L=Love Continue reading
L=Love Continue reading
Can the tasty cacao bean predict your next love-life move? Not necessarily…but since I’ve already drawn one dubious parallel between food preference research and matters of the heart, why stop there?
Good, that’s what I thought too. Let’s consider, then, how our behavior in the presence of proliferating chocolate choices could predict our course of events when faced with a clamor of potential dates. Continue reading
I recently read Jane Austen’s Emma for the first time–a great read if you like the romantic antics of Victorian England. (And who doesn’t?) This quote reminded me of the series I’ve been posting lately, called “How Exactly You Talk Yourself Into Dating the Wrong Person:”
Emma, the novel’s heroine, has just heard that her friend Harriet has accepted a marriage proposal from a local farmer. In surprise, Emma says: “I had reason to believe her very lately more determined against him, much more than she was before.”
The stately and attractive Mr. Knightly, deliverer of this juicy news-morsel, retorts: “You ought to know your friend best, but I should say she was a good-tempered, soft-hearted girl, not likely to be very, very determined against any young man who told her he loved her.”
Ahh…how malleable we are.
I’ll leave you with Pascal:
We’re finally here–the culminating theory of how mate selection works! (According to the research I’ve been reviewing in this series)
As we’ve discussed, lots of research, including this study, has demonstrated that most of our choices, from vacations to friends to decor, follow a lawful genetic pattern to some degree. Picking a spouse, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. An important choice for which there is no pattern.
The researchers offer an intriguing explanation for this blip: they argue that picking a partner is not really a “choice.” We are looking at it all backwards, they say. Instead of approaching this logically, people are mysteriously drawn to certain people, but not to others. It starts with “I kinda like him or her,” and while we may subsequently decide against some of these people in a logical manner (e.g. alcoholic, serving jail time, no thanks), the “liking” part is not a choice.
The researchers’ theory is this: the juicy force prompting these not-exactly-choices is infatuation, it has evolved into a specific mechanism for finding a partner. Infatuation, they believe, occurs by chance, rather than according to a lawful, genetic pattern. Sort of like being thirsty or wanting to succeed. Instead of choosing a partner, they theorize, infatuation goes off like a homing beacon and then…well, you just want that person.
If they are right, and infatuation’s purpose really is to flag potential partners for us, does that mean we should go with the flow? Not exactly. Arguably, my body wants me to produce symmetrical, healthy babies, but might not be thinking about my desire for stimulating weekend conversation. Lots of dating advice books will tell you to ignore this homing beacon. Don’t pay too much attention to chemistry, they say, attraction can develop over time if you have a good foundation.
While I agree this is true, I suspect that one partner usually has the infatuation-homing-beacon thing going on, and then works to win the affection and attention of the other, who might feel a glimmer, or nothing at all. “Love at first sight,” by contrast, probably happens in those rare circumstances when you both have the homing beacon experience at the same time. I do think we can say that if neither of you are googley-eyed after a while, then you’re making a logical decision instead of one inspired by chemistry. We don’t have the data to argue that a logical relationship is a bad approach, but I’ve always been a fan of chemistry, and I think the work of Lykkegen and Tellegen would suggest that a different partner very well could bring out the spark that you’re missing.
At the time (1993), this infatuation theory was just a logical hunch. The authors did not conduct an experiment to test the role of infatuation; they simply proposed the theory when the other logical possibilities–our genes and our environment–had been ruled out. Many, many smart people have since run with this theory, and have learned all kinds of good stuff about how infatuation works. One day, I’ll come back to this topic, but if you can’t wait, check out Helen Fisher’s book Why We Love for a great introduction.
We finished a series!
Very soon, I’ll be talking about sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships. Stick around–you know you’re curious.
[i] Pew Internet and American Life Project, a 2005 survey of internet users. An additional 55% of singles reported no active interest in seeking a romantic partner! I think I smell an upcoming post series…
Back to this “List” topic– (You know, the list you are supposed to mentally compose and check off as good-looking single people flit in and out of your life)–and some thoughts about what it all means. The authors summed up their findings by saying: “Although twins tend to make similar choices in other areas of living, choices that reflect their genetic and environmental similarity, their choice of spouse is an exception.” Two baffling conclusions drop out of this unexpected finding.
First, despite the ubiquitous popularity of list-making in dating advice books and love seminars, here we have a logical, well-supported demonstration that real people who actually get married don’t use a mental list when picking a spouse. You might be tempted to read this and chuck your lists–but wait. As you’ll hear me say often, just because people do or don’t do something doesn’t make it good or bad. It’s totally possible that everyone would make better choices IF they composed and used a thoughtful list of must-have spousal characteristics. On the other hand, we don’t have data to support this claim either. Making a list could inadvertently scramble your head and direct you away from perfectly good spouses, too. We don’t know. We simply know that nobody is doing it! You want to follow the pack, don’t you?
