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Volume 2, Issue 4: April 2018


My Book


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

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre

“ Commitment is an act, not a word.”

Finkel's Five

Five things I'm thinking about this month


1. When John Cacioppo died a few weeks ago, the discipline of psychology lost a titanic figure. He was among the most influential scholars in the field’s history, making monumental contributions to our understanding of many topics, including persuasion and loneliness. When he was president of the Association for Psychological Science, he wrote a scientific love letter to the field, “Psychology is a Hub Science,” underscoring that psychology is one of seven “hub sciences” (alongside mathematics, physics, chemistry, earth sciences, medicine, psychology, and the social sciences). Cacioppo founded the influential field of social neuroscience, but that didn’t stop him from calling bullshit when the hype outstripped the science, as in a 2003 article titled, “Just because you’re imaging the brain doesn’t mean you can stop using your head.” Of particular relevance to the readers of this newsletter, his work has long been especially influential in demonstrating the importance of feeling socially connected for outcomes like health and happiness—even DNA replication. He will be sorely missed.

2. I was born in 1975, and I was weaned on John Hughes movies, especially “The Breakfast Club.” As such, this Washington Post article—“Molly Ringwald reckons with ‘The Breakfast Club’ in the #MeToo era”—struck a chord with me. “During one scene of John Hughes’s 1985 film “The Breakfast Club,” the rebellious teenage character John Bender, played by Judd Nelson, hides from a teacher by crouching under a desk near Claire Standish, played by Molly Ringwald. He is seen peeking under Claire’s skirt, and the camera flashes to a shot of her underwear. It’s implied that John then touches her inappropriately. Claire squeals, squeezing his head between her knees. As he emerges from under the desk, Claire slaps him and cusses at him, but keeps a straight face. ‘It was an accident,’ John says. ‘So sue me.’” By the end of the film, they’re more or less a couple. How is it that we ever thought that sexual assault should qualify as compelling foreplay?

3. I’m a fan of dating apps. Relative to more traditional approaches to online dating, apps tend to be more fun, and they incorporate more spontaneity. One issue, though, is that it’s virtually impossible to tell from an app (or from a more traditional profile) who will be romantically compatible with us, which means that there’s no shortcut to assessing compatibility in person. But a scientifically unanswered question is whether that limitation is largely limited to static content like text and photos. Might seeing video of a potential partner might help us assess our compatibility with a potential partner? Addressing that question scientifically has suddenly become more urgent, as Tinder is in the process of adding a new feature called Tinder Loops, which amounts to a two-second, GIF-like video that users can add to their profiles. Although it’s unclear whether we’ll be able to tell who’s compatible with us in light of this new feature, it’s likely that these new videos will allow users to display more of their personalities.

4. These days, socioeconomic status (education, income, etc.) is strongly linked to relationship outcomes. For example, higher-SES individuals are more likely to marry and less likely to divorce. They tend to fight less. That said, as I discuss in my book, many of lower-SES individuals have terrific marriages, and many higher-SES individuals have terrible marriages. One crucial question is how higher-SES individuals should spend their extra resources if they want to optimize the odds of having a strong marriage. New research from Ashley Whillans provides actionable intelligence: Spend some money to outsource domestic chores. Buying time in this manner buffers couples against the negative relational effects of stress, and it allows them to spend more quality time together. Paying to outsource domestic chores isn’t cheap, but, given how beneficial a happy relationship is, it is typically an excellent value.

5. I was intrigued to see this Atlantic article titled, “Marriage Proposals are Stupid.” The subtitle cracked me up: “This is no way for two grown humans to make a major life decision.” The article starts with some context: “Whom to marry is among the most important decisions most people will ever make in their lives, and yet it’s not a choice made in the course of a conversation—the normal way two grown humans make big life decisions. Instead, it has to be a show, with a prefixed grand finale: ‘yes.’” It then considers how anomalous the proposal is in the context of twenty-first-century romance: “Since the second wave of the feminist movement crested in the 1970s, almost every antiquated gender tradition in the United States has been seriously challenged. But not the proposal.” As somebody who enjoyed a rather traditional proposal—albeit one that involved a healthy dose of humiliation for me—I can certainly generate counterarguments to the Atlantic piece, but I’m not sure I actually believe them.


Thibaut's Tidbits

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

Thibaut (RAMLAB mascot)

Thibaut (RAMLAB mascot)

Gift from Katie!

Gift from Katie!

Our own Katie Carswell landed a wonderful postdoc position with Emily Impett. The two of them will collaborate on various projects with Amy Muise. Bliss all around! Congratulations, Katie!
Katie gave Eli a thank-you gift saturated with me, your fearless lab mascot. From now on, the when lab gets together to enjoy its official drink, “the Thibaut,” we’ll be able to drink it out of beautiful glasses emblazoned with my likeness.
I was reminiscing recently about Eli’s inexplicable tendency to go out in public with ridiculous facial hair, which inspired me to re-watch his guest lecture for Dan Ariely’s course on irrationality. If you like your science to be accompanied by silly looks, check out the video: (“The Delusion of Romantic Self-Insight”).


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

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