Trick or… treat? Bad dating advice from around the web

We just saw this on The Spark (the official blog of We’ve thought of some of these before, and agree that there is tons of bad advice out there. So much of it is based on guesses and spurious correlations. We’re glad to see others interested in this important topic.

Be sure to check out the list on The Spark:

In the spirit of Halloween, we scared up a few links to some of the worst dating advice for men and women we’ve EVER heard. Feel free to share your own horror stories about the worst advice you’ve been given in your own life — whether you read it in a book, heard it from […]

Read the rest of the post at the original site, and be sure to visit The Spark!

The Power of the Rebel

A series of experiments, published in this month’s edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science, has documented an effect you no doubt recognize from growing up – people who break the rules are perceived to be more powerful. I have strong memories of how the coolest people at school were often also the ones who broke the rules; they’d make risque jokes, they’d put their feet up on their desk, they’d cross the road against the light, they’d even occasionally skip class. It seemed like they weren’t as worried about getting in trouble as the rest of us.

Now researchers in Amsterdam show that it still works that way for adults. In four separate studies, they found that adults breaking rules or norms (socially accepted but unspoken rules) were considered more powerful by observers than those who dutifully obeyed. The rule-breakers were observed doing things like taking coffee from a city official who was out of the room, putting their feet up on a desk or chair, dumping cigarette ash on the ground instead of an ashtray, and breaking bookkeeping rules. Observers thought these rule-breakers were more powerful people, as well as more likely to be angry and not sad, and more approach-oriented. The effect was found across different types of experiments, as observers read about rules breakers in vignettes, or looked at them in pictures, or actually interacted briefly with them.

This connection between rule-breaking and power relates to dating, because research has found women are attracted to power in men. But before we head out and start breaking rules willy-nilly, lets think a little more about this effect. Simply breaking a norm won’t increase attractiveness. For example, let’s say I went out wearing a plastic bucket on my head and started throwing eggs at passers-by – though I’d certainly be breaking norms, I doubt I’d be a new sex symbol. It’s likely that only certain rules or norms can be broken with success – something science has yet to establish. Some clues may be found in related research on risk-taking: it has been found that people who take more risks are more attractive, but only certain types of risks, like standing up to peer pressure, or playing adventurous sports. In these studies, taking health risks like using drugs was not attractive. It needs to be determined which rules or norms specifically are OK to break.

Also consider why it is that rule breaking convey power. The study’s authors point out that powerful people can get away with breaking rules, and so when we see someone breaking rules, we assume they are powerful. However, by digging a little deeper we discover that it is not the act of breaking the rule that actually matters. What really matters is “volition capacity” (or acting of your own volition). Essentially, what matters is not that you broke a rule, but that you had the strength of character to do what you wanted. In fact, the rule only matters in that it gives you an opportunity to show that you do what you want – it gives you something to oppose. Breaking a rule that you don’t care about or agree with is a straightforward way to show that you are the sort of person who sticks to their convictions. But, if you think about it, we can follow a rule and still show volitional capacity – for example, by adhering to it in the face of opposition.

When it comes to dating, this research actually fits nicely within the current model we espouse here at Interpersonal Science. You don’t become more attractive by trying to play a bad boy in real life, purposely breaking rules in order to look cool. Instead, you take the time to understand yourself, recognize what you personally believe, and then act in accordance with it. Anxiety is a common barrier to being able to living in this authentic way – we let anxiety stop us from behaving how we wish, and doing what we actually want to do. Thus, increased self-awareness and treatment of anxiety leads to becoming naturally more powerful and authentic people, which in turn flows into improved dating success.


  1. Van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Finkenauer, C., Gündemir, C., & Stamkou, E. (2011). Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power: How Norm Violators Gain Power in the Eyes of Others. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(5), 500-507.

A Case for Playing Hard to Get

Some great new research out of Univ. of VA and Harvard was just summarized in a post on Science of Relationships. As we pointed out in a Web Serial, we tend to be more attracted people who like us back (all other things, such as physical attraction, held equal). This new research adds an interesting twist: women (men were not included in the study) are more attracted to men who show some ambiguity when initially getting to know each other.

Have a look at the post:

Are you more likely to be attracted to someone who is into you? Or do you like those that don’t reciprocate your interest? This is one of those cases where your intuitions might be wrong. You need to be cool and downplay your interest in someone to get them to like you, right? Nope; it turns out that there’s a lot of research showing that we tend to like those people who like us right back.

Read the rest of the post at the original site, and be sure to visit Science of Relationships!

New Stuff for Professionals on our Site!

Interpersonal Science has just added a section for professionals (researchers, clinicians, educators, etc.) on our website. This section includes our recent presentations relevant to relationship formation and minimal dating, and we plan to add more resources in the future. The professional page can be found at

We are also very excited to announce the creation of an online forum for professionals to discuss and share information about dating research and clinical interventions. The forum is free and open to all professionals. Log on to to join!

Finances and Relationships

With all the dire news regarding the global financial situation dominating the headlines, the difficulties facing individuals’ (and couples’) finances may have unforeseen consequences for the relationships of many people throughout the world. Research has shown that money is one of the most (if not the most) common factor contributing to married couples’ arguments. The worsening economic picture in many countries is likely to put a great deal of additional stress on a large number of relationships.

Although the immediate fallout of the global economic problems on couples may not be evident for years, there is the possibility of what scientists call a “cohort effect,” in which there is a group of people with a common experience due to the events taking place at a specific time in their lives. For example, GIs returning to the United States and Canada after WWII were very ready to settle down and start families: many desired a return to a sense of “normalcy” that was given up when they went off to fight in Europe or the Pacific. This resulted in a strong spike in birthrates which we often call the “baby boom” generation. Many men who might not otherwise have married or had children (at least not at that specific time) ended up doing so within the span of a few years.

