Written and researched by Bob Murray, PhD
Latest News |
Back Issues | Get updates:
Are Married People Happier Than Unmarried People
April 2, 2003
In a large longitudinal study that sheds new light on the association between
marital status and happiness, researchers have found that people get a boost
in life satisfaction from marriage. But the increase in happiness is very small--approximately
one tenth of one point on an 11-point scale--and is likely due to initial reactions
to marriage and then a return to prior levels of happiness.
Data from the 15-year study of over 24,000 individuals living in Germany also indicates
that most people who get married and stayed married are more satisfied
with their lives than their non-married peers long before the marriage occurred.
The results, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
highlight how the process of adaptation plays a role in life satisfaction.
Although people may initially react strongly to life events, evidence
suggests that they eventually return to their normal levels of happiness.
Even people who
have won huge amounts of money or who have experienced debilitating injuries
appear not to greatly differ in life satisfaction from the average person.
Psychologist and study lead author Richard E Lucas, PhD, of Michigan
State University says he and his colleagues found that most people were
no more satisfied with life after marriage than they were prior to marriage.
Widows and widowers were less satisfied with life after the death of their spouse
than they were prior to marriage, but even they showed signs of adaptation and
returned close to their initial life satisfaction levels.
An additional and unexpected finding of the study is that the most satisfied people
reacted least positively to marriage and most negatively to divorce
and widowhood. This finding shows the importance of the total circumstances
life and not just their personality, according to the researchers. "An
event such as marriage or divorce does not have the same implications
for all individuals.
A person who is very satisfied with life probably has a rich social network
and has less to gain from the companionship of marriage. On the other
hand, the person
who is lonely and, therefore, somewhat dissatisfied, can gain much by
marrying. Similarly, the person who is very satisfied with his or her
life because their
marriage is wonderful has more to lose if their spouse dies," said
the authors, who call this process "hedonic leveling" because
it tends to equalize people's overall happiness levels.
Read more in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Top of page
Sheep Study Raises Questions About Sexuality
November 12, 2002
US scientists claim to have found evidence that brain structure influences sexual preference in sheep. They say a region of the brain involved in sexual behavior is different in "gay" rams, which prefer to mate with other males.
Similar results have been found in humans, according to researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland. The part of the brain studied is an area of the hypothalamus involved in mating behavior, the preoptic hypothalamus. In humans and some other animals it is about twice as large in males compared with females and contains twice the number of cells. Its function in behavior is not fully known.
Researchers studied sheep in an attempt to understand the biological basis of sexual behaviors. They say previous studies have shown that between six and 10% of rams are attracted to males rather =han females. They analyzed the brain structures of 17 rams, nine of which preferred to mate with males, and 10 ewes.
Research focused on a group of brain cells in the preoptic hypothalamus called the sexually dimorphic nucleus. "Interestingly, this bundle of neurons is smaller in ewes and in rams with same-sex preferences than it is in rams that prefer ewes," said lead researcher Dr Kay Larkin.
"We also determined that the volume of the sexually dimorphic area is approximately the same in rams that prefer rams as it is in ewes."
The researchers believe sheep could help provide clues about human sexuality.
Professor Charles Roselli said: "While we realize that sexuality is more complex in humans than reproductive behaviors in sheep, this model will help illuminate the basic principles that apply to all mammals, and may be helpful in understanding the biology of human behaviors as well."
The question is why are the brains of gay rams different from those of straight rams? We know that in the human brain experiential factors such as stress, abuse and trauma can radically alter the shape of a young brain. It is also true that almost all gay people that have come to see Alicia and I in our practices have been the victims of sexual and/or other abuse. I would want to know the background of these rams -- what trauma have they experienced or witnessed? BM
Read more in BBC News
Top of page
Death Penalty: Media Gets it Wrong
September 30, 2002
According to research carried out at Florida Atlantic University and published in Social Science Quarterly the media has got it wrong when they say that the majority of Americans favor the death penalty. The researchers found that a distinct difference between expressed support for the death penalty (which garners a majority of Americans) and expressed preference for the death penalty over other sentences (which attracts only a minority). Despite the strength of this finding in academic circles, the media tend to cover the death penalty as if it were indisputably favored by a majority of Americans. The researchers set out to find out what effect the media bias had on people. Using an experimental design, a group of test subjects were placed in three groups: Group A read a typical media portrayal depicting widespread support for the death penalty, Group B read a realistic portrayal of the mix of preferences for the death penalty and an alternative sentence, and Group C (the control group) read an article unrelated to the death penalty. They found that compared to the control group and Group A, those who read a more realistic account of public opinion on the death penalty (Condition 2) were less supportive of capital punishment and believed the death penalty would become less prevalent in the future. The researchers conclude that the unrealistic media portrayal of public opinion on the death penalty is bolstering a sense of inevitability about the issue.
