Researchers Examine Romantic Relationships

Feb. 9, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas—Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin examine the science and sociology of intimate relationships—from the initial attraction between two people to the effects of long-term compatibility and separation. The following experts are available to discuss their research on human relationships.

A MATING BUDGET CAN ADD UP TO A PARTNER

Norman Li
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
512-471-1124
normli@mail.utexas.edu

Norman Li, a psychology researcher at The University of Texas at Austin, argues finding a mate is essentially a matter of budget allocation, balancing what you have to offer and what you hope to find. We each have a budget, determined by the qualities we bring into the mating game, be they good looks, generosity, kindness or an impressive job. That budget determines who's available to us as a potential partner. The former financial professional finds the economic model-including trade-off and cost-benefit analyses-useful in considering how people choose their mates.

HOW WRITING CAN HELP RELATIONSHIPS

Richard Slatcher
Researcher and graduate student, Department of Psychology
512-471-6852
slatcher@mail.utexas.edu

James Pennebaker
Chair, Department of Psychology
512-232-2781
pennebaker@mail.utexas.edu

Writing about one's romantic relationship may help it last longer, according to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin. In a study titled "How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words," Psychology Professor James Pennebaker and graduate student Richard Slatcher analyzed writing samples from 86 couples. One person from each couple was instructed to write for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. Volunteers in one group wrote about their daily activities while those in the second group wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the relationship. The participants' dating partners did not complete any writing task. The researchers found that 77 percent of volunteers who wrote about their relationship were still dating their partner three months later. In contrast, only 52 percent of people who wrote just about everyday activities stayed with their partner.

CHANGES IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS

Ted Huston
Amy Johnson McLaughlin Centennial Professor of Human Ecology and Psychology, Department of Human Ecology
512-471-5606
huston@mail.utexas.edu

Ted Huston focuses on how and why intimate relationships change over time. His research examines the role of disillusionment in divorce, the connection between problems that surface during courtship and later marital distress, the impact of parenthood on marriage and gender differences in interpersonal styles.

Cathy Surra
Professor, Department of Human Ecology
512-471-0618
surra@mail.utexas.edu

Cathy Surra studies the development of romantic unions, including marriage. She examines how commitment evolves over time, the ways in which partners choose one another as mates and the links between the selection process and the long-term health of relationships.

CHILDREN AND THE MYTH OF A “GOOD DIVORCE”

Norval Glenn
Stiles Professor in American Studies, Department of Sociology
512-232-6320
ndglenn@mail.la.utexas.edu

Norval Glenn led a national study that reveals amicable divorces take a toll on children's overall wellbeing, as well as their own future marital success. Surprisingly, people whose parents had a good divorce had, on average, the least successful marriages of any of the categories of persons compared. Their results differed significantly from persons whose parents had bad divorces involving destructive behaviors or low-conflict but unhappy marriages.

COMMUNICATION IN RELATIONSHIPS

Mark Knapp
Professor, Department of Communication Studies
512-471-3787
mlknapp@mail.utexas.edu

Mark Knapp researches nonverbal communication in human interaction, interpersonal communication and human relationships.

Anita L. Vangelisti
Professor, Department of Communication Studies
512-471-1921
a.vangelisti@mail.utexas.edu

Anita L. Vangelisti researches interpersonal communication among family members and between romantic partners. She focuses on how communication affects, and is affected by, emotions and the interpretative process.

COMMUNICATION: VERBAL INHIBITIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS

William Swann Jr.
William Howard Beasley III Professor in the Graduate School of Business,
Department of Psychology
512-471-3859
swann@mail.utexas.edu

Bill Swann examines how the presence or absence of verbal inhibitions affects romantically involved couples. He found relationships become particularly troubled when men who are more verbally inhibited are paired with women who are highly critical and verbally disinhibited.

The personality test, “Are you a Blurter or a Brooder? … and How this Affects your Love Life” is available online.

COMPETITION, HORMONES AND BEHAVIOR

Robert Josephs
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
512-471-9788
josephs@mail.psy.utexas.edu

Robert Josephs studies testosterone levels and competitiveness and the differences between men and women in the drive to dominate. For example, after a man loses a challenge-in a competitive sport or in the social arena-whether or not he is willing to get back in the game depends on changes in his testosterone levels.

DIVORCE AND HEART DISEASE IN WOMEN

Mark Hayward
Director, Population Research Center
512-471-8382
mhayward@prc.utexas.edu

Mark Hayward's research reveals divorced middle-aged women are 60 percent more likely to get cardiovascular disease-even when they remarry-than women who remain married. The research reveals emotional distress and a decline in financial status were the main factors linking divorce to heart disease in women.

HEALTH AND MARITAL HAPPINESS

Debra Umberson
Professor, Department of Sociology
512-232-6330
umberson@mail.la.utexas.edu

Debra Umberson researches marital quality and health. She has found that as men and women age they become increasingly vulnerable to marital stress.

HOW PEOPLE PRESENT THEMSELVES

Sam Gosling
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
512-471-1628
samg@mail.utexas.edu

Sam Gosling studies how people create environments that provide insights into their personalities and how they would like to be perceived. For example, these cues are found in the ways people decorate their offices or bedrooms.

MATING, MURDER AND RELATIONSHIPS

David Buss
Professor, Department of Psychology
512-475-8489
dbuss@psy.utexas.edu

David Buss researches the nature of mating, friendship and murder within close relationships. He draws on an evolutionary psychology perspective to examine the features of love and hate that are intimately tied to biological connections.

RELIANCE ON SOCIAL NETWORKS TO SUPPORT RELATIONSHIPS

Tim Loving
Assistant Professor, Department of Human Ecology
512-471-0973
tjloving@mail.utexas.edu

Tim Loving researches the relationship support process. He investigates individuals' conversations about their romantic relationships with members of their social network. He assesses how this alleviates or exacerbates how people respond to stress in situations such as the separation from a partner.

SELF-IMAGE AND RELATIONSHIPS

William Swann Jr.
William Howard Beasley III Professor in the Graduate School of Business,
Department of Psychology
512-471-3859
swann@mail.utexas.edu

Bill Swann's research with married couples reveals that people with negative self-views are more inclined to remain in relationships with spouses who think poorly of them. He is working to understand the nature and consequences of this effect.

SHORT-TERM vs. LONG-TERM MATING

Norman Li
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
512-471-1124
normli@mail.utexas.edu

Norman Li researches the similarities and differences between men and women when they engage in short- and long-term relationships.

For more information contact: Christian Clarke Cásarez, director of public affairs, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-4945.