual communication," said David Frederick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University and lead author of the study. "Almost half of satisfied and dissatisfied couples read sexual self-help books and magazine articles, but what set sexually satisfied couples apart was that they actually tried some of the ideas."
To gauge sexual satisfaction over time, couples were asked to rate their sex satisfaction in the first six months together and then rate it for now. Dr. Frederick's team learned that the overwhelming majority (83 percent) of people reported they were sexually satisfied in the first six months of the relationship. Only half of people, however, reported currently being satisfied (43 percent of men and 55 percent of women), with the rest feeling neutral (16 percent of men and 18 percent of women) or dissatisfied (41 percent of men and 27 percent of women). Another set of items addressed whether respondents believed their sexual passion was the same, less or better now than early in their relationship.
"We looked at common romantic and sexual behaviors that are rarely assessed in the literature but are likely important contributors to sexual satisfaction," said Dr. Frederick. "For example, while sexual variety is deemed important for sexual satisfaction, evidence on the effectiveness of specific forms of variety -- such as showering together or wearing lingerie or use of sex toys -- is lacking."
Specifically, the research team found that sexually satisfied men and women engaged in more intimate behaviors, such as cuddling, gentle and deep kissing and laughing together during sexual activity; incorporated more acts of sexual variety such as trying new sexual positions or acting out fantasies; more frequently set a romantic or sexual mood such as lighting candles or playing music, and used communication effectively, such as saying "I love you" during sex or sending a teasing text earlier in the day. They also found that sexually satisfied men and women gave and received more oral sex, orgasmed more frequently, and had sex more frequently.
Some key findings of the research included:
  • Satisfied men and women were more likely to report that their last sexual encounter with their partner was "passionate," "loving and tender," or "playful". Nearly half of sexually dissatisfied women (43 percent) said that they were "just going through the motions for my partner's sake" compared to only 13 percent of sexually dissatisfied men during their last sexual encounter. Few people reported feeling pressured into sex by their partner (2 to 3 percent).
  • About half of satisfied men (49 percent) and women (45 percent) reported their last sexual encounter lasted more than 30 minutes, compared to only 26 percent of dissatisfied men and 19 percent of dissatisfied women.
  • Satisfied men and women were more likely than dissatisfied men and women to say they: tried a new sexual position, wore sexy lingerie, took a shower or bath together, talked about or acted out fantasies, gave or had a massage, went on a romantic getaway, tried anal stimulation, made a date night to have sex, or used a sex toy together.
  • Feeling desired by their partners appears to be more of a problem for men than for women. Only 59 percent of men compared to 42 percent of women reported they felt less desired by their partner now than in the beginning. In contrast, two-thirds of men compared with half of women reported feeling as much desire, or more desire, for their partner now as in the beginning of the relationship. 
  • Most men and women reported feeling the same or more emotional closeness during sex now than in the first six months of their relationship (69 percent of men and 72 percent of women). Less than half of dissatisfied men and women, however, felt this way.
Dr. Janet Lever, a co-author on the study, stated "It was encouraging to learn that more than one-third of couples kept passion alive, even after a decade or two together. That won't happen on auto pilot; these couples made a conscious effort to ward off routinization of sex."
The study, called, What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction is Associated with Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study, examined more than 38,747 married or cohabiting heterosexual men and women in the U.S. who had been with their partner for at least three years. The study is published in The Journal of Sex Research, and can be found here. The average age of the sample was 40 years old for women and 46 years old for men.