Read more in Social Science Quarterly
Top of page
Gambling on the Future You
September 30, 2002
Looking out for ourselves from moment to moment is hard enough. No surprise, then, that when it comes to making choices for the people we will be a month, a year or a decade from now, even the best of us can falter. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, PhD, puts it: "We're babysitters or caretakers or providers for our future selves, but we don't always do such a great job of it."
Now, a new study by New York University psychologists Michael Sagristano and Yaacov Trope, PhD, and Tel Aviv University psychologist Nira Liberman, PhD, suggests that when deciding on future courses of action, we tend to overemphasize abstract, high-level goals and ignore the concrete, low-level steps needed to reach them. As a result, our future obligations can turn out to be far riskier, more difficult and more time-consuming than we had imagined.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General used a gambling task to investigate the importance of risks and rewards for decisions about the near and far future. It found that individuals who expect to gamble in the near future prefer safe bets with small payoffs, but those who expect to gamble after a delay of several months prefer much riskier bets with high payoffs.
Trope and Liberman's previous research has shown that whether we construe a future action in terms of its abstract or concrete features depends on its distance in time -- the farther away it is, the more we think about it in the abstract -- and that construal can have a dramatic impact on the decisions we make.
This study extends those results by showing how our far-future obsession with abstract goals can cause us to focus on the desirability of an outcome while ignoring its feasibility, even when the outcome is entirely random. "What these researchers are showing us is that the exact temporal distance of the future about which you are thinking makes an important difference," says Gilbert. "They're offering a very neat psychological explanation for a very robust economic phenomenon."
Sagristano, Trope and Liberman are not the first researchers to notice that decisions can be affected by timing. The phenomenon can be seen in decisions about everything from what to eat for dinner to what school to attend, what person to marry or what career to pursue. George Loewenstein, PhD, a professor of psychology and economics at Carnegie Mellon University, gives the example of an academic who decides months in advance to attend a conference in Europe: "The higher-level idea of going to Europe is really exciting -- you know, international travel -- but then a week before the trip you start thinking about jet lag, about preparing the talk, how to cover your classes, getting your passport," he says.
The shift from "international travel" to "getting your passport" is typical of the difference between thinking about the distant future and thinking about the near future, say Trope and Liberman. The former is abstract, high-level and superordinate; the latter is concrete, low-level and subordinate. "In the distant future," explains Trope, "we think about how much the outcome is attractive to us. In the near future, we think, 'Is it feasible?'"
Differences in construal level may be able to explain why the attractiveness of a trip to Europe declines as it grows nearer in time.
Construal level is not the only possible explanation, however. Over the years, psychologists and economists have devised a number of explanations for why humans adjust the value of future outcomes. Perhaps the academic registering for a conference in Paris expects to improve his ability to juggle multiple obligations by the time of the conference. Perhaps he misjudges his future emotional reaction to the trip, an explanation favored by Loewenstein and supported by some of Gilbert's research. Or perhaps he is simply being optimistic. If these explanations are correct, construal level might not be as important as Trope and Liberman believe.
So they decided to study gambling, an activity in which outcomes are uncontrollable, emotional reactions should actually work against their predictions, and optimism is -- or should be -- irrelevant.
In the study, subjects were told either that they would be gambling immediately or that they would be gambling after a delay of several months. They were then asked to choose among bets with equal expected values but varying levels of risk and reward: a bet with a $4 prize and a 50 percent chance of winning, for instance, versus a bet with a $8 prize and a 25 percent chance of winning.
