The sixth and final week of Social Psychology course by Prof. Scott Plous deals with empathy, happiness and relationships.
The lectures featured an animated video on empathy by Roman Krznaric titled 'The Power of Outrospection'. It is also available on youtube here. Another featured video was 'Understanding Happiness' from Dan Gilbert's series This Emotional Life. That video is not available online for free but the upshot of it is that you can't be happy alone: happiness comes from satisfying social relationships.
The most interesting part of this week's materials for me was the discussion on factors leading to close relationships in general and romantic relationships in particular. I'll just mention the conclusions here without citing the research studies supporting them.
Proximity: Geographical nearness, and more accurately 'functional distance' (how often people’s paths cross), is a powerful predictor of liking. It is no surprise that most people develop relationships with people who are their classmates, workmates, gym-mates, etc. Proximity enables interaction (pre-requisite for developing a relationship), anticipatory liking (anticipating interaction with someone increases likelihood of liking that person), and repeated exposure. More exposure has been demonstrated to lead to more liking (mere-exposure effect).
Physical attractiveness: A very predictive factor and not surprisingly so. Men express more concern about physical attractiveness, but when it comes to actual partners, men and women value attractiveness to nearly the same degree.
Matching phenomenon: Even though people find more attractive people as more likeable, people tend to pair off with people who are about as attractive as they are. (In cases where this is significant difference in the degree of attractiveness, there are 'compensating qualities' present, such as wealth or status.)
Physical-attractiveness stereotype: People tend to perceive attractive people as happier, sexually warmer, more intelligent and successful.
Contrast effect: Attraction also depends on comparison standards. Exposure to super-attractive people would make another attractive person seem less appealing. With continuous exposure, the effect can linger on. Also applies for self-perceptions (i.e. we find ourselves less attractive once exposed to people we believe to be more attractive).
We perceive attractive people as likeable, but we also perceive people we like as attractive. We are also perceive someone with whom we share similarities as more attractive.
Predicting Successful Relationships:
Friends and spouses are more likely to share common beliefs, attitudes and values. Greater the similarity between husband and wife, the happier they are likely to be. (The concept of 'opposites attract' has found no reliable evidence.)
With regards to predicting the success of a relationship, the amount of conflict in a relationship is not very predictive. What really matters is the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions in a relationship. A ratio of 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction is highly predictive of a happy and successful relationship.
Humans have the need to belong: when we feel supported by close, intimate relationships, we tend to be healthier and happier. Happiness and well-being result from a balanced satisfaction of three needs: belonging, autonomy and competence.
(This concludes my series of posts covering this course. All posts can be found in the tag Social Psychology Course.)