Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Digital dating abuse especially bad for girls



Teens expect to experience some digital forms of abuse in dating, but girls may be suffering more severe emotional consequences than boys, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and University of California-Santa Barbara examined the impact of gender on high schoolers' experience of digital dating abuse behaviors, which include use of cell phones or internet to harass, control, pressure or threaten a dating partner.

Overall, teens experience this digital dating abuse at similar rates, but girls reported that they were more upset by these behaviors and reported more negative emotional responses.

"Although digital dating abuse is potentially harmful for all youth, gender matters," said Lauren Reed, the study's lead author and an assistant project scientist at University of California-Santa Barbara.

The study involved 703 Midwest high school students who reported the frequency of digital dating abuse, if they were upset by the "most recent" incidents, and how they responded. Students completed the surveys between December 2013 and March 2014.

Participants reported sending and receiving at least 51 text messages per day, and spending an average of 22 hours per week using social media. Most participants reported that they text/texted their current or most recent dating partner frequently.

The survey asked teens to indicate the frequency of experiencing several problematic digital behaviors with a dating partner, including "pressured me to sext" (sending a sexual or naked photo), sent a threatening message, looked at private information to check up on me without permission, and monitored whereabouts and activities.

Girls indicated more frequent digital sexual coercion victimization, and girls and boys reported equal rates of digital monitoring and control, and digital direct aggression. When confronted with direct aggression, such as threats and rumor spreading, girls responded by blocking communication with their partner. Boys responded in similar fashion when they experienced digital monitoring and control behaviors, the study showed.

Boys often treat girls as sexual objects, which contributes to the higher rates of digital sexual coercion, as boys may feel entitled to have sexual power over girls, said study co-author Richard Tolman, U-M professor of social work.

Girls, on the other hand, are expected to prioritize relationships, which can lead to more jealousy and possessiveness, he said. Thus, they may be more likely to monitor boys' activities.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Riding a romantic roller coaster? Relationship anxiety may be to blame


Loves me, loves me not. Turns out that anxiety over that very question may be detrimental to the long-term success of a relationship. 
In a recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Florida State University graduate student Ashley Cooper explores how high levels of fluctuation in how secure an individual feels in his or her relationship may actually doom its success. 
"For people anxious in their attachments, they have anxiety as to whether the person is going to be there for them and whether they are worthy of others," said Cooper, a second-year doctoral student in the College of Human Sciences. "I was interested in how attachment security impacted partners' experiences in their relationship on a daily basis. Some couples experience instability from one day to the next in their relationship, so we sought out to explore what could increase or decrease this volatility."
Cooper and her colleagues found that individuals who experience high levels of anxiety about their partner's commitment were likely to experience more volatility in their feelings about the relationship from one day to the next. Furthermore, when women experienced this anxiety, their male partners experienced similar volatility in their feelings about the relationship. 
Researchers interviewed 157 couples and asked them a series of questions about how the couples communicated their attachment to each other, how comfortable they were in emotionally connecting with their partners, their relationship satisfaction and the type of conflict that existed in the relationship. 
Of the sample, 74 percent of the participants were dating and nearly 50 percent of participants were in relationships of two years or less. 
Researchers specifically looked at the couples in which one or both partners experienced high attachment avoidance -- that is, behaviors associated with the distrust of relying on other people -- and attachment anxiety -- behaviors associated with fears regarding consistent care and affection. 
When an individual reported high attachment avoidance, both the individual and partner reported generally low levels of relationship satisfaction or quality. When individuals reported high attachment anxiety, there tended to be increased volatility in relationship quality. 
Cooper said the findings will be helpful to clinicians involved in premarital or couples counseling and for individuals who experience drastic differences in their feelings about their relationships from day to day. 
"For the average person, stay attuned to what your partner is saying and avoid making assumptions that can escalate conflict," she said. "Trusting in your partner and your relationship is important to daily interactions and stability for your relationship."

