Psychology of Social Connection

Entries from April 2022

Are you in or are you out?

April 8th, 2022 · 23 Comments

Mitchell Saron (Hyper polarization between political parties)

 

For the past decade, it seems that Americans have become substantially more politically polarized. Unfortunately, as Americans continue to indulge in social media, they will absorb news and political discourse from applications like Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. These platforms are designed to feed users with the most polarizing content as it generates the most views and data. It is unclear how far this could divide our nation, but it has already damaged many familial relationships and friendships. In the past, friendships were not harmed due to the friction of political affiliation. Nowadays, Americans will not even consider a friendship with an individual of opposing political views.

 

What makes an individual align with a political party? Currently, political ties can be attributed to a person’s parents or guardians, friends, political outlets, and the invasive political messages within our current social media outlets. However, on the most basic level, a person’s political affiliation is contrived from their values. I think a lot of people would agree that a friendship, relationship, or marriage would not work with each party having opposing political views. With some relationships, I fully agree that not sharing a political party with a spouse can lead to an unsuccessful marriage. This is especially true when raising children with a partner as you want to both share the values that you want to bestow on your kids. Nevertheless, I think it is embarrassing that the current state of our political climate has made it taboo to have a friend with different views as yourself.

 

My home town has a history of being predominantly conservative, but in recent years it has become pretty split between Republican and Democratic affiliation. As a result, my high school classmates emulated this demographic as well. My friends from home have views across the political spectrum and it has never once affected the healthiness or longevity of a relationship. I think many people today consider members of the opposing political party as a threat to society, evil, or ignorant. Yet, this natural need for tribalism has been exacerbated by the media which has led to the demonizing of each political party from each side. In reality, people just have different values. For the most part, two people can like and enjoy each other’s company without having the exact same value system. These political labels merely create division that was not there in the first place.

 

In Buliga and MacInnis (2020), the authors yield that relationships between different political group members are usually characterized by “antipathy and avoidance.” In their study, they measured positive reactions such as hope of the relationship lasting, intentions to engage in friendship maintenance behaviors, and trust between members of the same and different political party. Specifically, there were four groups measured: in-group friend, potential in-group friend, out-group friend, and potential out-group friend. Ultimately, participants were most positive toward the established in-group friend, followed by potential in-group friend, then the established out-group friend, and finally the potential out-group friend. Therefore, people were more likely to be positive toward a person they had just met than an established friend due to differing political views.

 

I wonder how the results of this study would differ had it been conducted 20 years ago. From my point of view, it is very scary and sad that people would rather have better intentions toward a complete stranger than a recognized friend just due to a political label. Even my parents, who have been married for about 30 years, have always been on the opposite political spectrum. I grew up with my mother watching CNN in the living room while my Dad listened to Fox News in his office. Perhaps I am biased due to my upbringing, but I think there has to be a balance between natural tribalism and the hatred between our current political parties. It’s natural to enjoy friendships with those that share a similar value system, but there is no reason to bias ourselves into only having relationships with those that mimic our political creeds.

 

Anthony Nelson (Biases and Perception)

 

Are we all unconsciously biased? Is there a part of us deep down that just favors familiar things more?  The idea of in-groups and out-groups can help one understand why research has shown the answer to these questions is, yes. The most relevant way these biases can be explained would be by looking at our own country’s political divide. Especially in the past two presidential elections. In high school back in Florida it was clear to see peoples’ political alignments from their clothes, and accessories to how they interacted with people in our government class. It was truly interesting to see how affiliation to certain groups can be so apparent in school when the association is strong enough.

 

In the paper by L.M. Hackel et al (2014) it was said that they found evidence that showed social identity can exert a top-down influence on the threshold for perceiving minds. These findings indicate that group motivations can influence mind perception. I can support this claim because personally there have been many times when I have seen on social media platforms, media outlets, etc. where people berate, insult, and assume a person’s character based solely on their political alignments. Any day you can go on Twitter and find threads of people supporting logicless statements and assumptions or undermining scientifically proven facts simply because the person who posts is either also a democrat or a republican.

 

I can personally say I know individuals from home who take political alignments to the extreme and claim they can’t be friends with a person with another political alignment than themselves. These types of behaviors are a bit frightening because it is said social cognitive models of person perception suggest that in-group members are more motivationally relevant to perceivers, and are thus more likely to be individuated and processed in greater depth (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). This will lead to cycles of disputes if no one from the opposite group will not give the time of day to the other group. This is outside of simply politics because this same feeling of animosity toward an out-group has led to horrible outcomes in human history. Whether it be racism, sexism, genocide, or homophobia these like mentioned in the paper stem from the sentiment of in-group vs out-groups.

