Here’s another study for you: the latest research suggests that people who are in love with their partners are less attracted to other people. Where was that data collected, University of the Obvious? Published in the academic journal Duh?
Well, from a broad psychological standpoint, this conclusion is apparently not that obvious. Because our default setting, as humans, is “instant gratification.” Nationally, constitutionally, and gubernatorially, we are not champions of self-restraint. So why should lust, even in the context of presumed monogamy, be any different? Or, as The Raw Story put it: “Why do people in stable relationships so often pass up the chance for a little sexual gratification on the side, even if they can get away with it?”
Here’s how Gian Gonzaga of UCLA — and also, Google reveals, of an Internet dating service that rhymes with “Bee-Pharmony” — tried to answer that question. (The results are published in the current issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.) Gonzaga invited 60 undergrads at UCLA, all of them straight and in long-term relationships, to ogle a photo of a Betty or Baldwin (culled from the “hot” caste at “Hot or Not”) that they found, well, hot. Then each was asked to write a short essay about what they found attractive about that person. (Wouldn’t it be great if the SAT essay worked that way?)
Then the participants were divided into three groups. Group 1 had to write an essay about the moment they had the strongest feeling of love for their current partner. Group 2 had to write about their most memorable sexual encounter, presumably beginning with the words, “Dear Penthouse Forum.” Group 3 was told to write about whatever came to mind. (“Dear Penthouse Forum…”)
All participants were told not to think about the person in the photo. But if they did, they <strikeout>got their knuckles rapped by their actual partner</strikeout> had to “tick a box.” (Not sure what that means, but you’ll get it in context.)
Result: According to the box-tick tallies, Group 1 — focusing on L-O-V-E — strayed (mentally) three times less than the sex-focused folks in Group 2. Group 3, of all people, ticked the box six times more than Group 1. Hmm! (I assume they mean three times as in multiplication, not subtraction.)
“Feeling love for your romantic partner appears to make everybody else less attractive,” Gonzaga said in a UCLA newsletter. Well, okay. I wouldn’t say it makes them less attractive so much as I would say it makes you less distracted. Which, to be sure, is still something. Love, the researchers said, acted as sort of a screen, preventing participants from even remembering why they thought whooziewhats in the picture was hot to begin with.
That’s all very nice, though I’m not sure how to reconcile it with the fact that other research has shown that even happy — I’m assuming that means in love — people have affairs. Seems these folks don’t have affairs because they can’t get love at home; they have affairs because they … can. And this loops us right back to that default Gratification setting, which as we all know, also causes Brain Override. In any regard, it’s good to know love counts for something. Let’s hope Group 1 got to take those essays home.