Secondly, and weirder, this finding suggests that neither our genes OR our environment has much to do with who we end up marrying. If our genes were molding our spousal choice in some way, then identical twins would have more similar spouses that fraternal twins. If our environment mattered a lot, fraternal and identical twins would have more similar spouses than randomly paired adults. Neither of those patterns emerged, though. This lack of patterns is really non-intuitive, especially because we know from earlier in this series that spouses tend to be similar as opposed to different. Identical twins are similar…and people marry similar people…but their spouses aren’t more similar than the norm? Fascinating. So much for nature/nurture[i]!
Clearly, some other force is at work. If we pick similar people, but our genes and environment aren’t really involved, then how DO we make this important choice? The authors have a theory…and in part, they don’t think we make a choice at all. Stay tuned…
[i] If you missed intro psychology, sociology, evolutionary biology, and human development, then I should let you know that Nature/Nurture is a catchphrase referring to a huge, on-going debate over whether our genes or our upbringing/environment exacts the greater impact on how we grow and develop psychologically and physically. Implied in this debate is that it’s one or the other.
Ok, ok. Apparently, single ladies tend not to occupy extreme ends of the spectrum for either physical attractiveness or traditional values. (Confused? Catch up here.) Maybe the similarity model would help our average bachelor find a lady more effectively if he looked for someone who was like him in 5 respects instead of just 2? (At a correlation of r=.50).
Just to demonstrate that this statistical trick could dramatically narrow the pool if people picked really similar mates, the researchers ran a “similarity analysis” on a sample of identical twins, to see if they could pick the second twin out of a crowd of 100. They easily found 5 variables with correlations as high as r=.90 (intelligence, finger length, etc), and were able to easily pick the right twin out of 99 others. Wow!
Thus, if we married people almost exactly like ourselves, we could skip dating, set up online dating sites based on the similarity model, and book the wedding hall. In fact, it could be marketed as a package deal…(Machiavellian stroke of chin).
The trouble is that, among spouses, it’s practically impossible to find 5 traits with correlations as high as r=.50. Remember that in Lykken and Tellegen’s work, only 2 traits out of 88 clocked in at over r=.50. Even if you could find these 5 traits, at least a few would likely predict each other (like yesterday’s super trait). For example, if you’re smart, you probably also have a certain educational attainment and a certain income range; if you like hiking you probably like other outdoor activities and value the environment; if you like to save money you’re probably also responsible and don’t have credit card debt. You get the idea (see below[i] for more explanatory nerd-ery). And if traits predict one another, then they are useless in a similarity analysis because they are interchangeable.
It hardly matters, though, because even if our now-dizzy Bachelor were armed with these 5 elusive traits for his analysis, he would only be able to send home 14 bachelorette hopefuls, leaving a crowd of 86 ladies still in the game[ii].
Take a step back for a moment to reflect on how non-intuitive this is. The researchers could not find one measly trait, out of 88, on which couples were likely to be dissimilar. I had jumped to the conclusion that people were doing a pretty good job of selecting similar mates out of a crowd of the not-so-similar. And yet, apparently, it’s just that r=.50 is not a very powerful discriminator. The average single person could blindly put out his or her hand in the right age group, and the first person they grab would have an 86% chance of being similar enough to them on 5 different counts!
Next time, we’ll look at not-so-average people. It turns out the similarity model might be a little more helpful for them.
[i]“There probably are not more than the equivalent of 4 or 5 [such orthogonal homogamy variables], even taking into account the host of correlated characteristics on which spouses are weakly similar…Merely four [normal curve] variables that each correlate .50 with the criterion would account for 100% of criterion variance.
[ii] “It is doubtful that even the most complete database of assortative mating coefficients could serve to focus our seeker’s search on fewer than about .97s = 86% of all women in his field of eligibles.”
1 single guy. 100 single ladies. Statistical analysis. What happens next?
I’ve been looking at the take-aways from my favorite “who picks who” research study this week—a gem from the early 90s. (Wanna catch up? Read this and this. Go on, you’ll feel smarter.)
And yes, to the left is a picture of picking a date. Te he.
Today’s question is: how powerful is this spousal similarity thing? Could a single guy with a statistical staff narrow a group of 100 women down to the 5-10 most promising matches for himself? The researchers, Drs. Lykken and Tellegen, ran the numbers to find out.
Picture a really big episode of The Bachelor. Our protagonist, a 30 year-old single man, looks out over a sea of 100 lucky ladies, let’s say from 20 to 35 years old (but with a larger bell curve of body types and smarts than the show usually dishes up). Now, skip the long flirtatious evenings, back-stabbing, and tear-fests (I know, I know, all the good stuff) and add the nerdy twist of looking for ladies whose personal traits fall within the expected range of spousal similarity.