 

Buliga, E., & MacInnis, C. (2020). “How do you like them now?” Expected reactions upon discovering that a friend is a political out-group member. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(10-11), 2779-2801.

 

Fiske, S. T., & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum of impression formation, from

category-based to individuating processes: Influences of information and motivation

on attention and interpretation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social

psychology. , Vol. 23. (pp. 1 –74). : Academic Press.

Hackel, L. M., Looser, C. E., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2014). Group membership alters the threshold for mind perception: The role of social identity, collective identification, and intergroup threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 15-23.

 

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Pursuit, Security, & Maintenance of Romantic Relationships

April 4th, 2022 · 20 Comments

Love can be a complicated thing, whether it be for friends, family, or that special someone. In class, we discussed several ways of starting as well as maintaining a romantic relationship, and even tried out Aron’s 36 Questions ourselves. Our blog post follows a structure similar to that of the stages of a relationship itself; Maya wrote about the initiation of a relationship, Helena speaks to how one gets closer in a relationship, and Sofie discusses bettering committed relationships with ToM and perspective taking. While complicated, we must also keep in mind that love is such a special, beautiful aspect of our lives.

The Pursuit of a Romantic Relationship – Maya

Last week my favorite song, “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift, started playing over the loudspeaker at an event that I was at with my friends. My friend and I were dancing when all of a sudden a man approached us and stuck out his hand to introduce himself to me. My friend slowly floated away into the crowd (not a great friend move) and I was left alone with this guy I had never met. He began asking me questions about what school I went to and told me all about why he was in town. All I could think of were two things – “don’t be an asshole, Maya” and “I really want to just go back to dancing to You Belong with Me with my friend.” The conversation continued as I replied with one word answers hoping he would get the hint. Finally I caught the eye of another friend of mine and made a wide-eyed look that screamed please help me!! She waltzed over, grabbed my hand and started dancing with me – saving me from that horribly awkward and uncomfortable situation.
When reflecting on this week’s readings and lecturette I started replaying moments like these in my head and why they make me so uncomfortable. One reason I could think of is that I seem to care a lot about what the other person will think of me. Upon reflection I think I do not want to come across as “better than them” and I always want to assume the best intention and feel guilty outright rejecting someone. Many of us have likely found ourselves in situations like these where a rejection feels “wrong” because we are worried that there may be costs associated with our reputation or we do not want to make false assumptions. But as Bohns et al., 2018 points out “uninterested targets ultimately find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.”

Gender Dynamics:
Furthermore, the Bohns reading made me reflect on the gender dynamics at play in these situations. The Bohns paper opens with a quote from a Title IX investigator who says, “I can think of several cases I’ve investigated where the (usually male) perpetrator is completely oblivious, and the (usually female) target feels like she’s trapped and can’t really say “no.” Right off the bat the Bohns paper touches on some of the stereotypical gender dynamics that can happen with romantic advances. They generally allude to the dynamic in which the “suitor” is a male and the “target” is a female. They support this by making the conclusion that “women were more than twice as likely to report having been pursued by someone whom they were not interested in than men.” This fact in and of itself is quite startling but also perhaps makes sense given the frequency to which a male may act as the “suitor” compared to the female. In fact, another study by Hafen et al., 2014 suggests that women will use “self-silencing” as a coping mechanism in instances in which they “experience worry over rejection.” This supports the thought that perhaps women feel less empowered to reject as they are worried about the repercussions of their actions in both a social setting and in work or school dynamics, and instead remain silent in instances of discomfort. Moreover, the male “suitor” may have a more difficult time understanding “the difficult position they put targets in” due to their lack of experience in the reverse role. So the question remains how does one pursue a romantic advance in a comfortable and balanced manner?
*I would also like to note that I was surprised at the degree to which this paper decided to focus on only two genders and not explore some of the dynamics outside of the male and female gender paradigm.*

Shouldn’t We Shoot Our Shot?
While I have always been one for “shooting your shot,” the Bohns paper provides some clear cut points for why we perhaps need to rethink exactly how we do this. With complex gender dynamics at play, perhaps it is worth it to rethink how romantic advances could play out. I personally think we should all continue “shooting our shot” as it is important to put yourself out there and meet new people, but that being said, I think it is vital to be cautious as to how the person you approach reacts and responds. Look for the signs and do not make too many leaps too quickly. Rather than jumping to ask for their “snapchat” or number, start off by making simple conversation in order to sense their comfortability.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because it is not an easy question and there are no simple answers – what are solutions to this issue and how would you approach someone who you were interested in given this newfound knowledge from the Bohns et al., 2018 paper?