Study shows teen girls' sexual orientation not always a predictor of sexual behavior

About one in five lesbian and four in five bisexual teen girls who are sexually active had a recent male sex partner, according to a new U.S. study of close to 3,000 adolescent girls that appears in the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study, which was co-authored by researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Graduate Center and City College of the City University of New York, also showed about a third (32 per cent) of lesbian teens discussed using barriers such as condoms or dental dams with their most recent sex partner, compared to 62 per cent for bisexual teens and 73 per cent for their straight peers.
"Our findings highlight that sexual orientation labels and sexual behaviour don't always align -- especially during the teen years," said lead author Michele Ybarra, president of the non-profit research incubator Center for Innovative Public Health Research, in San Clemente, California. "This means that lesbian and bisexual girls may be having unprotected sex with boys -- and with girls."
Lesbians were significantly younger on average (13.8 years) when they first had sex, compared to bisexual (15.1) and heterosexual (15.5) girls. Bisexual teen girls were more likely to have had sex than their heterosexual peers, and both lesbian and bisexual girls had more lifetime partners.
Researchers used data from the 2010-2011 Teen Health and Technology Study, which surveyed 2,823 girls aged 13-18 in the United States.
Study co-author and UBC nursing professor Elizabeth Saewyc said the research has important implications for schools and clinics.
"Sexual health education should be comprehensive and cover sexual health for everyone," said Saewyc. "Programs need to teach all youth about safe sexual practices for the kinds of sex they're having, and that means teaching pregnancy prevention and condom negotiation skills to lesbian and bisexual girls too. "
Co-author Margaret Rosario, a professor of psychology at CUNY, added that adolescence is an important time of self-discovery, including of one's sexual attractions and identities. "Experimentation is normal, which is why adolescent health professionals need to make sure that every young person has the skills she needs to keep herself safe," said Rosario.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Daters move toward (or away from) marriage in four different ways -- where do you fit?

 University of Illinois researcher has identified four distinct approaches that dating couples use to develop deeper commitment.

"The four types of dating couples that we found included the dramatic couple, the conflict-ridden couple, the socially involved couple, and the partner-focused couple," said Brian Ogolsky, a U of I assistant professor of human development and family studies.

The researchers developed these categories after studying graphs created by 376 dating couples in their mid-twenties. Over a nine-month period, participants tracked how committed they were to marrying their partner and why. Ogolsky asked participants to explain their reasoning when their commitment level had gone up or down.

Dramatic daters are twice as likely to break up as other couples, he said.

"These couples have a lot of ups and downs, and their commitment swings wildly. They tend to make decisions based on negative events that are occurring in the relationship or on discouraging things that they're thinking about the relationship, and those things are likely to chip away at their commitment," he said.

"It's not unlike when the transmission goes out on your car, and then your starter goes out. You begin to see little things eroding, and you start to see the relationship in a negative light, and soon you give up," he added.

Dramatic couples also make attribute changes in their commitment to time spent with their own friends or by doing things separately rather than as a couple. "They were hanging on to their individuality in a way that may be unconventional for early daters," he said.

Partner-focused couples have the highest chance of staying together and being happy over time, Ogolsky said.

"These partners are very involved with each other and dependent on each other, and they use what's happening in their relationship to advance their commitment to deeper levels. People in these couples had the highest levels of conscientiousness, which suggests that they are very careful and thoughtful about the way they approach their relationship choices," he said.

Partner-focused couples may share a social network, but they don't use those connections to propel their commitment forward, he noted.

Conflict-ridden couples may experience decreases in their commitment when they have an argument. Their commitment level may fall, but it doesn't mean they'll break up, he said.

"These couples operate in a tension between conflict that pushes them apart and passionate attraction that pulls them back together. This kind of love may not be sustainable in the long term--you'd go crazy if you had 30 to 50 years of mind-bending passion. Partners may change from one group to another over time," he noted.

Socially involved couples, like partner-focused couples, report high levels of satisfaction and stability in their relationships. These couples share a social network and rely on that network to make decisions about their commitment decisions, Ogolsky said.

"Ideally long-term relationships should be predicated on friendship-based love," Ogolsky said. "And having mutual friends makes people in these couples feel closer and more committed.

What's the point of categorizing couples in this way?

"The important message is that there are certain ways of making commitment-related decisions that propel you forward, and others push you backward. It can be helpful for couples to think about these patterns and the ways they make important decisions about the future of their relationship," Ogolsky said.

"Pathways of Commitment to Wed: The Development and Dissolution of Romantic Relationships" is available pre-publication online in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Brian G. Ogolsky and J. Kale Monk of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Catherine A. Surra of Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg co-authored the study.

