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Am I In or Out: What it Means to Find a Place to Belong

April 3rd, 2023 · 9 Comments

By: Rachel Zhou and Eliot Min


Everyone likes to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves– a friend group, a house, a college, or even a country. These affiliations can define how others perceive us, as well as how we perceive ourselves. How and why do we wind up in these groups? Considering they make up so much of the way we identify ourselves, it is curious how we often find ourselves bought in, with only the smallest events pushing us in either direction. As we ponder the various groups in our lives — whether they are groups we are in, groups we are excluded from, or groups we find ourselves caught between — what considerations are necessary to critically analyze them not only as categorizing structures, but also as reflections — and extensions — of our identities?

Life’s Like an Activities Fair (Eliot)
College isn’t really about school (eek! sorry Professor). While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the coursework in my four years here, my Harvard experience is defined by the various groups I’ve been a part of outside the classroom. Presently, I’m devoting all my out-of-class time to directing my a cappella group, the Harvard Opportunes. At other junctures, however, I’ve written sports for The Crimson, played Club Squash, and helped found Harvard’s first Product Management organization, Product Lab. 

I still remember the overwhelming feeling of having hundreds of student organizations yelling at me to write my name down at Harvard’s Activities Fair four years ago. There were impossibly many decisions to make that day, and even more once I entered various comp/audition processes. 

As a senior, I’ve had a chance to reflect on why I fretted over these choices so much. On one hand, I just knew that I wanted to do a lot of stuff — going into college, I was universally encouraged by my parents and mentors to join many clubs and try a bunch of new things. Indeed, in line with this advice, studies have shown that extracurricular involvement in college is generally associated with desirable outcomes, including developing a sense of purpose, increasing self-confidence, and forming mature interpersonal relationships (i.e., Hood, 1984; Abrahamowicz, 1988; Martin, 2000).

However, this class has led me to believe I cared so much about my extracurricular selections because of the social implications of joining a group. We’ve discussed how belonging and affiliation are fundamental human needs (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). As college students, it makes sense that this dependency trickles down to the student organizations we choose to engage in. One study shows that, among students participating in extracurricular activities, students with high belonging in college had lower perceived stress and more life satisfaction (Civitci 2015). Importantly, this trend was not found in individuals who did NOT participate in extracurricular activities (Civitci 2015). This is not to say that blindly participating in extracurriculars increases feelings of belonging — rather, the analysis shows that participating in extracurricular activities AND feeling like we belong in them uniquely positions us to live better, fuller, and less stressful lives on campus.

With this in mind, I better understand why I faced the Activities Fair with apprehension in addition to excitement. I think I understood at some level that my decisions would not just determine my membership in a group; rather, I was choosing who I would affiliate with the next four years, and which spaces would lead me to the fullest college experience by making me feel like I belonged. If given a chance to, I would have told freshman me that groups boil down to the people in them and the atmosphere they embody, and urged him to pay attention to which ones he could see himself truly belonging in. Having said that, I’m more than happy with how things turned out. To close out with a lyric from a song the Opportunes sing together every year:

I’ve been lonely, I’ve been cheated,

I’ve been misunderstood

I’ve been washed up, I’ve been put down

Told I’m no good

But with you I belong

‘Cause you helped me be strong

There’s a change in my life

Since you came along

-Change in My Life, obp Rockapella


The In-Betweens Club (Rachel)

Though it’s not a registered student organization, I consider myself to be part of the “in-betweens” club. By that I mean, many of my identities, when tied to different social groups, lie in the “in-betweens”. 

Humans have a fundamental need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Humans also love to belong in groups– and even understanding others thoughts and feelings can be bound to this group membership (Hackel et al 2013). So where does that leave us who fall in the middle? The race of the future”, a theoretical concept posited by philosopher Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi in Practical Idealism, is the idea that in the future, all humans will become mixed-race, rather than be divided by racial groups. While this idea may seem ludicrous, currently, 10.2% of the US population identifies as multiracial, and “in 2020, the White and Some Other Race population category increased by over 1000%” (Coudenhove-Kalergi 2019). The number of multi-racial individuals is significant, and is continuing to rise over time. When looking at the numbers, some may say our racial divides may slowly resolve, as multiracial identities become the norm, and, that the “race of the future” will unite us together. However, the reality is quite different. 

Multiracial people are at the highest risk to die by suicide in comparison to monoracial peers (Wong et al 2012). The population, albeit growing, faces unique struggles, especially related to identity and group membership. These stark contrasts between multiracial and monoracial people indicate a specific vulnerability within this population that has left researchers stumped, but is it really that complicated? 

