As the first post to the site, I figured it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about what we mean by the scientific study of relationships, and why this might be a good approach for learning about relationships.
Who are the first people that come to mind when you think about “relationships experts”? Maybe Dr. Phil (McGraw) pops into your head. Or John Gray, the fellow who wrote the Mars and Venus series of books? Or maybe you turn to your roommate for relationship advice, because s/he’s had plenty of experience hooking up, breaking up, and everything in between. We’ll come back to these folks in a bit to see if they qualify as “relationship scientists.”
The basic position of the folks here at ScienceOfRelationships.com is that if you want to know about something, you need to research it. What we mean by “research” is that you need to carefully observe the phenomenon of interest, systematically collect information from a range of data points, and then draw conclusions based on the available evidence. You are probably familiar with scientific approaches used in such fields as physics, chemistry, and biology.
So, if you’re going to understand how gravity works, the process of ionization, or the Krebs cycle, you need to carefully design experiments and collect data. Psychologists and other relationship researchers do the same thing by conducting studies of human interactions. Imagine an astronomer who studies how planets interact with each other as they move through the galaxy by observing lots of planetary systems through her telescope, carefully recording their position and speed with great precision. Relationship researchers take the same approach, studying how two (or more) people interact with each other as they move through their environment by collecting data from lots of people in relationships. Across the forthcoming posts here, you’ll get a sense of the diverse ways in which relationships scientists go about collecting data, but I think it’s important to note that there’s not much difference between the general process of research between “hard scientists” and relationship scientists. Our goals are the same, but our methods differ (much like the methods of an astronomer and molecular biologist differ).
The key thing is that we, as relationship scientists, base our conclusions on studies that collect data about human relationships. We don’t make statements about how relationships work based on conjecture, hunches, folklore, or personal experience; instead, the claims need to backed up by studies of many relationships. Here at ScienceOfRelationships.com we will base everything we say about relationships in the ever-growing scientific literature on relationships. The contributors to this site are active researchers, collecting data on a wide range of relationship questions in our labs across North America (and hopefully the world, pending the involvement of some of our international colleagues). And if we can’t answer a question based on our own research studies, we know where to look to find the answer. We’re plugged into our field and will draw on the body of thousands of peer-reviewed published studies on human relationships when writing here.
So why do you even need relationship experts? Can’t you just trust your experiences and intuition about relationships? Or rely on our cultural common knowledge about relationships? The problem with this common sense approach is that sometimes you might be right, but sometimes you might be wrong. Those things you (or others) take for granted about relationships might not actually be true, or might contradict each other. You may think that “birds of a feather flock together,” but how could that be when you have also heard that “opposites attract”? You probably believe that men are more likely to be physically violent to their partners than are women, but it turns out that when you examine the data, the rates of violence are actually relatively equal (if not slightly higher for women…although it’s not quite that simple, but that’s a post for another day).1 Simply put, some of the common sense beliefs that you have might just be wrong or contradictory. It’s only through research that we can figure out which of our beliefs are wrong and which are right.
So, if you want to know about relationships, wouldn’t you trust people who have conducted studies on relationships more than those who haven’t? Well, you might be surprised to learn that Dr. Phil has never published a peer-review article about relationship dynamics (FYI, his one publication is on the topic of rheumatoid arthritis).2 Similarly, for some reason John Gray sells millions of self-help books, whereas Dr. John Gottman’s groundbreaking research on factors predicting divorce is hardly known outside of academic circles (click here for a comparison of the two Johns). Clearly John Gottman is a relationship scientist and John Gray is not. And when it comes down to it, given your roommate’s string of drunken hook-ups and failed relationships, why would you ever take advice from him/her?
That’s why we started this site. There’s so much bad information out there, and in the past we (the academic community) have done a poor job getting our research into the view of the general public. This is our attempt to start bridging this gap. So in the weeks and months ahead, we hope that you learn something about relationships, gain an appreciation for how we know these things through research, and have fun.
Read more about how research on close relationships is conducted here.
1Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680.
2Achterberg, J., McGraw, P., & Lawlis, G. F. (1981). Rheumatoid arthritis: A study of relaxation and temperature biofeedback training as an adjunctive therapy. Biofeedback and Self Regulation, 6, 207-223.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.