Attachment Theory: Explaining Relationship “Styles”

Science of Relationships had an interesting blog post a couple weeks ago about attachment theory. The author notes that attachment style can and does change over time; it can change naturally in response to growth and maturation, based on changes in the environment (e.g., supportive vs. chaotic), and due to the formation of relationships. Something to add is that research has also suggested that psychotherapy has a direct impact on attachment style.

Be sure to read the post on the Science of Relationships site:

Sometimes it’s easy to spot insecure people. They could be highly jealous, petty, paranoid, or emotionally distant. They could resist being touched or comforted when they’re upset, or they could go from being happy to furious at the drop of a hat, leaving their partners scratching their heads.

Fortunately, there’s an explanation for these behaviors, and it lies in “attachment theory.”

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

How Can I Tell if Someone is Interested in Me?

Science of Relationships just posted a great new blog entry about flirting and judging another person’s interest in you. It turns out that a great deal of interest is shown non-verbally, but these signals can be confusing and hard to interpret. You should have a look as the post on their site:

A reader recently asked: How can I tell if someone is interested in me?

Deciphering romantic interest is a difficult endeavor. On the one hand, if you fail to notice someone’s interest in you, you miss out on the high of realizing someone thinks you’re all that, not to mention the missed opportunity to form a relationship with that person. On the other hand, if you incorrectly think someone is interested in you (what researchers refer to as a ‘false positive’), you risk wasting valuable time and effort flashing your proverbial peacock feathers. You also open yourself up to the sting of rejection and embarrassment you might feel upon getting shot down after making your approach. Ouch. Worse, misperceiving romantic or sexual interest plays a role in sexual harassment1 and sexual assault.2 That’s a definite – and potentially illegal – ouch.

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

Teens look to parents more than friends for sexual role models

Interesting new study out of the University of Montreal. It seems that, at least in homes where sexuality is discusses, teens learn more about sex from their parents than their friends or the media.

Check it out:

The results of a national online study show that 45 percent consider their parents to be their sexuality role model. Shattering stereotypes that parents and society hold about teen sexuality, the survey also revealed that only 32 percent looked to their friends and just 15 percent took inspiration from celebrities.

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

Review of The Mindful Way through Anxiety by Orsillo and Roemer

Readers will note that there are many (hundreds, in fact) books on the market for coping with anxiety. One need only visit the “Self-Help” section of your local bookstore to find a wide array of different offerings, each promising to help ease your anxious mind. The Mindful Way through Anxiety by Susan Orsillo and Lisabeth Roemer (both professors of clinical psychology with years of experience researching and treating anxiety), stands out among them for its solid scientific foundation and pragmatic approach. The book focuses on scientifically-supported principles for coping with anxiety, developed form the authors’ own program of research. (This is not to say that all other self-help books for anxiety are non-scientific; there are actually a number of very good offerings written by experienced scientists and clinicians. There are, however, many more that are not.)

What The Mindful Way through Anxiety offers is not only based on cutting-edge research, it’s also very approachable. The authors present a solid rationale for using Mindfulness, which involves noticing and accepting feelings of anxiety (as opposed to avoiding and judging them), to help live a rich and fulfilling life in spite of anxiety. They also provide a program of mindfulness exercises which grows increasingly specific and challenging throughout the book. Instead of focusing only on theory (as many similar books have done), Orsillo and Roemer provide many tangible examples from their own practice. This combination of practical exercises and real-world examples makes for a book that is both interesting and easily understood by non-therapists.

Mindfulness has shown great promise in treating anxiety; multiple clinical studies have show its efficacy in treating a variety of anxiety disorders. Many of the examples provided in this book are specific to social anxiety (and some even touch on anxiety in dating situations). Although the focus of the book is more general, people who struggle to interact with potential romantic partners (both in initial meetings and on dates) can benefit from the authors’ approach. As a bonus, the exercises described in the book are available for free as mp3 files at the accompanying website.

Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?

Interesting post at Science of Relationships summarizing some research on “nice guys.” As it turns out, it isn’t as straightforward as many people assume.

The post is definitely worth a read:

We often hear tales of women forsaking the nice, kind, dependable man for the brooding, confident bad boy, but do women really prefer bad boys? New research from the University of British Columbia suggests that perhaps they do, at least in terms of sexual attractiveness.