 

 

Security of a Romantic Relationship – Helena

Quite often, society places a heavy emphasis on getting into relationships, whether it’s the how or when or who. But then this excitement slows once we get into the stages of the actual relationship, and discussions regarding how to get closer in a relationship and how to best maintain one become muted in significance. Yet, this is arguably one of, if not the most important stage of any relationship, since, after all, what is a relationship if it cannot be sustained?

For better visualization, let’s narrow down a situation while simultaneously putting this idea into a big picture concept: looking ahead, as we grow older and start developing long-term relationships, we’re warned about this time period, this standstill that occurs in a relationship. Early on, relationships are easy; everything is new and exciting, full of dates and time spent together to get to know each other more. Then, after a while, a feeling of being comfortable with them creeps in, and maybe it’s a little too comfortable (Butler & Randall, 2013). Having been with my significant other for over 4.5 years now, this feeling certainly isn’t foreign. Relationships aren’t supposed to be one event after the other after the other. There are pauses and lulls, whether it be the feeling of comfort or having too many priorities to focus on in life, and this is where the feeling of being at a standstill comes in, and that’s completely okay. However, this is when it is most crucial to continue to develop closeness to maintain the relationship. Aron et al. speak towards specific tasks designed to generate closeness, starting with a series of 36 questions and then following with staring into the others’ eyes for four minutes (Aron et al., 1997). The main findings here were that reciprocal self-disclosure plays a crucial part in building closeness in a relationship, even more so than things like agreeing with one another, mutual likings, and goals.

While Aron brings up a lot of interesting points, upon reading Aron’s papers, a feeling of discomfort settles in at the bottom of my stomach. Particularly, the line regarding, “presents a practical methodology for creating closeness in an experimental context […] we have tried to make being in a relationship accessible to laboratory study and experimental manipulation”. The idea of having a relationship be put in an experimental setting such that closeness can be created and taken away by others is so incredibly strange, and yet we see this all the time. There are numerous articles online discussing “A 4-Step maintenance plan to keep your relationship going”, or “8 Steps to Having a Lasting Romantic Relationship”. Confining a relationship and defining it merely to steps to take in order to be successful seems like boxing in something that is so beautiful, and the steps that one has to take in a relationship just seems so artificial in and of itself. Quite frankly, it seems to be the exact opposite of what love is supposed to be like; instead, we think of it to be something generated purely from the heart. So, if love is something that can be accelerated from a few simple steps, whether it be the 4-step maintenance plan or even from 36 questions, what truly is love?

I think this comes with the notion that there’s a difference between falling in love, and staying in love. Falling in love, as Maya spoke to above, is a wonderful thing. Then, there’s value in maintaining a relationship, and making the choice to push ourselves to commit to someone. As French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir proposes, authentic love is about supporting each other in discovering themselves, and ultimately, enriching the world together. Perhaps we should worry less about what love is and instead, be more interested in how we can love better.

 

 

Maintaining a Romantic Relationship: Perspective-taking, Empathy and Theory of Mind – Sofie

One important lesson which I’ve learnt about romantic relationships in the last few years has been that at the core of understanding and communication is learning to put yourself in your partner’s shoes when working through a situation. My partner and I met in Hong Kong during COVID and we are extremely different people – he is much older, grew up in New Zealand in a very stoic, masculine environment where vulnerability is not encouraged whereas I wear my heart on my sleeve, am sensitive and very open about my emotions and like talking about feelings in general. I am also always aware that men vs. women have different approaches to their relationships as well. A lot of the time, I start difficult conversations with my partner like this if I am having trouble perspective-taking because of a barrier (such as gender):
“This is how I feel about ____. A lot of the time women will feel this way when ___ happens. I’m not sure how the majority of men approach a situation like this but please help me understand how you perceive it because I can’t know unless you tell me.”

