Friday, April 25, 2008

She's Hot + He's Not = Happiness in Marriage

You have seen the celebrity couples and probably know some married folks where the spouses seem equally attractive while sometimes one spouse is clearly better looking than the other... so does this have anything to do with happiness, satisfaction, and success of the marriage? A recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology just might have the answer. The research study is titled "Beyond Initial Attraction: Physical Attractiveness in Newlywed Marriage" and was performed by psychologists from UCLA and the University of Tennessee. Here is an excerpt from the study (PubMED link to article):

Physical appearance plays a crucial role in shaping new relationships, but does it continue to affect established relationships, such as marriage? In the current study, the authors examined how observer ratings of each spouse's facial attractiveness and the difference between those ratings were associated with (a) observations of social support behavior and (b) reports of marital satisfaction. The relative difference between partners' levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives.

You might assume from this that, in terms of longterm relationships, physical attractiveness is less important to women while more important to men. One psychologist suggested that when women who are beautiful go out with men who aren't so hot, the men try harder so it makes for a better marriage for both spouses. But remember, this study is not evaluating the importance of physical attraction in dating or initial relationships but rather how relative attractiveness of spouses influences satisfaction and behavior of the couple longterm. This story was reported in the StateHornet as well as many other news sources in the past weeks, including the New York Daily News. Follow the links for some interesting reading.

So, does this mean that women will run out and start dating and marrying men who are less attractive than them? I sure hope so! Haha... but probably not... it turns out scientific research also shows that we are really bad at predicting what will make us happy in life. Psychologists have a term for our brain's inability to accurately predict future happiness... it is called affective forecasting error... but that is a topic for another day.


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