Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Because I Love You I Must Remove Your Eyes

Ganked from BigCheeseBadges.com
Yet another post? Why!?

Because I can.

Just another little post-Valentine's post this time. I commented on scientific studies a couple of times around this time last year. People seemed to enjoy those. So why not do that again this year, too? (At least, now that I've found a couple of interesting studies to comment on in the past few days, the second of which I'll talk about either later this week or early next week.)

Scientific American recently reported on research that found individuals married or in a serious monogamous relationship had developed an aversion to attractive members of the opposite sex. The idea here, of course, being that there could potentially actually be something of substance to the tired romantic cliche of people claiming to "only have eyes" for one another.

The test reported on in particular involved having subjects choose between quickly displayed attractive and average faces, then proceeding to stimulate their thought processes (And in turn, stir up some chemicals in that mass of gray matter in their skulls - there's no more romantic way to put that. Brains are love. Or at least, technically speaking, as much as we love to romanticize it, love's all about brain chemistry. Dopamine and serotonin are your friends.) and had them take the test again. Half of the subjects were asked to write about their feelings for their partner, while the other half were simply asked to write about a happy experience. Those who wrote about the happy experience continued to be drawn to the attractive faces, while those who wrote about their partner found themselves unconsciously turning their focus away from the attractive faces.

The Florida State University Psychologist who conducted this research - Jon Maner - suggested that this unconscious trend in attentional bias could be a reaction evolved to help men and women maintain monogamous relationships. Of course, this is also an evolutionary psychology study - a field frequently criticized as being largely speculative, given the exceptional difficulty of pinpointing the line between learned behaviors as a result of cultural practice in human beings and what comes naturally to the species. (As well as exactly where certain behaviors effectively evolved into our unconscious behavioral processes.)

But even while it's a largely speculative science, they raise some interesting points here. The evolutionary spin's more or less an interesting possibility by which to frame the study's empirical findings. Their findings aren't exactly unbelievable, though it seems like something that could use some more research in general. (As the science of love tends to.) Unsurprisingly though, the comments on that story are loaded with disbelief of the results, given the increasingly popular cynical viewpoint on the internet that monogamy is unnatural. (Though for all the praise polyamory gets as a lifestyle from an outspoken internet minority, you'll find more horror stories than success stories on that front, running counter to the lovely arguments in favor of polyamory, looking at themselves as "more evolved" for attempting a multi-pronged relationship. Personally, I think these people are completely insane. Human relationships - deep, meaningful ones in particular - are extremely difficult to find and maintain with so much as a single human being. Polyamory generally smacks of naivete and people trying to idealistically have their cake and eat it too, so to speak.)

Don't you just love putting love under the microscope?