Across two studies, women rated happy, smiling men as less attractive than proud, confident men. The opposite pattern emerged for men’s ratings of women; happy women were rated as more attractive than proud women.

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

Addendum to: The Average Person has a Far Less Exciting Sex Life than You Think

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US just released a report 1 summarizing their own health statistics collected from 2006-2008 regarding sexual behavior. When we read the results, we decided that we had to write this addendum to our post about people’s perception of the average number of sex partners. Many of our numbers in this article came from a comprehensive report published in 1994, which did cause us to wonder whether or not things have change in the last decade and half. The answer is, basically, no.

According to the CDC’s report, which surveyed 13,495 15-44 year olds, 75% of women and 69% of men reported zero or one sex partner (of the opposite sex) in the past 12 months. Only 3% of women and 6% of men reported more than three. They were also asked about their total lifetime partners. The CDC reported median (or 50th percentile, meaning half were above and half were below) partners instead of average, which is more appropriate than average in this case for a number of statistical reasons (a floor effect coupled with many high outliers, for those of you who are interested). The median number of partners for men was five, and the median for women was three.

Now some of our more observant readers may be thinking to themselves right now: “Wait a minute, they said 15-44 year olds. Fifteen year olds are bound to have fewer partners than 44 year olds, so if you bunch them all together, you will get a number that’s too low.” This is good thinking (you’re really thinking like a scientist if you said this), but you would only be half right. Yes, the younger members of the group had fewer total partners. The 15-19 year olds in the group reported a median of 2 for men and 1 for women. However, when you look at the age group with the most partners, it is mot much different from the overall median for everyone. Among men, every age group over 25 pretty much had a median of 6. For the women, most age groups over 25 had a mean of 4. The likely reason for this phenomenon is the fact (which we discussed in the original article) that most people end up pairing off at some point in their lives.

It was interesting to see this new data, and how well it lined up with prior surveys. Also interesting was the consistent difference between the numbers reported by men, and those reported by women. Considering that the data only took into account opposite-sex partners, you would expect the numbers to be the same. As it turns out, this difference is consistent across most surveys of sexual activity… but that is a larger topic, and one which we plan to cover in a future installment of the blog.

Interested in these findings? Read the original post.

  1. Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D. , & Copen, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth (National Health Statistics Report No. 36). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:

Use of human voice in social media can help organizations build relationships

Very cool study out of Missouri School of Journalism that was picked up by Science Daily. It’s not surprising that people show a preference for social networking that includes human voice; after all, it’s very hard to convey emotion via text :) ! It would seem like a natural extension of this research to test a voice greeting on dating sites. Check it out:

Researchers have found that utilizing a personal human voice when communicating online leads to much higher user satisfaction ratings than impersonal communication.

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

Does Cupid play politics? That ‘something special’ might be your mate’s political ideology

This is really interesting; for years psychologists have cited research which suggests that people like to date others who are similar to themselves (assuming that physical attractiveness and personality are the most important characteristics of similarity). This research suggests that similarity political beliefs are more important. Considering how a person’s politics often reflect their values (whether conservative or progressive), it makes sense that we look for people who vote like us. Read the post at Science Daily:

Though “variety is the spice of life” and “opposites attract,” most people marry only those whose political views align with their own, according to new research. Political scientists found that political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits and even stronger than qualities like personality or looks.

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

Friends with Benefits: Are They as Complicated in Real Life as They are in the Movies?

Check out this great article about “friends with benefits” relationships from Science of Relationships:

The term “friends with benefits” (FWB) has become part of our vernacular in recent years and public interest in the topic appears to be surging. For example, this year alone brings two major motion pictures devoted exclusively to the subject, No Strings Attached (starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) and this summer’s Friends with Benefits (starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake). The concept has also been popularized by the ongoing FWB arrangement between Vinny and Snooki on the Jersey Shore (see here for more on the Vinny/Snooki saga).

One thing all of these media portrayals have in common is that they depict FWB relationships as complicated. Inevitably, somebody seems to get jealous and drama ensues. So does that match up with reality? Are these relationships really that difficult to manage?

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

Interview with Brian G. Gilmartin, Ph.D.