The researchers found that subjects in the delayed group not only preferred risky gambles to safe gambles, but were also willing to pay significantly more for the chance to play them. The immediate group, in contrast, favored safe gambles. As predicted by CLT, when asked in a follow-up experiment to justify their decisions, the delayed group said it concentrated on payoffs (ie, the desirability of the outcome), while the immediate group said it focused on probabilities (ie, the feasibility of the outcome).
The results argue against both emotion-based theories, which predict that subjects will focus on payoffs in the near future, and experience- or optimism-based theories, which apply only if subjects believe that their own skills or motivations can influence the outcome of their decisions.
The results of the study suggest that construal level can be used to understand behaviors as disparate as buying a TV, getting engaged and deciding to gamble.
Read more in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Top of page
Marriage Can Reduce Life of Crime
September 30, 2002
In a study of paroled men, the University of Florida research team found that the most hardened ex-cons were far less likely to return to their crooked ways if they settled down into the routines of a solid marriage, said Alex Piquero, a professor of criminology and law who led the study.
This tendency to stay on the straight and narrow was common among whites, blacks and Hispanics, according to the study published in the September issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly.
"People who are married often have schedules where they work 9-to-5 jobs, come home for dinner, take care of children if they have them, watch television, go to bed and repeat that cycle over and over again," Piquero said. "People who are not married have a lot of free rein to do a lot of what they want, especially if they are not employed."
There is a twist. Common-law marriages or living with a partner did not have the same crime-reducing effect as did traditional marriages in which the knot is tied, the union is registered at the courthouse, and there is a general expectation to lead a steady life. In fact, the study found that cohabiting without marriage actually increased the likelihood that parolees would recommit crimes, at least among parolees who are not Caucasian.
"Nonwhites, especially African-Americans, have lower rates of marriages than whites, and it could be, especially among male criminal offenders, that the idea of marriage is a foreign concept to them, perhaps because they may have come from single-parent families or are surrounded by single-parent households," he said.
Statistics indicate many nonwhite parolees are not steadily employed, so women may not look upon them as desirable marriage partners anyway, Piquero said. Rather than entering relationships with partners who might stymie their involvement in crime, ex-cons end up sticking with women who allow them to continue their errant ways, he said.
Using arrest records from the state of California, Piquero and Karen Parker, also a UF criminology and law professor, and John MacDonald, a University of South Carolina criminal justice professor, tracked each of 524 men in their late teens and early 20s for a seven-year period after they were paroled from the California Youth Authority during the 1970s and 1980s. The sample of men, who had been incarcerated for lengthy periods of time, was 48.5 percent white, 33 percent black, 16.6 percent Hispanic and 1.9 percent other races.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, sought to identify factors leading to continued involvement in crime, as well as those relating to crime reduction, Piquero said. It examined alcohol and drug use, marriage and employment. The only other factor to influence recidivism was heroin dependency, Piquero said. Parolees who abused heroin became involved in a wide range of violent and nonviolent crimes, he said.
Piquero said he was surprised by the results.
As the state's last stop for criminal offenders, the California Youth Authority draws the worst criminal offenders. "These aren't one-time offenders who are selling a few joints out on the street," he said. "I honestly didn't expect to find the 'marriage effect' among these people, because they had made lots of bad choices in their lives prior to this point and had long, long rap sheets," he said.
The results also may apply to criminals across the country because research has shown many crime-related factors are similar nationally and even internationally, Piquero said. "Serious offenders in California are not that much different from serious offenders in Florida, New Jersey or New York," he said.
The findings underscore the importance of life circumstances over time, Piquero said. "It shows that life events such as marriage matter and can trigger changes from one pathway to another, causing a move in a different direction," he said.
