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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Unveiling the science behind relationships, romance

UC Davis professors explain the science behind romantic relationships in humans and other monogamous animal relationships 

By MONICA MANMADKAR — science@theaggie.org

With the weather warming up and spring on the horizon, stores are filled with candy hearts and life-sized teddy bears. On Feb. 10, UC Davis psychology professors Paul Eastwick and Karen Bales talked about the science behind falling for someone, both physically and emotionally, on UC Davis LIVE, an ongoing series showcasing the intersections between research and current events

Eastwick runs the Attraction and Relationships Research Laboratory and studies romantic relationships and the psychology of commitment and long-term happiness. 

Bales investigates the neurobiology of pair-bonding and biparental care in prairie voles and titi monkeys, who commit to long-lasting monogamous relationships. She also leads the Neuroscience and Behavior Unit at the California National Primate Research Center. 

Science plays an important role in determining the strongest predictors of the quality of a relationship, Eastwick explained. Within a speed-dating study, it is easy to see who the popular people will be. However, as people get to know each other over time, apart from the initial attraction, the popularity begins to wear off. 

“Popularity is like a drug, which matters less and less over time, as you begin to form a deeper connection with the other person,” Eastwick said. “Desirability changes over time and is based more on compatibility, so if you are a desirable person, then use your 15 minutes of fame to amaze that person.” 

While addressing a question about whether there is a magic formula for long-term committed relationships, he said that all couples have to go through the same process to get to the stability that they want. Oftentimes, couples go through fights and disagreements to get to that desired endpoint and build that needed compatibility. 

“There are average styles of conflicts or support that will be more likely in people who will be better fitted for a committed relationship than others; however, figuring out the structure of your relationship and daily life is what everyone needs to go through together,” Eastwick said. 

When comparing humans’ successful relationships to titi monkeys, Bales found many analogues. For example, in relationship models that were set up similar to a speed dating paradigm, animals who were given three choices versus none tended to interact better with their partner over time. This experiment helped the researchers look into certain variables that affect the relationship between the two monkeys. 

“[These experiments] allow us to look at the pair-bonds with controlled variables and allow us to bring in certain independent variables like changing hormones and other invasive procedures,” Bales said. 

By looking at the differences between hormones and other variables, researchers like Bales can better understand the influences of evolution on romantic relationships and look into why humans approach romance the way they do. 

While addressing an audience question, Bales and Eastwick both explained how valid the ‘one true love’ concept is for both humans and animals. While Eastwick said that there is not one true love, Bales said that once a mammal has formed a pair-bond with another animal, it is unlikely that they’ll ever form that bond again. 

You may not hit it off with your one true love at a certain time in your life versus another time,” Eastwick said. “[You need to] take into consideration the situational factors that help you build a good relationship.” 

Eastwick also described the idea of settling in romantic relationships. He said that most people stop looking when they are captivated by their significant other. They begin to degrade the alternatives and, although to other people it may seem like settling, it doesn’t to the person in love, Eastwick said. 

Bales said that in pair-bond formation, animals and people tend to be so invested in each other that everything else begins to look really dull and uninteresting. 

“I found the presentation really interesting and was able to debunk many of the myths that I had about romantic relationships,” Ruhaan Juyal, a first-year computer science major, said. 

Although Valentine’s Day may be a reminder to some people of something that is missing in their lives, Eastwick and Bales assure everyone that with due time, romance blooms and lightens up lives. 

Written by: Monica Manmadkar — science@theaggie.org


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