How viewing cute animals can help rekindle marital spark


One of the well-known challenges of marriage is keeping the passion alive after years of partnership, as passions tend to cool even in very happy relationships. In a new study, a team of psychological scientists led by James K. McNulty of Florida State University has developed an unconventional intervention for helping a marriage maintain its spark: pictures of puppies and bunnies.
The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Previous research has shown that, in many instances, marriage satisfaction declines even when day-to-day behaviors stay the same. This led McNulty and colleagues to hypothesize that an intervention focused on changing someone's thoughts about their spouse, as opposed to one that targets their behaviors, might improve relationship quality.
Specifically, the research team wanted to find out whether it was possible to improve marital satisfaction by subtly retraining the immediate, automatic associations that come to mind when people think about their spouses.
"One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies," McNulty explained.
Repeatedly linking a very positive stimulus to an unrelated one can create positive associations over time - perhaps the most famous example of this kind of conditioned response is Pavlov's dogs, who salivated at the sound of a bell after being exposed to multiple pairings of meat and the bell sound.
McNulty and colleagues designed their intervention using a similar kind of conditioning called evaluative conditioning: Images of a spouse were repeatedly paired with very positive words or images (like puppies and bunnies). In theory, the positive feelings elicited by the positive images and words would become automatically associated with images of the spouse after practice.
Participants in the study included 144 married couples, all under the age of 40 and married for less than 5 years. On average, participants were around 28 years old and around 40% of the couples had children.
At the start of the study, couples completed a series of measures of relationship satisfaction. A few days later, the spouses came to the lab to complete a measure of their immediate, automatic attitudes toward their partner.
Each spouse was asked to individually view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of their partner. Those in the experimental group always saw the partner's face paired with positive stimuli (e.g., an image of a puppy or the word "wonderful") while those in the control condition saw their partner's face matched to neutral stimuli (e.g., an image of a button).
Couples also completed implicit measures of attitude towards their partner every 2 weeks for 8 weeks. To measure implicit attitude, each spouse was asked to indicate as quickly as possible the emotional tone of positive and negative words after quickly glimpsing a series of faces, which included their partner's face.
The data showed that the evaluative conditions worked: Participants who were exposed to positive images paired with their partner's face showed more positive automatic reactions to their partner over the course of the intervention compared with those who saw neutral pairings.
More importantly, the intervention was associated with overall marriage quality: As in other research, more positive automatic reactions to the partner predicted greater improvements in marital satisfaction over the course of the study.
"I was actually a little surprised that it worked," McNulty explained. "All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical."
It's important to note that McNulty and colleagues are not arguing that behavior in a relationship is irrelevant to marital satisfaction. They note that interactions between spouses are actually the most important factor for setting automatic associations.
However, the new findings suggest that a brief intervention focused on automatic attitudes could be useful as one aspect of marriage counseling or as a resource for couples in difficult long-distance situations, such as soldiers.
"The research was actually prompted by a grant from the Department of Defense - I was asked to conceptualize and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment," McNulty said. "We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships."


Monday, June 12, 2017

Sexual stereotypes can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships


Female college students who believe women are subservient and who endorse music media's degradation of women are more likely to be involved in an unhealthy sexual relationship, according to research from WSU's Murrow Center for Media & Health Promotion Research.

Stacey J.T. Hust, associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, and her colleagues found that college women who believe in traditional gender stereotypes were significantly less likely to ask for and adhere to their partner's consent to sexual activity and were less likely to refuse unwanted sexual advances.

The research team also found that acceptance of music media's degradation of women was associated with unhealthy sexual consent negotiation.

"Our findings suggest college women's acceptance of degrading media portrayals of women, like those we see in current popular music videos such as DJ Khaled's "I'm the One" or Katy Perry's "Bon App├ętit," plays a role in their real-life sexual relationships," Hust said.

"Holding stereotypical beliefs about sexuality and endorsing music that degrades women may be a reflection of a broader attitude that men hold power over women," suggests Kathleen Boyce Rodgers, associate professor of human development and the second author of the study.