Read more in Social Science Quarterly
Top of page
Ecstasy May Be Drug of Choice for Those Trying to Cope with Loneliness
September 4, 2002
Adolescents and young adults who feel socially isolated or find it difficult to feel a sense of belonging in other ways may turn to drug use to cope with their loneliness, and new research indicates ecstasy may be the drug of choice to fulfill their needs. "Given the subjective effects of ecstasy in promoting 'togetherness,' it is likely taken by people who feel socially isolated and perhaps unable to feel a sense of belonging in other ways," said study lead author Ami Rokach, PhD, of York University in Toronto, Ontario. Results show that drug users, in particular those who consume ecstasy, cope with the distressing effects of loneliness differently than non-drug users. Ecstasy users scored highest on all the coping strategies except for the reflection/acceptance and the religion/faith factors, the two factors where non-drug users scored the highest, and the other drug using group had the lowest scores. Both the effects of ecstasy and the atmosphere in consuming this drug seem to help explain why ecstasy users scored high in most of the coping strategies, according to the authors. The authors say the results of the study show the need to address loneliness and strategies of coping with it when counselling ecstasy abusers in their teens or young adulthood years.
Read more on the American Psychological Association website
Top of page
Wives' Employment Increases Marital Stability
Marital unhappiness frequently drives wives into the workplace, says Dr Robert Schoen, the Hoffman Professor of Family Sociology and Demography at Penn State.
Schoen and his fellow researchers used longitudinal data from the National Survey of Families and Households to study the impact of employment on marital happiness. Their findings were recently presented at the Population Association of America conference in Atlanta.
The study measured marital happiness and involvement in full-time employment between two different time points. For couples that reported unhappiness at the first time point, the likelihood that the wife would be in the full-time labor force was significantly greater than it was for couples reporting happiness at that time.
"Marital quality predicts wives' subsequent labor force participation," says Schoen,. "Wives who are unhappy in their marriages at Time 1 are more likely to enter or remain in the full-time labor force between Times 1 and 2 than are wives in marriages where both spouses are happy at Time 1.
"Interestingly, wives' full-time employment is elevated even in marriages in which the wife is happy and the husband is not," he adds.
Views on wives' full-time employment often suggest that wives entering the full-time work force are preparing for divorce, but the researchers found that wives' full-time employment tends to have the opposite effect.
"We see no consequences of wives' full-time employment for marital happiness, but wives' full-time employment decreases the risk of subsequent marital disruption," Schoen explains.
"We do not know the motives that lead unhappy wives to enter or remain in full-time employment, but it appears that they are not simply preparing for a marital dissolution," he says.
The researchers also found that having a child between Times 1 and 2 reduced the likelihood of wives' employment by 55 percent. Women with one child were also less likely to work full-time than wives with two or more children and wives with no children.
We've observed in our Uplifts and clinical practice that men often feel more secure and happy at work than at home. We have hypothesized that at work the "rules and roles" of relationships were clear. In other words, at work they knew what was expected of them, and knew that they could meet these expectations. At home, on the contrary, they felt lost as to what was wanted, and also failures because they couldn't "fix" their partner's emotional problems. Now we see that women feel this need for clarity and structure as well. And, of course, they need a wider range of relationships than just partners and children.
The Uplift workshops, tapes and books show people how to create clarity and functional structure in the relationships they have, and to broaden the number of people with whom they interact, thus fulfilling what is obviously a need in both men and women. In addition, the Uplift Program shows people how to make the most of relationships at work so that they meet these expectations and needs. AF
Read more in Penn News
Top of page
Fibbing Common in Everyday Conversation
July 7, 2002
Meeting new people can spark nervousness and dread in some individuals; it can elicit eagerness and enthusiasm in others. Most of these folks share a surprising trait, however: they lie.
According to study results detailed in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 60 percent of the participants lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation, and most fibbed two or three times. Furthermore, when confronted with their falsehoods, many subjects did not even realize that they had been telling tall tales.
To probe this form of social lying, Robert S Feldman of the University of Massachusetts and his colleagues directed 121 pairs of undergraduates to engage in 10-minute conversations. Telling the students only that the study analyzed how people behave when meeting someone new, the team instructed some subjects to appear likable, some to appear competent, and gave no direct instruction to others.
The researchers videotaped the subsequent interaction between each pair of students and then showed them the tape individually, asking both to identify any inaccuracies or lies in their speech. Subjects exhibited surprise at their own dishonest behavior. "When they were watching themselves on videotape, people found themselves lying much more than they thought they had," Feldman notes.
The investigators also discovered that women and men seem to tell different sorts of fibs. "Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better," Feldman remarks.