Let’s start with two easy variables—physical attractiveness and yesterday’s 7-variable super-trait “traditional values.” For simplicity, assume that these two variables are measured on a scale from 0 to 100 and that spousal correlation on these traits runs around r=.50 (meaning that our single guy and his lady will have a good chance of being similarly endowed). As we learned yesterday, r=.50 is quite a strong relationship for spouses, only two of the top ten list had higher correlations, so this scenario should narrow things down for our man. Picture also that our Bachelor is a middle-of-the road kind of prize, scoring only 50 out of 100 on both physical attractiveness and traditional values.
Lykken and Tellegen used some fancy statistics (see below for nerd-level detail[i]) to conclude, to my surprise, that this scenario wouldn’t come even close to narrowing the field for our Bachelor. Since the prospective ladies could score anywhere from 28 to 71 on our 2 scales and still be similar enough, and most single ladies seem to fall in this range, these two traits would only narrowed the field by 6%! Leaving him with 94 smiling ladies still playing the game.
Next time, I’ll look at what happens if we add more variables to the mix or our Bachelor becomes a little more unique…
[i] Nerd-level math wizardry, from the study itself: “Suppose his own scores on both attractiveness and traditionalism are exactly at the mean (which we will set at 50 ±10). We know that the standard deviation of his potential mates on both variables will be 10(1 – r2)1’2 = 8.7. If all seekers take care to select mates who differ from themselves in traditionalism by not more than 2.5 (8.7) = 21.75 T-score units, then the spousal correlation for traditionalism will remain at about .50 and we know that about 99% of all potential mates for our seeker will have traditionalism scores in this range, from 28.25 to 71.75. But some 97% of all eligible women score in this range on traditionalism, so this one-dimensional criterion does not help much to narrow the search. Our seeker knows also that his potential wife should have an attractiveness score in the same range. But about .972 = 94% of all women have both scores in this range and are thus potential mates for him.”
You don’t marry a person; you marry a lifestyle. -Helen Fisher
Want to find out if you and your intended are meant to be? Make sure you have the same opinion about clubbing. I’m not making this up…
I just kicked off a series of posts that will examine the question of how we pick our mates. Useful stuff if you’re single, or wondering how the heck you ended up with so-and-so in your bed each morning.
My featured researchers, Lykken and Tellegen, compared over 1700 couples on a list of 88 traits, and then teased out the “top 10.” To qualify for the top 10, a trait had to beat a correlation of r=.30. (If you’re stature-oriented like me, you’ll be interested to know that height, at r=.28, just missed the cut-off.) Drum roll please…in order from the top, we have: church activities (.57), years of education (.56), attitude toward abortion (.49), traditionalism (.48), habits regarding nightclubs and flirting (.37), gambling (.36), hunting and fishing (.36), camping and hiking (.34), leaning left or right politically (.33), and attitude toward defense spending (.33). The authors noted that 7 of these 10 traits tended to cluster (meaning people who like church probably aren’t huge night club and flirting fans or supporting their nearest abortion clinic), and they proposed we think of mate selection along the terms of a super-trait called “traditional values.”
While this list isn’t surprising in some ways, I found it curious that physical attractiveness and personality traits didn’t make the top 10. (They had already factored in age or I would notice that was missing too) This study seems to suggest that a lifestyle match is more important than these other things.
Hold on though, you say. Don’t couples grow more similar over the years? You know, like those freaky couples with matching afghans spread over their matching jogging pants and whatnot… It would be faulty research to assess for similarity several years into marriage and then conclude that people marry people like themselves!
True, true. Thankfully, Lykken and Tellegen (our empirical duo) were one step ahead, my friend. They checked to see if the couples who had been married longer tended to be more similar than more newly married folk. Surprisingly, couples changed hardly at all (the mean correlation was -.006, with a range from -.09 to +.12). If anything, they got a fraction of a hair less similar over time. Possibly just to spite one another (j/k!).
All in all, the researchers have done us a favor. I know this was nagging you, so I’m sure you’re relieved that “Opposites attract” can be officially debunked as a theory of mate selection. Which is not to say that some very different couples hit it off, but is just to say it’s definitely not the norm. The paper concludes, in fact, that a “similarity model” is far more descriptive. So, next time you and your honey get into a spat, and you find yourself going over all the details again, ask yourself where you stand on the “traditional values” super-trait and how he or she compares.
How powerful is similarity though? For example, could a single dude armed with the right statistical analysis identify his “best choice” mate out of a group of candidates? I’ll tell you the answer next time. Cliff-hanger, I know. Totally unfair.
Missed the kickoff? Check out the First Post