Volume 2, Issue 3: March 2018
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 bestselling new book!
Quote of the Month
Timeless insights from scientists, philosophers, novelists, and other wise souls
“Lights flicker from the opposite loft / In this room the heat pipes just cough / The country music station plays soft / But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off / Just Louise and her lover so entwined / And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.”
Five things I'm thinking about this month
1. I was intrigued to learn recently that scientists have developed a matchmaking algorithm for gorillas. “The dating site for gorillas,” observes Robin Wright in New Yorker, “is now a key to survival of a species officially considered to be critically endangered.” The algorithm is much more sophisticated than those used by online dating sites, and it pre-dates the development of those algorithms by more than a decade. Apparently, scientists know pretty quickly if they’ve found a match, in part because, in the words of the scientist Kristen Lucas, “gorillas can make guttural love vocalization that would make you blush.” Read the article to learn whether the laid-back, attentive Baraka (a male) hit it off with the confident, quirky, creative Calaya (a female).
2. There’s truth in the stereotype that men tend to have a stronger sex drive than women. But that fact tells us little about which person in a specific heterosexual relationship wants sex more frequently, and the stereotype can make both the man and the woman feel ashamed when she’s the more ardent one. The gynecologist Jen Gunter reports in the New York Times on her own experience of being in a relationship with a (male) partner who didn’t want to have sex with her. “I was once in a sexless relationship,” Gunter writes. “I have debated admitting this publicly, but my story feels different than the narrative advanced by our patriarchal society. Why? Because I was the one begging for sex from an uninterested male partner. Sex 10 times a year would have been 10 times more than what I was having.” Among Gunter’s insights: “Pro tip: Nothing in a relationship ever gets better on its own. You might as well ask the ingredients in your pantry to bake themselves into a cake.”
3. I recently re-read The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis’s terrific biography of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Kahneman and Tversky are among the most influential psychological scientists of all time. Their groundbreaking, and Nobel Prize-winning, research at the intersection of psychology and economics launched the now-vibrant discipline of behavioral economics. I love Lewis’s book for many reasons, but one of them is that it tells a wonderful love story, filled with triumph and drama and obsession and jealousy. It seems clear that Kahneman and Tversky were heterosexual, and there’s no reason to believe that their friendship has any sexual elements. But there was enough love and passion in their relationship to remind me of the social psychologist Lisa Diamond’s important work distinguishing romantic love from sexual desire.
4. I can’t claim to be a big fan of Valentine’s Day, especially because it once caused a lot of pain in my marriage (readers of my book will already know this tale), but I have to acknowledge that journalists seek me out much more than usual in early February. This year, my favorite Valentine’s Day story found a bizarre intersection between Cupid and Big Data. The story is about what happens when we use computational methods to generate novel Valentine’s Day messages for those little heart-shaped candies. The computational procedure generated some reasonably normal ones, like “My Bear” and “Love Bun”—ones that aren’t too far off the sort of “Love You” and “Be Mine” messages we remember from our youth. But things often got weird. How would you feel if your valentine gave you a little candy that said, for example, “All Hover” or “Stank Love”?
5. At a conference presentation this a couple of weeks ago, the clinical psychologist Darby Saxbe presented fascinating transition-to-parenthood findings about the associations of fathers’ testosterone levels with their own and their partners’ postpartum depression. Citing research from this scholarly article, Saxbe showed that fathers with higher testosterone levels had fewer symptoms of postpartum depression in the first year of the baby’s life—but their partner (the mother of the baby) had more symptoms, in part because they were less satisfied in the relationship. These results don’t allow for clear causal conclusions, but they add to a large and growing scientific literature on the importance of understanding the intersection of hormonal, psychological, and relational processes.
A dispatch from the mascot of the Relationships And Motivation Lab (RAMLAB)
NPR’s “Hidden Brain” offered some particularly excellent coverage of Eli’s book. If you like podcasts, you won’t want to miss this one.
We invited two new students to join us, and both of them have decided to join us to pursue their doctoral work at Northwestern. We are excited to welcome Emma McGorray and Erin Hughes to the RAMLAB starting in September!
We are gearing up for spring break. I’m hoping that some members of the lab will take me to far-flung places so we can add some photos to the Thibaut’s Travels section of the website.