Researchers found that untruths ranged from harmlessly agreeing with a partner's views to outrageously claiming to be a rock star. "It's so easy to lie," Feldman says. "We teach our children that honesty is the best policy, but we also tell them it's polite to pretend they like a birthday gift they've been given. Kids get a very mixed message, and it has an impact on how they behave as adults."
Read more in Scientific American
Top of page
Sex Education Fails to Cut Pregnancies
June 24, 2002
Canadian research found programs failed to delay intercourse, improve birth control use or cut the number of pregnancies. And a Scottish study of school-based sex education found that while it improved the quality of young people's relationships and their sexual health knowledge, it had no effect on their use of contraceptives.
But the UK Family Planning Association said the studies showed sex education was only one factor in reducing teenage pregnancies and that successful initiatives took a much broader approach.
The Canadian study reviewed 31 trials of teenagers aged 11 to 18 which evaluated sex education classes, abstinence programs, family planning clinics and community programs. In five of the trials examined -- four abstinence programs and one school-based sex education program -- an increase in pregnancies among the partners of young men involved was observed.
The authors, from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, say the review shows there is not yet a clear solution for reducing pregnancy rates. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they suggest sex education may need to begin when children are as young as five.
The Scottish study compared the specially-designed sex education program called SHARE, aimed at 13 to 15 year-olds, with conventional sex education. It involved 25 secondary schools and 5,854 pupils who were questioned before and after the program. Teenagers preferred the SHARE scheme. Those who were on the program had fewer regrets about first intercourse with their most recent partner and said their sexual health knowledge had improved.
But there was no difference between the SHARE group and those receiving conventional sex education in terms of sexual activity or contraception use by age 16.
Dr Daniel Wight of the Medical Research Council's Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at Glasgow University, who led the research, said: "One of the things that surprised us most about the study was that the majority of those who were having sex were using contraception and condoms responsibly. That might well be as a result of conventional sex education. What the study proved was that its very difficult to change the behavior of the minority."
Separately, Anne Weyman, of the Family Planning Association, said: "This research confirms that sex and relationships education is just one important element amongst many in reducing teenage pregnancy. Social exclusion, poverty, low educational attainment and access to services are also key factors in this complex public health issue. No one type of intervention can be successful alone."
Read more in the British Medical Journal
Read more on the Family Planning Association website
Top of page
Sex and Violence Impair Memory for TV Commercials
June 24, 2002
In a study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers at Iowa State University have discovered that viewers are less likely to remember advertisements linked to programs showing violence or explicit sex. This is the key finding of the first published study to examine the effect of televised sex on memory for commercial messages.
In the study each program contained nine ads for products with broad market appeal, such as soft drinks, cereal and laundry detergent. Immediately after viewing the TV program, the participants were given a surprise test in which they tried to recall the brand names in the commercial messages. The next day the participants were contacted by telephone and were again asked to recall the advertised brands.
Results show those participants who saw the ads during a neutral program (no sexual or violent content) had better memory of the products advertised than did participants who saw the ads during a sexual or violent program, both immediately after exposure and 24 hours later. The violent and sexual content impaired memory for both males and females of all ages, regardless of whether they liked programs containing violence and sex.
"One possible reason why sex and violence impair memory for commercials," according to Dr Bushman, "is because people pay attention to sex and violence, thus reducing the amount of attention they can pay to the commercials."
There is emerging literature demonstrating that sexually explicit media promote sexual callousness, cynical attitudes about love and marriage, and perceptions that promiscuity is the norm, say the study authors. The authors believe their research may deter advertisers from advertising on certain types of programming.
"It is unlikely that moral appeals from parents nd other concerned citizens will influence the TV industry to reduce the amount of violence and sex on television. The bottom line -- profits -- actually determines what programs are shown on television. If advertisers refused to sponsor them, violent and sexually explicit TV programs would be extinct."
Read more in the Journal of Applied Psychology
Top of page
Check our event schedule for workshops and seminars.
About the Author
Dr Bob Murray is a widely published psychologist and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with his wife and long-term collaborator Alicia Fortinberry, he is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
Do you like our site? Recommend this page to a friend!