Tag Archives: children

“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.

When the past comes to haunt

Pop culture is rife with stories of people who blame their negative childhood experiences for their incapacity to stay within relationships or marriages, from the fictional serial killer Dexter who felt it impossible to connect to anyone to Jennifer Aniston’s announcement that her experience of her parents’ divorce made her wary of interpersonal intimacy. But are these mere pop psychology incarnations or are children who experienced traumas any likelier to experience certain marital troubles as adults?

Whisman’s (2006) study on childhood traumas looked at seven different childhood traumas: physical abuse, rape, sexual molestation, serious physical attack, experiences of being threatened with a weapon, life threatening accident, and natural disasters; and the effect of these on marital disruption and marital satisfaction. Physical abuse, rape, and sexual molestation were associated with higher probability of marital dissolution. Lower marital satisfaction was associated with individuals who had experienced rape or sexual molestation. Traumas with assaultive violence, or those where another person directly harmed the child were more likely to be associated with marital disruption and dissatisfaction, as these are seen to be more likely to lead to attachment insecurity (characterized by avoidance, lack of trust) which may then lead to lower marital stability.

Photo: “Goodbye my lover.” by Andii Jetaime, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

Dexter crosses media lines, captivate fans

Aniston: ‘Childhood Trauma Blighted My Marriage’

Whisman M. A. (2006) Childhood trauma and marital outcomes in adulthood. Personal Relationships

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Rising waistlines, falling grades?

By Erica Zaiser

The BBC reported on a recent survey by the British Heart Foundation which found that most parents in the UK vastly overestimate the amount of exercise their children are getting. While 72% of parents believe that their children are getting enough exercise, according to the survey, only one in ten children actually get the recommended amount of exercise per day.  As more children begin to suffer the ill effects of not exercising and because obesity in children is on the rise, there is added urgency to understand how weight impacts the lives of children.

A recent study by Clark, Slate, and Viglietti (2009), found that children who were severely overweight had significantly worse marks in all subjects than students who were not obese.  The same was seen with standardized test scores and was found even when controlling for economic status or student conduct. However, the results were only found among white students; weight was not significantly correlated with grades for students in other ethnic categories. The authors caution that much more research should be done as their sample was somewhat limited and that people should be careful of studies looking at weight categories because many children go through growth-spurts at different times. Furthermore, it is important to remember that their research only showed that weight and academic performance were correlated. It is impossible to say that obesity causes low grades when it could very well be the other way around or other factors may influence both grades and weight.

Regardless, the study is interesting because it highlights that the issue of obesity may be worrisome not just because of its ill effects on physical health. Children who are overweight might suffer from low self-esteem or become victims of bullying or social exclusion, all of which could impact their physical and mental health. There are still a number of questions that social psychologists could help answer: Why does obesity negatively correlate with academic success? Do teachers treat obese children differently than non-obese children? Or, are children who are suffering academically less likely to exercise and eat a proper diet?

Read more: David Clark, D., Slate, J. R., & Vigliett, G. C. (2009). Children’s Weight and Academic Performance in Elementary School: Cause for Concern?. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 9, 1, 185-204.

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Gender, spiders, and media

090908_spiderOf the literally thousands of scientific journal articles published every month, only a select few receive media attention. From among the new research, the BBC recently chose to report on an infant study claiming a disproportionate fear of spiders among women.

The study reportedly showed 20 babies—10 boy and 10 girl—pictures of spiders paired with happy versus fearful human faces. The girls “looked longer” at the picture of the spider/happy face, evidently showing “that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy” when paired with a spider.

The BBC follows the leap of the researcher to conclude that evolutionary biology determines that women (who were “natural child protectors”) are more likely to be afraid of animals.

Notwithstanding the alleged evolutionary implications (some research has linked phobias to nurture, rather than nature), research has shown links between gender stereotypes and media content. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology even revealed measurable effects on cognition from exposure to stereotyped commercials.

It’s frightening, to say the least, that behavior might be related to gender stereotypes. While doubtful that pre-arachniphobe females will read the BBC article, existing gender stereotypes are still reinforced, while all of those other scientific articles remain unnoticed.

Help our overweight children

childhood-obesity-by-joe-huObesity has been rated as the No.1 health problem for American children, according to a 2009 poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Up to one out of every five children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, and this number is continuing to grow. Obesity places children at risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life. The overweight children are also more prone to be depressed, anxious, and withdrawn, and report low self-esteem.

Children become overweight and obese for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors. For example, psychologists explain that a combination of environmental pressures (e.g., parental concerns about children’s safety), technological factors (e.g., labor-saving devices such as cars), and societal transitions from childhood to adulthood are likely to increase sedentary behaviors, which usually coexist with eating, resulting in weight gain in children (Hills et al., 2007).

Although factors associated with and possible causes of obesity are complex, a child’s total diet and activity level play an important role in determining a child’s weight. Today, many children spend a lot time being inactive. For example, the average child spends approximately 4 hours each day watching television. As computers and video games become increasingly popular, the number of hours of inactivity may increase. Reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity is a public health challenge, and schools and parents have the potential to play a powerful role in diminishing this serious health crisis.

square-eyeObesity Is Biggest Health Problem for Kids (WebMD News)

square-eyeCrothers, L.M., Kehle, T. J., Bray, M. A., & Theodore, L. A. (2009). Correlates and suspected causes of obesity in children.

square-eyeTheodore, L. A., Bray, M.A., & Kehle, T.J. (2009). Introduction to the special issue: Childhood obesity.

Why Harry Potter?

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-princeThe sixth installment of the Harry Potter series will hit theaters with no shortage of fanfare. It’s not surprising that Harry has suddenly soared to the peaks of popularity in schools across the world. Not just pleasures, Harry Potters series provide important fantasy and illusions to our children.

Clinicians and theoreticians have demonstrated that children often use fantasy play to express and cope with realistic concerns and worries. Additionally, the thematic content of fantasy may also be a significant predictor of children’s adaption. As an example, Harry Potters’ books, movies, games and television all involve the imagination which directs and facilitates child’s feeling, cognitive process and creative thinking ability. Children don’t read Harry Potter merely to reach the conclusion and resolve the suspense, and they also delight in identifying with “good” wizards in this mystical world.

“Good stories capture the heart, mind, and imagination and are an important way to transmit values”( Louise Derman-Sparks, 1989) . On the other hand, some people worry that the discernibly polarized depiction of good and evil in this popular story could cultivate a perception in children that the real world is similarly organized. They question whether the dichotomized view of good and evil presented in such fantasy story are in fact stereotypes that far from enlarging children’s construction of individuals, groups and movements within broader human society.

square-eye Harry Potter hits theaters (The New York Times)

square-eye Laurie Kramer (2006).What’s Real in Children’s Fantasy Play?

square-eye Neil Robinson (2008).Good and Evil in Popular Children’s Fantasy Fiction.