I believe everyone has at least some interest in psychology. Understanding the inner workings of the mind is inherently fascinating—and never more so than when it comes to sex and romance.
So if you want some insider tips from the experts on how to spice things up—according to the science—read on. Today we take a whistle-stop tour of six iconic studies into the psychology of love, romance, and sex.
1. Kissing informs you about compatibility
According to Wlodarski and Dunbar (2013), when kissing feels good it’s because everything in our psychology is telling you that this one’s a keeper. In Examining the possible functions of kissing in romantic relationships, the researchers found women in particular rate kissing as vital to choosing a partner and assessing whether it feels right.
What’s more, the researchers showed that kissing also plays a role in maintaining the relationship, demonstrating a correlation between the amount of kissing over the long term and the quality of the relationship, as independently reported by both partners. Amazingly, this correlation didn’t even exist to the same degree when it came to sex.
2. The modern marriage demands self-fulfilment
According to Finkel et al. (2014), marriage used to be centred around providing safety and solidity. Now, people want psychological fulfilment from their union, expecting it to be a journey towards self-actualisation. But in the face of these demands, the researchers showed that people aren’t meeting these expectations. In The suffocation of marriage: climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen, they asserted:
If you want your marriage to help you achieve self-expression and personal growth, it’s crucial to invest sufficient time and energy in it. If you know these aren’t available, it makes sense to adjust your expectations to minimize disappointment.
3. Couples look similar after 25 years together
In this astonishing study titled Facial resemblance in engaged and married couples, Hinsz (1989) found that the facial features of couples who had been together for a quarter of a century grew more similar, as judged by independent observers. He hypothesised this may be because of similar diet, environment, or personality, or even perhaps a result of 25 years’ worth of empathy with one another.
4. The brain’s love map
It might sound intuitive that there exist remarkable overlaps and distinct differences between love and sexual desire—but a 2010 study proved it using cutting-edge technology. In The common neural bases between sexual desire and love: a multilevel kernel density fMRI analysis, Cacioppo et al. demonstrated the similar or even shared emotional, motivational, and cognitive networks activated by love and arousal. This suggests sexual desire is more than a basic emotion, instead involving intricate goal-directed thinking and the recruitment and utilisation of advanced cognition. Love is then built atop these more primal (but still relatively complex) circuits—but one key area of difference is the striatum. In psychology this part of the brain is typically associated with the balance between higher- and lower-level functions.
5. Long-distance romance
Contrary to received wisdom, a 2013 study asserts that relationships characterised by a great physical divide can actually work under specific circumstances. In Absence makes the communication grow fonder: geographical separation, interpersonal media, and intimacy in dating relationships, Jiang and Hancock found two factors were key in keeping this kind of relationship alive:
- Regularly sharing intimate information with one another
- Maintaining a somewhat idealised view of one’s partner.
Long-distance partners who are able to sustain romance in this way actually have similar levels of relationship satisfaction and stability as those who are geographically proximate.
5. The post-divorce relationship
Even after a marriage has been officially dissolved in the eyes of the law, it’s often not so clear-cut for the couple themselves—especially when there are children involved. In Predictors of paternal involvement post-divorce: mothers’ and fathers’ perceptions, Ahrons (1983) looked at the psychology of coparenting after the dissolution of the marriage, and demonstrated that it can go one of five ways—only three of which are functional:
- Dissolved duos: one parent (usually the father) disappears (functional)
- Perfect pals: the parents continue as best friends (functional)
- Cooperative colleagues: the couple move on from one another, but remain amicable (functional)
- Angry associates: fighting continues post-divorce (dysfunctional)
- Fiery foes: the children become pawns—and often suffer in the long run as a result (dysfunctional).
6. ‘Falling in love’ takes 0.2 second
It takes just a fifth of a second to experience the euphoria of first seeing that special someone. In Neuroimaging of love: fMRI meta-analysis evidence toward new perspectives in sexual medicine, Ortigue et al. (2010) showed that 12 different areas of the brain are involved in this instant reaction, collaborating to flood the brain with a cocktail of neurotransmitters.
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