A man's attachment style may influence his perceptions of whether a woman is interested in him sexually

A man walks into a bar. He thinks the attractive woman smiling at him from across the room wants to have sex with him. True? Or is it all in his head?

Research has shown that in general, men have a tendency to misjudge a woman's sexual intent, often based on individual or situational factors such as alcohol intoxication.

But a new study goes further, suggesting that a man's attachment style - a personality trait reflecting his romantic relationship tendencies - may actually influence his perceptions of whether a woman is interested in him sexually.

Researchers asked nearly 500 men to imagine a scenario in which an attractive woman at a nightclub catches their eye. The woman notices she is being stared at and smiles back.

Participants were asked to gauge the level of interest they believed the woman in the scenario was showing, ranging from "not at all interested" to "extremely interested."

The men were also asked to assess the extent to which they exhibited either of two tendencies - toward attachment anxiety and toward attachment avoidance.

Those higher in attachment anxiety have a need for love and reassurance and a fear of rejection. People higher in attachment avoidance typically are reluctant to trust and rely on others, and fear intimacy.

The study found that men on the higher end of the attachment anxiety spectrum were most likely to imagine a woman being sexually interested in them.

This is due in part to the men's strong desire for intimacy, said Joshua Hart, associate professor of psychology and the lead author of the study to be published in the April issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences. His co-author is Rhea Howard '15, a former student now at Harvard University.

Further, men higher in attachment anxiety project their own flirtatiousness and sexual interest onto the woman, based on their hopes that she will reciprocate.

"If you view yourself as being flirtatious, that biases you to seeing others as behaving similarly," Hart said.

Conversely, men higher in attachment avoidance felt the opposite.

"Their lower interest in intimacy led them to be less interested in the fictional woman, thus seeing themselves as being less flirty, and in turn, imagining the woman as less sexually interested in them," Hart said.

The study's results are an example of how wishful thinking pervades human social interactions.

"We see in reality what we wish to see, not necessarily what's there," Hart said.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Modern men increasingly value brains over beauty when choosing long-term mates

Brains over beauty? But we all know that guys are hardwired for pretty faces and shapely bodies when it comes to choosing a mate, right?

Not so fast. Despite today's ongoing challenges in achieving gender equality, a new review of research on mate preferences conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Innsbruck suggests that modern men indeed increasingly value brains over beauty in their long-term partners.

"Our review across several disciplines suggest that mating preferences of men as well as women have responded with unsuspected speed to progress toward gender equality," said Marcel Zentner, professor of psychology at University of Innsbruck in Austria.

The common view is that our mate choices are evolutionarily "hardwired" in our brains and therefore minimally responsive to changing conditions. But some evolutionary scientists now argue that humans are programmed to respond with great flexibility to changing environments.

"This flexibility allows people to do what sociocultural theorists have maintained for a long time: Select partners who minimize the costs and maximize the benefits that they will experience in their future lives," said Alice Eagly, professor of psychology and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern.

Indeed, she and her colleagues have shown that men and women who were led to envision a future as their family's sole provider preferred a partner with domestic skills. Conversely, women and men who projected a future as a stay-at-home parent preferred someone relatively older and thus established in a career.

Three interlocking sources of evidence support these conclusions. What makes Zentner and Eagly's study unique is their demonstrations across these differing types of research.

Cross-cultural research found that the more gender-egalitarian a country, the less likely that men and women trade male earning power for female youth and beauty -- the pattern that many evolutionary psychologists believe to be innate. The greater preference of women for a high-earning partner is twice as large in gender-unequal nations such as Korea and Turkey than in more gender-equal nations such as Finland and the United States. Notably, in Finland men are more interested in an educated, intelligent partner than women are.

Then, Zentner and Eagly looked at individuals. Sex differences in what people want in a mate diminish not only when societies become more gender-egalitarian but also when individuals embrace more gender-equal attitudes. Men and women with traditional mindsets prefer partners that suit the old-style exchange of male breadwinning for female fertility and domestic skills. But those preferences have weakened considerably among people who favor gender equality.