The experience of being multiracial means one may not feel they truly belong to a singular racial identity, and often is unable to find community within multiracial identity groups. In a study by Franco, Durkee, and McElroy-Hetzel, researchers found that multiracial individuals experience discrimination on a familial level, leading to disruptions in family cohesion and poorer wellbeing (2021). Furthermore, even when multiracial people do identify with a single racial identity, experiences of being invalidated further impact their mental health and well-being, and force them into the role of the “other”, rather than belonging. (Franco et al 2021). Multiracial people, unable to feel “full” membership into one community, and often appearing to be “racially ambiguous” are often invalidated when claiming membership to their communities, and discriminated against by the people closest to them. Small experiences remind one of this experience of being othered, such as being forced to choose the “other” box on demographic surveys, or having to pick and choose different racial categories that may not fit one’s sense of identity. 

When we consider how salient group membership is, and how important it is to feel a sense of belonging, it ultimately makes sense that multiracial have poorer mental health outcomes: it’s hard to belong when there is no perfect box to fit in to. Though each community has diversity within its bounds, the unique experiences that each multiracial individual faces makes it more difficult to truly belong. Being multiracial is constantly a pull in between two (or more) different sides, in between groups, identities, and sometimes, even belonging. Following, is a poem I wrote about my experience, after filling out a survey for a study at Harvard, in 2021. 


I’m tired of having to check the box for other.

I’m tired of having to choose between my father and my mother

Are you hispanic/latino? No.

Check the box marking your race: [ ] White [ ] Black [ ] American Indian/Or Alaska Native [ ] Asian or Pacific Islander [ ] “Some other race”

Some other race?

What does it mean for every person whose parents don’t have the same face to be “some” other?

Am I the same as someone who grew up half-black? 

I’ve never been afraid of having a bullet lodged in my back. 

Always an other.

If you’re lucky, you can check multiple boxes.

But why is– 

why is my entire racial identity and understanding 

shoved into the markings of these boxes?

Always an other, never one box. 

Always an other, never my own box. 

How do I explain that I’ve never felt at home in one box or another, that my own understanding is too complicated to summarize in a check-box

What does it mean for people to look at me and think that I’m hispanic, to get too confused to call me the right racial slurs, to not be able to pronounce my last name, trapped in my own paradox

other, other, other.

we other people we don’t understand but why is there not even an attempt to understand us others

what does it mean to be an other?

i’m tired of these casual polls and misunderstandings

being forced to choose, the form demanding

white privilege or model minority?

i’ve spent years trying to justify that i’m asian enough, that my culture is mine, that i’m truly one of my people, that our stories align

but at the end of the day

on every survey

i’m an other. 

~ rz (2021)



Abrahamowicz, D. (1988). College involvement, perceptions, and satisfaction: A study of membership in student organizations. Journal of College Student Development, 29, 233–238. 

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529

Bureau, U. C. (n.d.). 2020 Census Illuminates Racial and Ethnic Composition of the Country. Census.Gov. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Çivitci, A. (2015). Perceived stress and life satisfaction in college students: Belonging and extracurricular participation as moderators. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 205, 271-281.

Coudenhove-Kalergi, R. (2019). Practical Idealism: The Kalergi Plan to destroy European peoples (D. Ekmektsis, Trans.). Omnia Veritas Ltd.

Franco, M., Durkee, M., & McElroy-Heltzel, S. (2021). Discrimination comes in layers: Dimensions of discrimination and mental health for multiracial people. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 27, 343–353.

Hackel, L. M., Looser, C. E., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2014). Group membership alters the threshold for mind perception: The role of social identity, collective identification, and intergroup threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 15-23.

Hood, A. B. (1984). Student development: Does participation affect growth? Bulletin of the Association of College Unions-International, 54, 16–19.

Martin, L. M. (2000). The relationship of college experiences to psychosocial outcomes in students. Journal of College Student Development, 41, 294–303. 

Wong, S. S., Sugimoto-Matsuda, J. J., Chang, J. Y., & Hishinuma, E. S. (2012). Ethnic Differences in Risk Factors For Suicide Among American High School Students, 2009: The Vulnerability of Multiracial and Pacific Islander Adolescents. Archives of Suicide Research, 16(2), 159–173.