Ramezani et al. find that empathy plays an important role in maintaining romantic relationships. Specifically, they looked at how Theory of Mind (ToM) training can improve empathy between married couples. Theory of mind refers to the ability to ascribe independent mental states to self and others to explain and predict social behavior. It is very related to the ability to perspective-take, which is a social skill in which you are able to mentally represent the mind (beliefs, desires, intentions, emotions included) of another person. The ability to perspective-take helps with being able to anticipate what another person is thinking or feeling. In the study, they found that there is an association between efficient ToM training and improvements in empathy within couples. Even though I have not done any official ToM training, I have always felt that empathy, perspective-taking, and theory of mind have been strengths of mine. In my relationship, I find myself trying to put myself in my partner’s shoes and think about the way they would perceive a situation before getting upset. I feel like this has helped me maintain the relationship because we are able to communicate honestly with one another, trying to understand the way the other person perceives something. In past relationships, I’ve noticed there were a lot more arguments, I would get upset a lot more, and overall it felt like there was a lot less commitment to wanting to understand one other’s perceptions. I also feel like as we get older, meet more people and have more experience, perspective-taking becomes easier so it would be interesting to see if there is any existing research linking age & maturity with empathy or perspective-taking. Even though the 36 questions that we went through in class was presented as a study for a “way to fall in love” I actually also believe they can help strengthen and maintain a relationship because the more questions you’re asking each other, the more you’re learning and able to then perspective-take and empathize (Catron, 2015). It would make sense that the better you know someone, the easier it is to empathize.

 

 

References

Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental
generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.

Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2018). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more
difficult than suitors realize. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(8), 1102–1110. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550618769880

Butler, E. A., & Randall, A. K. (2013). Emotional coregulation in close relationships. Emotion
Review, 5(2), 202-210.

Catron (2015). To fall in love with anyone, do this. New York Times.

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Professor of Psychology. (2022, January 21). A 4-step maintenance
plan to help Keep Your Relationship Going Strong. The Conversation. Retrieved April 1,
2022, from https://theconversation.com/a-4-step-mai…

Gillette, H. (2021, October 14). 8 Tips for a Lasting Romantic Relationship. Psych Central.
Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://psychcentral.com/health/how-to-m…

Hafen, C. A., Spilker, A., Chango, J., Marston, E. S., & Allen, J. P. (2014, March 1). To accept or reject? the impact of adolescent rejection sensitivity on early adult romantic relationships. Journal of research on adolescence : the official journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/article…

Ramezani, A., Ghamari, M., Jafari, A., & Aghdam, G. F. (2020). The effectiveness of a Theory
of Mind (ToM) training program in promoting empathy between married couples.
Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 19(1), 1-25.

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The Relationship Advice You Didn’t Ask For, But Need

April 1st, 2022 · 25 Comments

Kayla:

I’m sure many of us are familiar with (or secretly binge-watch) reality dating shows. Clearly, people enjoy watching others fall in love–The Bachelor, the original show of this kind, attracts millions of viewers each season. So why is it so hard to find love like that in real life? Many people idealize dating shows and compare them to their own love lives, however, it’s important to remember just how unrealistic they are. 

Fundamentally, the show is designed to harbor many false feelings of attraction and love. The couples travel the world and go on outrageous dates: we’ve seen hot air balloon rides, sky diving, bungee jumping, and more. However, when participants have these wild experiences on just the first or second date, it’s more than possible that their adrenaline rushes and states of high arousal may be confused for romantic and/or sexual attraction.

The Schachter-Singer two-factor theory of emotion–the idea that emotions are the sum of your physical reaction and a cognitive label–is the reasoning behind this concept. So if we attached the wrong label to our current state, we can mix up what we are actually feeling. In 1962, Schachter & Singer injected study college students with either adrenaline or a placebo fluid. Some of those who received the adrenaline were informed of truthful possible side effects, while others were told random side effects or nothing at all. After completing several mundane tasks, those who knew the adrenaline would heighten their arousal reported feeling less anger and frustration. Schachter & Singer believed this to be because those unaware of how the adrenaline would make them feel inaccurately attributed their heightened arousal to emotions, not the drug (Schachter & Singer, 1962). 

The two-factor theory of emotion was put in the context of romantic relationships with the 1974 “shaky bridge” study discussed in our lecturette. Here, male participants were more attracted to and were more likely to afterward reach out to a female interviewer if their conversation occurred on the middle of a long, shaking suspension bridge rather than a stable one (Dutton & Aron, 1974). 

