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Volume 2, Issue 2: February 2018


Quote of the Month

Timeless insights from scientists, philosophers, novelists, and other wise souls

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Finkel's Five

Five things I'm thinking about this month


1. I’m hosting my first Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) this coming Tuesday, February 13th, at 1:30pm Chicago time. I hope you’ll join us for the conversation.

2. One of my intellectual heroes is Stephanie Coontz, the family historian who’s published groundbreaking books like The Way We Never Were and Marriage, A History. She just published a terrific Op-Ed piece titled, “For a Better Marriage, Act Like a Single Person.” In this beautifully written piece, she discusses differences between single and married individuals, especially in terms of how much they socialize with friends. She concludes that most of the married among us would benefit from spending more time with friends, whether alongside our spouse or separately. (If you have a bit of extra time to think about the power of friendship, I also recommend the sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s terrific Op-Ed piece titled, “Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?”)

3. Although many have long believed that we are attracted to others who are similar to us—in terms of personality, attitudes, hobbies, and so forth—the evidence for that claim is weak. That’s one of the reasons why existing matchmaking algorithms don’t work. But I suggested in a TEDx talk a few years ago that it might be possible to strengthen matchmaking algorithms by incorporating nonconscious measures of synchrony. Well, new research reveals that synchrony of neural activation (brain activity) when watching movies tends to be higher between friends than between strangers, suggesting that we tend to be closer to others who experience the world as we do. It’s too early to know whether such findings can be leveraged to build an effective matchmaking algorithm, but it’s time to put the idea to a test!

4. I’m a sucker for a heartbreaking love story, and this is one of the best. It’s the story of Nigel, a gannet bird who died recently. Wildlife officials hoped to re-establish a gannet colony on a remote island, so they placed 80 concrete gannet lookalikes on cliffsides and broadcast the species’ call. Nigel heeded the call, falling in love (or the bird equivalent) with one of the lookalikes, regularly grooming her concrete “feathers.” “He died next to her in that unrequited love nest,” observes the Washington Post, “the vibrant orange-yellow plumage of his head contrasting, as ever, with the weathered, lemony paint of hers.”

5. One of my primary research interests surrounds how people set and pursue goals within the context of close relationships. With that backdrop, I was intrigued to see a new article on why people delegate decisions. Across eight experiments, the marketing professors Mary Steffel and Elanor Williams revealed that people are especially likely to delegate difficult decisions to somebody else, regardless of the decision’s importance and regardless of the other person’s expertise. This finding represents an intriguing counterexample to the general trend for people to prefer to have control over their lives—when the choice is difficult, they prefer freedom from choice over freedom of choice.


Thibaut's Tidbits

A dispatch from the mascot of the Relationships And Motivation Lab (RAMLAB)

Thibaut (RAMLAB mascot)

Thibaut (RAMLAB mascot)

It’s been an excellent—and hilarious—month in the RAMLAB. Here are two developments that are equal parts excellence and hilarity: Eli was featured in Modern Luxury Magazine and as the cover boy of Chicago Magazine. See below for photographic evidence.

Lab members also had two scholarly articles accepted for publication this month. The first, spearheaded by Lydia Emery, demonstrates that people who are high in attachment avoidance (those who are uncomfortable with intimacy) tend to have less confidence in their own sense of identity, in part because their romantic partners find it difficult to help them discover and affirm who they are. The second, in collaboration with Gráinne Fitzsimons, provides a short review of the scholarly literature relevant to transactive goal dynamics theory and illustrates the profound ways in which relationship partners influence each other’s goal-related success versus failure.



Are you interested in how marriage has changed over time, why those changes have made some marriages better and others worse, and how we can improve our own marriage? Check out my new book!



Do you know other folks who like to think seriously about relationships? Please let them know about this newsletter. :)

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