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The Life Cycle of Love

March 27th, 2023 · 11 Comments

Love is in the air! But how did it get there? And how do you stop it from going away? Romantic love is a foundational component of the human experience that leads to feelings of overwhelming joy, devastating heartbreak, and everything in between. It pretty much goes without saying, then, that it’s pretty complicated. Love can be confusing, all-consuming, and seemingly unexplainable. Before we can even begin to define those feelings, we have to ask……what is love? We are going to break it down into 3 key stages: falling in love, staying in love, and lastly, the ending of love. 

Falling in Love: Attraction, Familiarity, and Flirtation (Jessica)

So, you want to fall in love? The romance blogs and dating apps may make it seem easy, but love isn’t something you can pull out of thin air. Relationships take time, energy, and a whole lot of self-reflection and communication with your partner. But before we can even get there, how do you actually find the one? Studies show that part may not take as much effort as you think. 

Think back to your elementary or high school crush. Why did you like them? Maybe they brought it in the best snacks? Did they compliment your outfits? While physical and emotional attraction can come from meaningful interactions with others, sometimes it’s as simple as being in the right place, at the right time…all of the time. That’s right, exposure can spark attraction! How many times have you noticed that one classmate who always sits in your row or that coworker who’s on your shift every week when you pass them on the street? How many times have you noticed the classmate you only sat next to once? In a long-term study on affinity in a classroom setting, students rated the women they saw the most in class as more attractive than others (Moreland & Beach, 1990). These findings suggest exposure impacts attraction and similarity (Moreland & Beach, 1990). Who knows? Maybe following the same route across campus to that 9 AM will be worth it one day.

If you’re not someone who follows a regular schedule, don’t worry. Familiarity isn’t the only way to fall in love. Attraction has also been linked to misattributed physiological arousal. Now, I know, that sounds pretty daunting, but it’s actually simpler than you think. When our bodies are aroused – scared, working out, daydreaming – we tend to want to attribute it to something (White & Kight, 1984). That attempt to link a feeling to an experience is a force of habit, really. If we feel good, we want to know how to keep feeling good and if we feel bad, we want to know how to stop feeling bad. But sometimes, we make the wrong link. That’s misattributed physiological arousal. Oftentimes, this misattribution can lead us to feelings of love or attraction that aren’t actually there. Researchers supported this hypothesis with the Shaky Bridge Study, where participants were found to be more attracted to a female researcher on a shaky, anxiety-inducing bridge, than a sturdy one (Dutton & Aron, 1974). It seems that physiological arousal can trick us into thinking we’re attracted to someone, even when we’re not.

Falling in love isn’t a one-person show. On top of feeling attracted to somebody, we have an inherent desire to be desired – a need to belong. Planting the seed for a new relationship requires some confirmation that your potential partner is interested in you too (Aron & Tomlinson, 2018). Our perceptions of how other people feel about us are crucial to navigating love, attraction, and relationships. This motivation to be liked by others may be partially explained by the self-expansion model, which argues people are motivated to broaden the self through close relationships (Aron & Tomlinson, 2018). According to this model, our self-concept is influenced by the way we perceive others and the way they perceive us (Aron & Tomlinson, 2018). These two self-concepts combine to create a “relational self”, which you send off into the world of love and romance.

Now if you’ve gotten this far, or if you’ve fallen in love, you might be wondering…how do I stay in love? Let’s talk some more about maintaining romantic relationships.

Staying in Love: Foundations of Sustaining Romantic Relationships (Evan)

Hookups and hangouts evolve into the “talking stage” and then, maybe, becoming “official.” After all the flirtation, excitement, and buildup of a new prospective relationship, it is time to take things to the next level, but, what does this even mean?! Maybe you’ve experienced a craving for commitment from the person you’ve been seeing or perhaps an overwhelming fear of it. Either way, entering a committed relationship might mean things are about to get real, but the fun and flirtation don’t need to go away. What is the perfect balance between seriousness and commitment, and playfulness and individuality? Frankly, there is not a perfect formula for romantic relationship success and it varies heavily by couple, but research has uncovered a few common threads on which to focus. 