College should be an ideal time to encourage students' participation in sexual assault prevention programs due to the prevalence of sexual experimentation and the subsequent risk for sexual assault victimization and perpetration during this time. "Our study suggests that programs that utilize media to empower women to reject traditional sexual scripts could create awareness and stimulate conversation about consent, sexual expectations and stereotypes," Rodgers said.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Religious individuals regret having casual sex only slightly more


The cultural differences between the United States and Norway are relatively small, but the cultures differ significantly from one another in a few very relevant areas.
Norwegians tend to be more sexually liberal than Americans. Americans are clearly more religious than Norwegians.
However, despite these differences, Norwegians and Americans regret casual sex about equally. They also regret missing an opportunity for casual sex to about the same degree.
"We find only small differences between the two nations when it comes to sexual regret," says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at NTNU - the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Department of Psychology.
"There is a difference between religious and non-religious individuals, but this difference is quite small," says Mons Bendixen, Associate Professor in the same department.
Norwegian psychologists Bendixen and Kennair have collaborated on a recent study with psychologists David Buss, Kelly Asao and Joy Wyckoff at the University of Texas at Austin.
Big gender difference the most important
Bendixen and Kennair have looked at sexual regret previously, and their new findings replicate the main findings from their previous study.
Women regret their most recent one-night stand much more at than men do. Men regret a missed opportunity much more than women do. Hardly any women regret passing up a sexual encounter.
This big gender difference strongly dominates the results, regardless of how religious or sexually liberal people consider themselves to be. 
"The fact that we find this gender difference in both Norway and the United States suggest there is more to the gender difference in sexual behavior than cultural norms and gender roles," says Wyckoff.
Religious or liberal
Study participants were asked if they considered themselves to be religious. They were also asked how important they believed it was to follow their religious doctrines. Here the two countries differ significantly.
On average, Americans find it far more important to live by the precepts of their faith.
Most Norwegians, on the other hand, have more sexually liberal attitudes, and on average have moderately more casual sex than Americans do.
"Although the differences between the cultures may be small from an anthropological perspective, the differences we have measured are relevant to sexual regret," Professor Kennair said.
Americans fantasize more about sex
However, national differences in religiosity or sexual liberalism are small compared to the gender differences related to men's and women's contrasting levels of regret.
But refraining from having casual sex does not mean you do not want to have it. On the contrary, although "Americans have less casual sex, they fantasize more than Norwegians do about having sex with people they meet," says Bendixen.
Evolutionary sexual psychology
Why does the gender difference so completely overshadow religion when it comes to regret? This question leads directly into the discussion of whether culture or biology dominates our behaviour.
"Nature versus nurture is a false dichotomy," Asao points out, "Sexual regret is the result of the complex interaction between reproductive biology and cultural moral standards."
"Sexual regret involves counterfactual thinking and emotions, and it is rooted in the human mind just like our sexual psychology," says Kennair.
The cost of casual sex that can result in children differs markedly for women and for men.
High cost for women
For our foremothers, the cost of casual, unrestricted sex was potentially very high in terms of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Without the investment of a committed partner, the offspring's chances of survival were greatly reduced.
"When this happens over hundreds of generations, we get a selection of women who are less likely to have casual sex and who experience this as less positive when it happens," Bendixen says.
"Women did not only face greater costs from poor casual sex choices, but also received fewer benefits from increased casual sex because women's reproductive success is limited by reproductive biology, whereas men's success is limited by access to fertile women," says Kelly Asao.
Low cost for men
For our forefathers, there were few costs of having casual sex, since it did not entail any investment.
The costs for men were instead linked to passing up opportunities for sex, because men can potentially increase their reproductive fitness by impregnating many women. That is, they can ensure that they pass on a larger proportion of their genes to the next generation. 
"None of this is consciously articulated, of course," says David Buss. "Rather, male and female sexual psychology is the end product of a long prior history in which men and women have faced different adaptive problems in the context of selecting or foregoing sex partners."
All of which then means that we are more likely to be descendants of men who did not pass up the chance.
The researchers believe that the sexual psychology of women and men has become relatively differentiated through this selection process, resulting in clear gender-specific patterns of thinking and feeling after individuals choose either to have casual sex or to pass up the opportunity.
These attitudes persist today despite easy access to contraceptives and good social support schemes for mothers without partners, and despite cultural conditions such as religiosity and sexual liberalism.