Category Archives: History

“Our love is dead, according to science!” What does science tell us about marriage?

Can science really predict divorce? Can science really tell you how to select the “right” partner? A recent post by Chris Matyszczyk brought a sarcastic and ironic view about the finding of a marriage study. Chris claimed, according to this study, the perfect wife is five years younger than her husband, is from the same cultural background, and is at least 27 percent smarter than her husband. 

Sounds ridiculous? Yes. If people try to over-generalize certain research findings to general population in any situation by ignoring its specific subjects and applicable context, or make prediction based on correlational studies, it’s possible that they will always obtain disappointing or ridiculous results.  Then, how should we think about the scientific findings on complicated human phenomena, such as marriage? What does science tell us about marriage? 

Gottman & Notarius (2002) reviewed the advances made in the 20th century in studying marriages. The first published research study on marriage dealt with one major research question, “What is fundamentally different about happily and unhappily married couples?”  Following that, with the development of more sophisticated measures and methods, some grim and interesting findings began emerging from research on marriage. For example, in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Burgess’ longitudinal study (Burgess & Wallin, 1953) found that, for most couples, marital satisfaction was high right after the wedding and then began a slow, steady, and nontrivial decline thereafter. Another example is Hicks and Platt’s (1970) decade-review article on marital happiness and stability which concluded that “perhaps the single most surprising finding to emerge from research is that children tend to detract from, rather than contribute to marital happiness”. Then, research in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the realization of many secular changes in the American family, including the changing role of women, social science’s discovery of violence and incest in the family, and the beginning of the study of cultural variation in marriages et al.

In sum, marriage as an ultimate human condition has been intriguing to both scientists and common people for a long time. However, when we try to understand and interpret research findings on marriage, we need to be very careful about their applicable conditions and limitations. For example, as we know, psychological studies have relied on samples of convenience that have limited generalizability. Although based on the evidence we have so far, marital relations haven’t yet succumbed to delightfully efficient approaches, scientific findings keep shedding light on the mystery of human marriage.

Why your wife should be 27% smarter than you

John M. Gottman, Clifford I. Notarius. ( 2002), Marital Research in the 20th Century and a Research Agenda for the 21st Century. Family Process, 41, 159-197.

The Bottom Line

What determines the importance of fairness, particularly to strangers?  There are no incentives to play fair when dealing with people we don’t know, aren’t related to, and will never interact with again. Evolutionary psychologist might point to carryover effects of living in smaller communities in our distant past. A recent study led by Joseph Henrich hopes to clarify the issue postulating that there is more to it than simply inheriting fairness attitudes. The research team implemented a Social Dilemma like game called Dictator and administered it to a wide variety of populations. They found that modern living Missourians were most likely to share while hunter-gatherer societies, such as those in the Serengeti or the Amazon, were less likely to do so. One might think that these smaller communities would foster a greater sense of social responsibility and be more willing to share but the researchers point out that while there are clear rules and norms for sharing among kin or ingroup members, a sense of responsibility to the other may be absent when dealing with strangers.  Practices and norms emphasizing fairness to strangers have developed in other societies and this research points to “market integration” as a possible explanation as this factor was the strongest predictor of fairness attitudes. Market integration was operationalized as the amount of food purchased.  In communities where food is hunted, found, or grown people are less likely and willing to share with strangers. But when food is purchased it makes sense that systems would need to develop where strangers (consumers and sellers) can trust one another. The consumer market can’t function is everyone acts selfishly and treats others as if they will act the same. Oddly enough it seems that trust and fairness develop in some cases because they are economically advantageous.

Suggestions for a New Integration in the Psychology of Morality (Sunar, 2009)

Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment

Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9

 

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How we are moral

In November 2009, the Philippine Commission on Elections issued a disqualification against an LGBT partylist group, accusing it of advocating immorality. This in turn, triggered an ‘I Am Not Immoral’ campaign by members of the LGBT community and supporters. The issue of morality, according to Steven Pinker pervades all aspects of our lives, and he refers to moral goodness, as ‘something that makes us feel worthy as human beings’. Morality has been deemed universal and yet culturally expressed. Pinker identifies five aspects of morality: harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity, acknowledging that each culture may choose to give more preference to any aspect over another.
Krebs (2008) looks into the evolutionary beginnings of morality and discusses adaptations in the brain brought on by both early and modern circumstances. These early circumstances have caused certain adaptations, decision making strategies, that are triggered in modern events that evoke familiarity of setting, such as the need for certain responses such as obedience, conformity or others. One also must understand the adaptive functions of morality in order to understand what it is. Using the evolutionary theory, morality is when an individual’s genetic self-interest is promoted through a genuine concern for the welfare of others.

Krebs (2008). Morality: An Evolutionary Account. Perspectives in Psychological Science

The Moral Instinct (Steven Pinker)

Gays legally deemed immoral and a danger to youth



Photo: “Innocence so suffocating, now she cannot move” by Samantha Rose Pollari, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

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Are we really in a narcissism epidemic? The concerns about Generation Me.

According to psychological professor Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s — in the approaching 2010, this will mean people between the ages of 11 and 40. These are today’s young people, those who while remarkably diverse in many respects, share a unifying aspect: they are “unapologetically focused on the individual,” a trait inherited from their Boomer parents and fanned to extremes by the culture they engendered.

Is it true? Are we in a narcissism epidemic? Does the Generation Me really differ from their parents and grandparents? Social scientists have been interested in generational changes for decades. Questions about generational changes are of particular interest to psychologists who are interested in whether the broader sociocultural environment is linked with changes in personality attributes and attitudes. For example, Twenge (2008) has concluded that today’s young people have higher self-esteem, more inflated self views, higher levels of narcissism, and perhaps paradoxically, more misery than previous generations. Twenge has further tied these shifts in personality to shifts toward increased individualism and a focus on self-worth that she believes characterizes the culture of the United States in more recent decades. However, Donnellan and Trzesniewski’s (2009) most recent research led to suspicion about the strength of the evidence in support of Twenge’s broad ‘Generation Me’ claims. According to their opinions, there are two crucial issues about Twenge’s research on Generation Me: whether the evidence for generational differences is based on a sound methodology and how to best characterize the size of any generational differences. Instead they found more evidence for generational consistency than generational change in their studies and thus concluded that there are enough concerns to warrant caution and qualified statements about the evidence for ‘Generation Me.’

Based on these concerns, it might be better for social and personality psychologists to think carefully before drawing the blanket conclusion that today’s young people are much different from previous generations of youth. Whether today’s young people are more assertive, entitled, self-aggrandizement and miserable than ever before is still a question which deserves more research in the future.

Donnellan, M.B., & Trzesniewski, K.H. (2009). How Should We Study Generational ‘Changes’—Or Should We? A Critical Examination of the Evidence for ‘Generation Me’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3,775 – 784.

Twenge, J.M. (2008). Generation Me, the Origins of Birth Cohort Differences in Personality Traits, and Cross-temporal Meta-analysis. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1440-1454.

Will a new decade spell the end of Generation Me?