In 1997, psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed the Triangular Theory of Love which pinpoints intimacy, passion, and commitment as the building blocks of deep romantic connection (Sternberg, 1997). Firstly, intimacy is the feeling or emotion encompassing closeness, connectedness, and bonding between a couple (Sternberg, 1997). Secondly, Sternberg describes passion as the driving force behind intimacy, primarily in the context of sex (Sternberg, 1997). The last point of the triangle, commitment, means “in the short-term, to the decision that one loves a certain other, and in the long-term, to one’s commitment to maintain that love” (Sternberg, 1997). I’d argue a more symmetrical-shaped theory for love to thrive long-term. His primary three elements are convincing and important contributing factors in romantic relationships, but there are two crucial pieces that appear absent from the Triangular Theory of Love. Maybe the triangle should be restructured into a square keeping intimacy and commitment at the top, but adding trust and communication on the bottom, as necessary to achieve intimacy and commitment, with passion bouncing around in the middle. Sometimes passion fills up the whole square, sometimes it’s in a ball in the corner – over time, passion comes and goes, sometimes it changes, sometimes it’s barely hanging on, and sometimes it comes roaring back. Passion evolves as love evolves in a long-term romantic relationship, but the foundations of lasting love are trust, communication, intimacy, and commitment.

Research shows that intimacy goals and readiness are key predictors of relationship initiation and partner selection, so this is something to keep in mind when looking to take that next step in your relationship (Sanderson et al., 2007). Intimacy can look and feel different for everybody; it can mean emotional vulnerability, sexual intimacy, mutual affection, general closeness, or a combination of the above (Mosier, 2006). But, however you view intimacy, it is imperative that it is mutually felt to ensure closeness and connectedness between partners. Commitment, as defined by Sternberg, ultimately comes down to a continued effort by both parties to make the relationship work. A study shows that when one partner evidently makes investments (time, energy, etc.) in the relationship, it inspires the other partner to commit further to the relationship and can spur a sort of cycle (Joel et al., 2013). Next, intimacy and commitment are unachievable without trust – “trust may be the single most important ingredient for the development and maintenance of happy, well-functioning relationships” (Simpson, 2007). A lack of trust diminishes support, commitment, effort, communication, and intimacy between romantic partners (Arikewuyo et al., 2021). So, if you ever find yourself tempted to go snooping through your partner’s phone, this could be a major red flag that there is a lack of trust in your relationship, and should be addressed. Last, but certainly not least, is communication. Communication lies at the base of relationship success as it allows you to express feelings, insecurities, and needs and, ultimately, is the primary tool in conflict resolution. There are many nuances to these four key elements, but if you have all the points in the square, you are setting yourself up for a stable and strong relationship. But, if one point in the square is missing, things might get wobbly.

The End: Finding the Rainbow After the Rain (Ava)

Does her laugh no longer sound like a chorus of angels, but rather like a starving hyena? Have you recently caught yourself singing a bit too emphatically to Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey man-hating anthems? Is his “adorable” habit of coding during your alone time together no longer giving “silicon valley daddy”, but rather making you feel dismissed and invaluable? If you answered yes to any of these, it, unfortunately, might mean that your current romantic partner that you met in your 10:30 Gened section might actually not be your soulmate *gasp*. Though this realization may seem scary, fear not– breakups are a common, and important, part of emerging adulthood development and can ultimately lead to positive change in your life. 

Breakups can happen for a plethora of reasons, and even though some breakups are inevitable, there are steps that you can take to salvage a relationship. You may feel as in love as ever with your partner but feel that your relationship still feels rocky. This can be caused by either lack of expressed gratitude or conversely, an abundance of sacrifice that may be overwhelming your partner. It has been found that individuals often underestimate the positive effect of expressing gratitude to others and overestimated how uncomfortable the receiver of the gratitude would be (Kumar & Epley 2018). It may be possible that even though you feel like you are complementing and doting upon your partner enough, it would be beneficial to do so even more frequently. We often underestimate how powerful our words can be to others, so let this serve as a reminder to show your love frequently and authentically– it will be better received than you expect it to be. Conversely, you may be thinking “this doesn’t apply to me– I shower my partner with affection and make it known how much I sacrifice for them”. Unfortunately, this can be problematic as well.  Acts of service and sacrifice for a partner may seem beneficial on the surface, but if not done in a reciprocal way, can cause tension and miscommunication within the relationship. Sacrificing for your partner can improve their mood and make them feel appreciated, but if done in excess, can also create feelings of guilt and indebtedness on their ends, and feelings of resentment from the giver (Righetti, Visserman & Impett 2022). The feeling of being in love is not enough to foster a healthy relationship on its own– you need to be able to express it in the way that your partner needs. 