It does not take too much imagination to think about the effects that the weakened economy could have on couples today. Perhaps years from now, we’ll look back to see a large proportion of divorces and/or breakups; relationships that would not otherwise have ended (at least not at the specific time they did) had they not been exposed to the stresses of the current financial environment.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Five Predictors (and Five Not So Good Predictors) of Relationship Success

A recent Science of Realtionships post by Dr. Benjamin Le includes a great summary of his research. He looks at predictors of relationship success over time; in other words, what factors influence whether a couple breaks up or stays togeather. His results are somewhat surprising. As it turns out, personality and attachment style are not predictors. Although knowing these things may not help individual couples to strengthen or protect their relationships from meeting an untimely end, this research will likely eventually help therapists to better assess and treat couples with troubled relationships.

Read the entire post on the Science of Relationships site:

Last week ago we posted a quiz to see how much our readers knew about predicting relationship stability or success. Overall, it looks like we’ve got some work to do; the average score on the quiz was 48% (remember, random guessing should average 50% right). The questions in the quiz were inspired by some of my work on understanding relationship outcomes. One of my main research areas is the role of commitment in predicting the “success” of dating relationships (using the term loosely; i.e., staying together vs. breaking-up).

Read the rest of the post at the original site, and be sure to visit Science of Relationships!

How to “Warm” Things Up on Your Next Date

This new Science of Relationships post about physical warmth is interesting; they summarize some research in which physical warmth (such as a warm drink) translated to feelings of interpersonal warmth towards another person. This is especially relevant considering how important we know interpersonal warmth to be. In a brief study we presented last year at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, we found that warmth is an important factor in dating: heterosexual men with a warm interpersonal style were more likely to be in a relationship, and reported greater satisfaction with their love-lives. Warmth is by no means the only factor determining dating success, but it is important.

Check out the original post:

If you want to be perceived as warm and friendly on your next date, bring your date a hot cup of coffee or encourage him or her to order the soup. Researchers have found that physical warmth can influence our perceptions of another person’s psychological warmth.

Read the rest of the post at the original site, and be sure to visit Science of Relationships!

The dark side of oxytocin

ScienceDaily just posted about a great literature review regarding the hormone oxytocin. Although it appears that oxytocin is involved in social activities that include feelings of closeness (such as sex, kissing, nurturing behaviors, etc.), its effects have been greatly overstated and misinterpreted. People have gone so far as to suggest hugging a potential romantic partner for 30 seconds when you first meet them, because it releases oxytocin and will make them like you more. (We think that a 30 second hug at the end of a first date is probably creepy enough to negate any hormonal effects. Really, give it a shot; thirty seconds is a lot longer than it sounds like.)

An important point made by the article is that the effects of oxytocin are (as is so often the case when looking at the way our brains function) far more complex. It may in fact be the case that oxytocin is less a determinant of “closeness” and more involved in what psychologists call approach motivation. This can include feelings, like anger and anxiety, that we are more likely to label as unpleasant.

For more information about the complex effects of oxytocin, read the original post:

For a hormone, oxytocin is pretty famous. It’s the “cuddle chemical” — the hormone that helps mothers bond with their babies. Salespeople can buy oxytocin spray on the internet, to make their clients trust them. It’s known for promoting positive feelings, but more recent research has found that oxytocin can promote negative emotions, too.

Read the rest of the post at the original site, and be sure to visit ScienceDaily: Relationship News!

‘Mirroring’ might reflect badly on you

This is a great review of some recent research on “mirroring” (or copying others’ body language). Older studies confirmed that people who are romantically interested in each other, or in romantic relationships, mirror each other’s nonverbal behaviors. Mistaking correlation (two things occurring together, regardless of cause) for causality (when one occurrence actually causes another), many have misinterpreted these results. For years now, people have been encouraged to copy body language in social situations such as flirting, job interviews, etc. ScienceDaily reviews an upcoming paper in the prestigious journal Psychological Science in which the authors dispute this advice.

Give it a read:

The benefits of body-language mimicry have been confirmed by numerous psychological studies. And in popular culture, mirroring is frequently urged on people as a strategy — for flirting or having a successful date, for closing a sale or acing a job interview. But new research suggests that mirroring may not always lead to positive social outcomes. In fact, sometimes the smarter thing to do is to refrain.

Read the rest of the post at the original site, and be sure to visit ScienceDaily: Relationship News!

Life Stages in Dating

In her book Hooking Up, Kathleen Bogle discusses the transition from college to post-collegiate life and the changes in the dating scene that take place. According to Bogle, young adults’ expectations for physical and emotional intimacy change; casual relationships become more formal as social norms dictate longer-term relationships. The idea of needing to adjust one’s outlook to fit with the “rules of the game” for dating at a specific stage of life (e.g., high school, college, young adulthood, middle age) is an important thing to keep in mind at any age.

One question this raises is how a recently-single man or woman can cope with starting to date again. A person who has been in a long-term relationship may all of a sudden find them self in unfamiliar territory. This could be the plight of the middle-aged recent divorcee (as in Tom Hanks’ character in Sleepless in Seattle; now there’s an old movie reference), or a younger person at the end of a relationship that bridged their transition from high school to college, or from college to “real life.” This sort of “dating culture shock” involves the need to rapidly learn the new, unspoken rules of a process that was once very familiar. Although this may seem daunting, our brains are designed to learn and adapt to a changing social world. Like anything else, it just takes time.