Finally, what men and women want parallels changes in gender roles in recent history. The traditional world of female homemakers and male breadwinners is long gone in many nations.

In the United States, 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 are in the labor force. In 38 percent of marriages with an employed wife, she earns more than he does. Not that long ago, women's education and income were only minor assets for attracting a husband. Today, they matter. Of course, women have long sought these attributes in men. What's new is that men now choose wives in a similar way.

Gender equality appears to act as a lever. Wherever you push it up, differences between men's and women's partner preferences diminish. That doesn't mean that these differences will disappear entirely or that biology plays no role in mate preferences. However, social factors shape mate preferences much more strongly than has been assumed.

In the old days, it made sense for women to seek men who could provide for them and for men to seek women who could cook and clean while producing children. "In today's world, where both partners can (and often must) work to achieve a decent lifestyle, most men want an educated, intelligent wife who can earn a good wage," Eagly said. "In turn, men can worry somewhat less about producing wealth but may benefit from brushing up their looks and domestic skills."

The review, "A sociocultural framework for understanding partner preferences of women and men: integration of concepts and evidence," was published in January in the European Review of Social Psychology.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Women reluctant to make the first move in online dating

Big data and the growing popularity of online dating sites may be reshaping a fundamental human activity: finding a mate, or at least a date. Yet a new study in Management Science finds that certain longstanding social norms persist, even online.

In a large-scale experiment conducted through a major North American online dating website, a team of management scholars from Canada, the U.S. and Taiwan examined the impact of a premium feature: anonymous browsing. Out of 100,000 randomly selected new users, 50,000 were given free access to the feature for a month, enabling them to view profiles of other users without leaving telltale digital traces.

The researchers expected the anonymity feature to lower social inhibitions -- and apparently it did. Compared to the control group, users with anonymous browsing viewed more profiles. They were also more likely to check out potential same-sex and interracial matches.

Surprisingly, however, users who browsed anonymously also wound up with fewer matches (defined as a sequence of at least three messages exchanged between users) than their non-anonymous counterparts. This was especially true for female users: those with anonymous browsing wound up with an average of 14% fewer matches. Why?

Women don't like to send personal messages to initiate contact, explains Jui Ramaprasad, an assistant professor of information systems at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management. In other words, she says, "We still see that women don't make the first move." Instead, they tend to send what the researchers call a "weak signal."

"Weak signaling is the ability to visit, or 'check out,' a potential mate's profile so the potential mate knows the focal user visited," according to the study. "The offline 'flirting' equivalents, at best, would be a suggestive look or a preening bodily gesture such as a hair toss to one side or an over-the-shoulder glance, each subject to myriad interpretations and possible misinterpretations contingent on the perceptiveness of the players involved. Much less ambiguity exists in the online environment if the focal user views another user's profile and leaves a visible train in his 'Recent Visitors' list."

Men often take the cue. "Men send four times the number of messages that women do," says co-author Akhmed Umyarov, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "So the anonymity feature doesn't change things so much for men."

Implications beyond online dating

Experiments of this sort could be used in a range of online-matching platforms to help understand how to improve the consumer experience - though it's important that the experiments be done ethically, the researchers say.

"Even though people are willing to pay to become anonymous in online dating sites, we find that the feature is detrimental to the average users," says Professor Ravi Bapna, co-author and the Carlson Chair in Business Analytics and Information Systems at Minnesota. "Professional social networks, such as LinkedIn, also offer different levels of anonymity, but user behavior and the underlying psychology in these settings is very different from that of romantic social networks."

As with many academic research projects, the idea for this experiment stemmed partly from serendipity.

"I happened to know a senior guy at an online dating site," Ramaprasad explains. "Since he knew that I studied online behavior, he suggested, 'Why don't you study this?'" The site, referred to in the study by the fictitious name of, is one of the largest online dating websites in North America.

The study could lay the groundwork for further academic analysis of online dating sites. "We expect future research to examine in more depth the issue of match quality and long-term outcomes as they relate to marriage, happiness, long-term relationships, and divorce," the researchers conclude.