Love stops partners from sleeping around
- Love stops partners from sleeping around
- 19 March 2008
- From New Scientist Print Edition.
- Rachel Nowak
LOVE is not only blind, it also blinds us to the charms of anyone other than our beloved. That's the conclusion of an experiment designed to separate the roles of love and lust in keeping us on the sexual straight and narrow.
According to Gian Gonzaga, who led the study while at the University of California, Los Angeles, the finding helps solve the "commitment problem": why people who already have a partner will pass up opportunities for illicit liaisons, even though humans usually tend to value immediate gains over long-term ones.
The team showed 60 students, who had been in a relationship for an average of three years, photos of a person they found attractive. They were then asked to write a 5-minute essay on what was attractive about that person, and another describing an ideal first meeting (Evolution and Human Behavior, vol 29, p 119).
They were then split into three groups and asked to write two more essays. One group were asked to write about the time they had felt the most love for their current partner, and the most recent time they felt such love. The second group had to write about the time they felt most sexual desire for their partner, and the most recent time. The third group wrote about whatever came to mind.
The students were told not think about the attractive person in the photo while writing the first essay, but were allowed to do so while writing the second. The idea, says Gonzaga, who is now at the online matchmaking company eHarmony, was to trigger a "rebound effect", in which thoughts come flooding back once a person stops trying to suppress them. The students ticked a box each time they thought about the person in the photo.
When allowed to think about the attractive stranger, the "love" group ticked the boxes only one-third as often as the "desire" group, and one-sixth as often as the control group. At the end of the experiment the "love" group remembered significantly fewer details about what made the person in the photo attractive compared with both the other groups.
The findings demonstrate that "love is very functional - a commitment device", says Julie Fitness, a social psychologist at Macquarie University in Sydney. "It motivates you to form strong attachments, which will ultimately be good for raising vulnerable young."
Love - Learn more about the science behind it in our comprehensive special report.From issue 2648 of New Scientist magazine, 19 March 2008, page 15