Rarely do I see an ad for a reality TV dating show and think to myself, “Hey, that reminds me of a research study.” But somehow, some way, NBC’s new show Love in the Wild did just that. In case you haven’t seen the show or any previews, here’s the general premise: Ten men and ten women travel to Costa Rica to participate in a “dating experiment” in which they are paired up with one another and compete in physical challenges. At the end of each episode, the participants get to decide whether they want to stay with their current partner or switch to someone else. Talk about a recipe for loads of jealousy (side note: why isn’t this show on Fox?).
What I found amazing is that the show appears to have been created by someone who really enjoyed our post on how heightened arousal levels can result in greater attraction between partners. Within the first 30 minutes of the show, the couples sprinted to the river bank, worked together to build a raft, paddled downstream in (supposedly) crocodile-infested waters, and climbed a tall tower. Maybe I’m just out of shape, but I would think arousal levels would be through the roof at this point. So when the couples had to film themselves kissing at the top of the tower, it was no surprise that many of the couples kissed not once but multiple times. In fact, the first couple to reach the top of the tower – Samantha and Mike – mentioned in their interviews how they were feeling so much chemistry and were very attracted to one another. Was it some mystical and magical aligning of the stars that brought two single people together on a reality dating show? Or, could it have been the misattribution of arousal? I’ll take misattribution of arousal for 200, Alex.
For at least one couple, it seems that this attraction may develop into a more meaningful relationship. In another preview, one woman (Samantha, I think…but let’s be honest, all of these dating show contestants look the same) mentions how she is using words like “we” and “us” which is what “couples who have been married for 10 years” do. I never in a million years thought I would say this, but that reality TV show contestant is correct. One consequence of sharing new and arousing activities with another person is increased relationship quality.1 As a result, this closeness creates a sense of what relationships researchers refer to as cognitive interdependence.2 When this occurs, individuals’ sense of self begins to incorporate their partners, and these individuals spontaneously use more plural pronouns like “we” and “us”. Essentially, individuals no longer think of themselves and their partners as separate entities but rather as a collective unit. And when does this cognitive interdependence occur? It doesn’t take 10 years of marriage to reach this stage, but it does generally require partners to be committed to one another. Heck, considering these partners are working together to win a prize, it’s no surprise that they may feel a sense of interdependence early on.
So perhaps NBC is on to something here. Heighten contestants’ arousal level to increase physical attraction? Check. Create a sense of interdependence between partners? Check. Concoct the perfect recipe for TV drama by allowing contestants to partner swap, which is surely going to create jealousy? Check. And most importantly, get the attention of Science of Relationships and have them write a post about your show? Check.
1Aron, 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, 273-284.
2Agnew, C. R., Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., & Langston, C. A. (1998). Cognitive interdependence: Commitment and the mental representations of close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 939-954.
Dr. Brent Mattingly – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Mattingly’s research, broadly conceptualized, focuses on the intersection of romantic relationships and the self. His specific lines of research all examine how individual-level constructs (e.g., motivation, attachment, self-regulation) are associated with various relational processes.
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