For this edition of the Interpersonal Science blog, we are pleased to interview Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin, Professor of Sociology at Montana State University-Northern. In 1987, he published Shyness and Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment, which was the first comprehensive scientific investigation of dating and relationships initiation problems (for which he coined the term “love-shyness”). In writing the book, Dr. Gilmartin presented the existing sociological, psychological, and biological literature, as well as the results of his survey of hundreds of men who struggle to form relationships with women. His analysis included recommendations for interventions aimed at improving interpersonal functioning. Gilmartin’s book has been embraced by many as an honest and compassionate description of their difficulties.

IS: Dr. Gilmartin, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. First of all, what do you think about the reception Shyness and Love has received?

BG: When I was first looking for a publisher back in 1985, I was somewhat amazed that literary agents and publishers were both skeptical about the idea of a book on any form of shyness selling well. This is despite the fact that Phillip Zimbardo’s 1977 book [Shyness: What it is, What to do About it] on the subject actually did rather well.

So I had to settle at that time for University Press of America. It turned out that it and the much shorter The Shy Man Syndrome, did much better business in Japan than it did here in the United States. Over 30,000 copies were sold there. And as a result, I was offered a consultancy position over there – which I have very much enjoyed over the past 15 years. I have especially enjoyed the free trips to Japan!

To the best of my knowledge, my work has not been published in any of the European countries.

Another issue is the fact that even in 1985, some 93 percent of all literary agents in New York (and elsewhere) were women. Some of these women were “put off” by the fact that LOVE-SHYNESS dealt only with males – even though I tried to make the point clear that love-shyness is almost exclusively a male problem.

IS: The two decades since the book’ publication have seen a great deal of change; what do you think are the most important factor(s) affecting love-shy men in the modern world?

BG: One of the most important developments on the love-shyness front is the increasing degree of consensus that at least 40 percent (two out of five) of the most severely love-shy males have ASPERGER’S SYNDROME. This, as you know, is high functioning autism. The diagnostic category was first introduced back in 1944, by Austrian psychologist Hans Asperger. Unfortunately, Asperger’s important work did not come to the attention of the English-speaking world until rather recently – not until 1982 in Great Britain, and not until 1990, here in the United States.

Asperger’s Syndrome can be most accurately diagnosed using neuroimaging strategies. However, you might want to check the basic behavioral manifestations of Asperger’s, which are listed in the DSM-IV-R. Some 11 out of every 12 cases of Asperger’s are male. And a key symptom is that of severe shyness in informal, unstructured situations. Asperger’s boys typically had no playmates while growing up, had been bullied, and normally played alone while pursuing somewhat unusual (for children) and adult interests.

I think the “link up” of severe love-shyness with Asperger’s Syndrome, may be good news in disguise – because it may open up a range of preventative learning experiences and therapeutic strategies for love-shys, that otherwise would not become available to them. The earlier in life this problem can be diagnosed, the better the overall prognosis. The brain is highly malleable (see work on neuroplasticity), and early training in interpersonal skills can and does make a big difference.

IS: One change impacting the landscape of dating has been the development of dating websites where people can meet one another. How do you see this playing out for men who struggle to initiate relationships?

BG: I think that the enormous improvement in the social acceptability of “internet dating” sites can (and has) helped a great many love-shy men. Today, fully 20 percent of all American marriages eventuated from “first meetings” through the Internet or through some sort of “computer dating”.

Computer technology has helped out a great deal in this regard. But it has done nothing to deal with the physical attractiveness bugaboo. We still need to find the genes that control for the programming of physical (and especially FACIAL) prettiness/attractiveness. For many men, it is impossible to “fall in love with” someone who is not perceived as having a pretty face. In this regard, the face is of much greater importance than the rest of the body.

I think that in the future we may be able to develop a technology that would give all eligible young men and women a BAR CODE, similar to that which is found on many supermarket products. This bar code would contain a great deal of DNA-related information as well as data germane to politics, social views, religious orientations, musical tastes/predilections, entertainment interests, hopes, desires, aspirations and dreams, etc. Such a bar code (which could be entered into computers and on the internet) might easily be disseminated throughout the world – so that people could much more easily locate those whose major attributes are similar to their own.

IS: Given that changes in gender politics have altered the roles men and women play in society (and in romantic relationships), do you see love-shyness becoming a more prevalent problem among single women?

