Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Research by Carrie Bredow Takes New Look at How People Choose Their Romantic Partners
When it comes to long-term
romantic relationships, what people say they want and who they choose can often
seem disconnected. But is that good or bad, or is
the answer “it depends”? In any case, can knowing that there’s a
difference help people make better choices and lead happier lives? Dr.
Carrie Bredow of the psychology faculty is working to find
out. She’s looking in particular at whether or not people have standards
of which they’re not even aware.
“There’s a lot of literature on
what people say they want in a partner. Up until recently, it’s just been
assumed that that gives us a straightforward window into what people do,” said
Bredow, an assistant professor of psychology who has been studying adult
romantic relationships and standards for marriage partners for several
years. “But new methodologies for studying romantic relationships have
uncovered what some are calling a ‘fundamental disconnect’ between the
qualities people report valuing in a mate and the type of partners they
actually select.”“We’re trying to go beyond what
they say that they want,” she said. “Maybe it’s because part of what is
guiding our behavior is unconscious.”
“What we’re most interested in is
whether that can actually predict future behavior,” Bredow said.
Bredow and the Hope students on
her research team have spent the last year and a half developing and testing a
set of questions designed to measure people’s unconscious or implicit
preferences for a long-term partner instead of what they explicitly
report. The results thus far have been promising.
“Our pilot work in this area has
been exciting, and has demonstrated not only that implicit measures can
meaningfully capture people’s unconscious attitudes toward the desirability of
different traits in a partner, but also that the correspondence between
people’s implicit standards and their partner’s characteristics can sometimes
predict relationship outcomes in circumstances where their explicit standards
cannot,” she said.
Her next step is to follow a
group of volunteers across a longer period of time. The resulting study,
“The Role of Implicit and Explicit Mate Standards in Partnering Cognitions and
Behaviors,” will run for the next four years, supported in part through a
$7,500 grant that she received recently from the Christian Scholars Foundation.
It’s work that is being
facilitated by the Internet. Bredow is recruiting the study participants,
all of whom are currently unmarried adults, through Amazon Mechanical Turk,
providing a more representative cross section than she would garner if, for
example, focusing on college students or even people in a specific geographic
area. “You can get a pretty diverse group of people and what’s happening
with their partnering behaviors,” she said.
The participants will all
complete an on-line survey at the beginning of the project and then provide
additional information annually. Bredow anticipates that the long-term,
or longitudinal, nature of the project will provide a range of experiences—some
participants still single, some in relationships, some with relationships that
began and ended—that will help enhance the validity of the results.
Ultimately, she would also like to see the project extend even longer, potentially
for 10, 15 or 20 years.