The producers of the Amazing Race have decided to shake things up: For the upcoming season, six of the teams racing around the world are existing romantic couples, and the other five teams are unacquainted dating hopefuls whom producers matched up for the “most extreme blind date ever.”
Given the poor track record of reality shows designed to help contestants find love (the last Bachelorette contestant Andi Dorfman recently split from her fiancé Josh Murray, and in 28 seasons, the Bachelor & Bachelorette have produced only five intact couples), one can’t help but wonder…are these matched couples on the Amazing Race doomed to a similar fate?
But before we write these “blind date” couples off, let’s take a moment to consider the research evidence suggesting that these couples may be the exception – they may be some of the few couples who actually find lasting love on reality TV. Further, the existing romantic couples may experience relational benefits from competing on the show.
1) Couples perform adrenaline-inducing challenges. Crossing tightropes, climbing mountains, diving into icy water, jumping out of planes… these are just some of the challenges Amazing Race contestants may face, and all of them could lead to romantic attraction. In a phenomenon researchers call misattribution of arousal,1 individuals often mistake feelings of physiological arousal (like the accelerated heart rate and sweaty palms one may get when crossing a high tightrope) to feelings of romantic attraction. By performing these fear-inducing tasks together, these couples may feel more romantically attracted to each other than the otherwise would have from, say, meeting at a coffee shop.
2) They travel to new places and do new things together. An inherent part of the Amazing Race is visiting many countries, which will provide these couples with many chances to share new experiences and grow together. The challenges these couples complete are also novel and unique in each place they visit. Research suggests that by doing new and exciting things together (such as travelling to new places and experiencing the culture together), couples become psychologically closer and may experience greater feelings of passion due to self-expansion.2,3,4
3) They need to work together. Competing in the Amazing Race will also force the couples to make many important race decisions together as a team that can all influence whether they make it to the pit stop in time or are eliminated (e.g., who should do the roadblock challenge, how they will make travel arrangements, which teams they should trust). This experience negotiating joint decisions may lay the foundation for making thoughtful relationship decisions down the road (such as deciding whether or not to move in together), ultimately leading to a higher quality relationship.5 Further, by pursuing the same goal together (i.e., winning the competition), the couples may feel closer to each other and happier.6
4) Their feelings may grow over time. It may not be love at first sight for the matched couples but that does not mean their relationship dreams are dashed. These couples may have feelings that grow gradually over the course of the race. Research suggests there are benefits to having feelings go from “cold” to “hot” (similar to what occurs in arranged marriages), vs. relationships that start very “hot” and passionate and then decline. 7,8 And, if the matched couples are able to develop a strong sense of friendship over the course of the race, this may ultimately lead to benefits if they do continue with their relationship; recent evidence suggests that marriages grounded in a strong sense of friendship lead to greater well-being (relative to marriages where less friendship is experienced).9
So will these “blind date” couples ultimately last? We will have to wait and see…but, unlike other reality shows, the research suggests that competing on the Amazing Race gives them a decent shot!
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1Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 510–517.
2Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 273.
3Baumeister, R. F., & Bratslavsky, E. (1999). Passion, intimacy, and time: Passionate love as a function of change in intimacy. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 49-67.
4Reissman, C., Aron, A., & Bergen, M. R. (1993). Shared activities and marital satisfaction: Causal direction and self-expansion versus boredom. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 243-254.
5Owen, J., Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2013). Sliding versus deciding in relationships: Associations with relationship quality, commitment, and infidelity. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 12(2), 135-149.
6Gere, J., Schimmack, U., Pinkus, R. T., & Lockwood, P. (2011). The effects of romantic partners’ goal congruence on affective well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(6), 549-559.
7Gupta, U., & Singh, P. (1982). An exploratory study of love and liking and type of marriages. Indian Journal of Applied Psychology, 19, 92-97.
8Epstein, R., Pandit, M., & Thakar, M. (2013). How love emerges in arranged marriages: Two cross-cultural studies. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 44(3).
9Grover, S., & Helliwell, J. F. (2014). How’s life at home? New evidence on marriage and the set point for happiness (No. w20794). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Jessica Maxwell, M.A. – Science of Relationships articles
Jess’ work focuses on the role of expectations and accuracy in romantic relationships. Specifically, she researches how implicit beliefs about sex can affect sexual and relationship functioning. She also studies the influence of attachment on empathic accuracy and relationship expectancies.