BG: One can argue that love-shyness in females is manifested by the shy woman refusing invitations for dates and for informal conversations with men, that she really would very much like to accept. Saying “no” all the time IN SOME CASES may reflect an underlying fear, anxiety, as well as severe shyness. But even those women thusly afflicted, are highly likely to still have their female friends. In fact, that is a major sex difference right there: love-shy males tend to be friendless vis-à-vis BOTH sexes, whereas love-shy females are merely deficient of subconsciously desired MALE companionship.

So in terms of rate data, I do not see changes in gender politics as having produced any increase in the prevalence of “love-shyness” among women.

In short, women can satisfy their needs for emotional intimacy by and through their female friendships. In contrast, MALES do not enjoy this luxury. Males can satisfy their emotional intimacy needs only through interaction with a female.

IS: In what direction would you like to see the research on dating and relationships initiation go?

BG: At University of London some fascinating work is being done using brain scans – e.g., SPECT scans, fMRI and PET scans, etc. – that can easily determine whether or not two people are actually indeed in love. Of course, this is separate from the love-shyness area of research. But I think it is worth mentioning.

I would like to see research conducted on a “Harrad College” type of model, wherein 18-year old college freshmen are paired off with opposite sexed room mates. I think that this could cultivate interpersonal skills, social self-confidence, as well as a more realistic, down-to-earth attitude with respect to heterosexual relationships. I think it might also cultivate an improved level of academic performance, at least in male students.

One of the promising areas of research pertains to what in social psychology is called “biased interaction”. This involves hiring confederates (very attractive, interpersonally well-skilled FEMALE confederates), and assigning them to go out on dates with love-shy males. The “twist” is that the love-shy male is unaware of the fact that he is dating someone who is being paid to go out with him.

This approach resembles “practice dating”, which I discuss at length in my book. However, it is a considerably more forceful approach that has shown considerable promise. Sharon Brehm discusses it in one of the earlier editions of her standard Social Psychology textbook – the 3rd edition, I think. Anyway, psychologists Robert Montgomery and Francis Hammerlie conducted a study using this strategy. And if their findings are to be believed, they achieved considerable success with it. “Biased interaction” has a history going back to 1937, when Cornell University psychologist Robert Guthrie did a study on just one “wallflower” girl – an experiment that worked quite well. And she, of course, was kept entirely unaware of the fact that she was a “guinea pig” in a psychology study.

The logistics of “biased interaction” and to a lesser extent, of “practice dating”, are very challenging. And so extremely few psychologists have used either of these strategies, or experimented with them.

IS: Modern developments in evidence-based behavioral healthcare (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure-based treatments) have been demonstrated to be effective in treating anxiety in a number of settings. Do you think these interventions have the potential to impact love-shyness?

BG: Love-shyness (including Asperger’s) inheres in the limbic system or in the EMOTIONAL BRAIN, NOT in the intellectual brain, NOT in the higher cortical, reasoning centers. This constitutes another reason for helping children as early in life as possible (example: at age 3 or 4), as soon as they begin to display symptoms.

Simply put, cognitive-behavioral therapy has its limits. I teach cognitive-behavioral therapy. And so I have great confidence in it, BUT NOT FOR THE FORM OF SOCIAL PHOBIA THAT BOGS A PERSON DOWN IN INFORMAL, UNSTRUCTURED SOCIAL SITUATIONS. As a case in point, the Joseph Wolpe “psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition” simply cannot be adapted to the dating scene – because it is unstructured, requires improvisation, and because there is no way to predict in advance what might happen over the course of a relationship.

In contrast, if a person is afraid of public speaking or playing the piano at a concert or appearing in a stage play, THIS SORT OF THING CAN BE CURED (or close to “cured”) USING PSYCHOTHERAPY BY RECIPROCAL INHIBITION – as well as other cognitive-behavioral strategies.

Rational reasoning simply will not release the amygdala from its imprisonment, nor will it modify traumatic memories, or normalized an abnormally high level of monoamine oxidase – or calm down an overly active RIGHT pre-frontal cortex.

Parenthetically, “biased interaction” would also quality as “exposure treatment”. But again, the logistics are overwhelmingly difficult for therapists and clinicians to negotiate.

IS: Thank you again for discussing your research with us. And thank you for all the work you’ve done to understand and help people develop happier and healthier love lives.

BG: I hope the foregoing ideas have provided you with some helpful insights.