So, of course Clayton and Susie fell in love after just 3 dates–they traveled the world together, rode in helicopters, and swam in hot springs. It seems unlikely that they would have had an equally epic love story if they had just been walking the dog and going to the grocery store like every other couple in America. Therefore, it is certainly not out of the question that Bachelor producers purposely create such high-adrenaline scenarios for couples in order to foster relationships that otherwise may not be very strong–in other words, keep their emotions high to produce that much more drama. You’ve got to make good TV one way or another! 

The final verdict: all of these shows should be taken with a grain of salt. And keep in mind, next time you go on a first date that involves falling through the sky, be careful to not misinterpret your fear for love—unless you plan on skydiving for the rest of your life!

Gayoung:

Can you guess what my exes and my current boyfriend all have in common? If you answered “their incredibly good taste in a woman,” I love you, and yes, that is true. But the real answer is that each of them has told me this:

 


Guilty as charged! But am I ashamed? No! And if you’ve ever been called needy or have called someone else needy or if someone has ever told you that they wish you were more needy, then this is for you. Yes, you. Because I’m going to share with you guys something that changed my entire perspective on dating, and I hope that each one of you can use it to understand yourself and/or your (future) partner better.

If you’ve taken an introductory psychology course, you might recall a theory about attachment, which is described as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings (Bowlby, 1969). Psychologist Mary Ainsworth observed how infants reacted when they were briefly left alone and then reunited with their mothers. She and her team found that their reactions tended to fall within one of three groups: secure (actively seeking and maintaining proximity with the mother), avoidant (little to no tendency of seeking proximity with the mother), or ambivalent (anxious and unconfident about their mothers’ responsiveness). 

As it turns out, these attachment styles can translate into adult romantic relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987):

  • Securely attached adults can resolve conflict well, communicate effectively, and don’t hesitate to ask for their needs to be met and likewise are willing to meet others’ needs. 
  • Avoidant adults desire a high level of independence, tend to suppress their feelings, and deal with conflict by distancing themselves from partners. 
  • Anxiously attached/ambivalent adults seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from partners and become overly dependent on them.

Can you guess which one I might be? (If you guessed anxious, you’re a genius!) But the real question is: do you know your own attachment style? Your partner’s? The point is, attachment styles tell us all about our needs and tendencies. And as we’ve learned in the lecturette this week, understanding, communicating, and responding to each other’s needs is important in forming a strong communal relationship. Additionally, perceived understanding can serve as a critical buffer against potentially detrimental effects of relationship conflict (Gordon & Chen, 2016) and understanding your partner’s perspective is key to forming and maintaining strong romantic relationships. 

The best thing I’ve done for myself is to realize my needs as someone who is anxiously attached and communicate them to my partner. The next best thing I’ve done is to find someone who is understanding of me and my needs and strives to meet them. So go out there and learn more deeply about yourself and your partner and respond to each other’s needs! ‘Cause I think we all deserve a love like that. <3

Twyla:

Everyone knows the heart racing, pit in your stomach, nervous energy type feeling you get right before asking someone out. Or, rather, many people know that feeling. I for one don’t, given that I’ve never asked anyone out before. I’ve always been far too risk-averse, especially when it comes to dating. Coming of age I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than admitting to someone that I liked them with the potential to be shot down.

It turns out, I’m not the only one. So many other people struggled with risk-taking, and, like me, assume that rejection is the worst possible outcome. People overlook, however, the discomfort that comes with being the person doing the rejecting. According to a 2019 study, people underestimate the “difficulty and discomfort” people experience when saying no to suitors (Bohns and DeVincent). When people imagined themselves in the suitor role, they thought that the targets would be better off than they were post-rejection.

I hope that these findings humanize the people that we have feelings for. This study should serve as a reminder that the ideas we have in our heads of our crushes are just that: ideas. They are real people who feel awkward and uncomfortable, and besides, you are very possibly not the most uncomfortable person in that situation (not sure if that helps or hurts!) Either way, Bohns and DeVincent show how inaccurate our understandings of suitor-target dating dynamics can be, so you might as well put yourself out there without overthinking it too much.

References:

Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2019). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more difficult than suitors realize. Social psychological and personality science, 10(8), 1102-1110.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. (OKS Print.) New York: Basic Books.

Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(4), 510–517. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0037031

Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2016). Do you get where I’m coming from?: Perceived understanding buffers against the negative impact of conflict on relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 239-260.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. Schachter, S., & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, 69(5), 379–399. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0046234

 

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