Sometimes, relationships just need to come to an end– they’ve served their purpose, taught valuable lessons, and it’s time to say goodbye. Though it can be sad to end a relationship, it doesn’t need to be all thunderstorms– if you look hard enough, you can find your rainbow. This step is critical, as merely being equipped with the knowledge that heartache can have silver linings is correlated with a reduced rate of depression in recently-single adults (Slotter & Ward 2015). And though it may feel isolating and difficult to do so, 1 in 3 individuals in early adulthood have experienced a serious breakup in the past 2 years, and it’s important that they do (Asselman & Specht 2022). It’s been found that experiencing a breakup can lead to higher feelings of self-confidence, independence, and more emotional stability in future relationships (Tashiro & Frazier 2003). So despite this relationship not having a fairy tale ending– the experience of having loved and lost might prepare you better for the next person you are crushing on. Further, going through a breakup is also linked to causing higher levels of internal control belief (Asselman & Specht 2022). This may end up being the greatest gift your ex-partner has ever given you, as people with higher levels of internal control are more confident in being able to control the outcomes in their life. This trait is correlated with greater success in the workplace, achieving personal goals, and conquering various other aspects of their life (Asselman & Specht 2022). In short, love openly and often without fear of heartbreak– sometimes the most valuable lessons from a relationship come after they end. 


Arikewuyo, Eluwole, K. K., & Özad, B. (2021). Influence of Lack of Trust on Romantic 

Relationship Problems: The Mediating Role of Partner Cell Phone Snooping. Psychological Reports, 124(1), 348–365.

Aron, A., & Tomlinson, J. (2018). Love as expansion of the self. In R. J. Sternberg & K. Sternberg, The New Psychology of Love (pp. 1–24). Cambridge University Press.

Asselmann, & Specht, J. (2022). Personality growth after relationship losses: Changes of perceived control in the years around separation, divorce, and the death of a partner. PloS One, 17(8), e0268598–e0268598.

Back, M. D., Penke, L., Schmukle, S. C., Sachse, K., Borkenau, P., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2011). Why Mate Choices are not as Reciprocal as we Assume: The Role of Personality, Flirting and Physical Attractiveness. European Journal of Personality, 25(2), 120–132.

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for Me. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(10), 1333–1345.

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intimacy goals and plans for initiating dating relationships. Personal Relationships, 14(2), 225–243.

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Does Prince Charming really exist? Will you find your Cinderella?

March 27th, 2023 · 8 Comments

Does Prince Charming really exist? Will you find your Cinderella?

One adolescent day you may find yourself wondering about what your future will look like and with whom…will you be married? Have kids? Will you be single? Or what about this…have you looked up your zodiac sign to see your and your partner’s compatibility? Are you currently in a romantic relationship and looking for ways to strengthen your bond? Perhaps looking for evidence on what makes romantic relationships last long-term?


There are so many questions and uncertainties that may leave someone stressed and lost…so that is why we’re going to help explain what research says about finding your perfect match!


What is your zodiac sign? I’m a Libra…oh you’re a Gemini.. that explains it…

Have you ever heard that before? If not, the term Gemini and Libra refer to an individual’s zodiac sign which comes from astrology (Helgertz & Scott., 2020) (if you want more information google it because i’m not telling you about the history of the zodiac signs). But briefly, the idea of astrology has been around since before the birth of Christ and suggests that the positioning of celestial objects at a certain time play a significant role in the individual’s life in terms of their personality, motivation, wants and needs (Helgertz & Scott.,2020). Specifically, western astrology focuses on the horoscopic nature suggesting that predictions can be made based on the positioning of the planets and this stars typically at birth (Helgertz & Scott.,2020). As you may know many people are very into astrology and zodiac signs and thus rely on them religiously to dictate their future… Back in elementary school my friends and I would go on a website to see how compatible we were with our crushes …wouldn’t this be awesome if we could just go around asking people what their horoscope is and then depending on their answer it would potentially be a perfect match!! …sadly that is not the case ??

There has been some research on the idea that one’s horoscope can make someone more or less compatible with another with the earliest study dating 1970. This study by Bernie Silverman looked to test the validity of astrological predictions by comparing marital compatibility of couples who were matched by zodiac signs to couples who were matched randomly (Silverman., 1970). He had 2,978 couples who were married in Michigan between 1967 and 1968 and the astrological signs were obtained from their marriage certificates (Silverman., 1970). Their compatibility was assessed using a questionnaire that measured several aspects of their relationship such as their communication skills, conflict resolution skills and sexual satisfaction (Silverman., 1970). The results showed no significant difference in marital compatibility between couples who were matched by astrological signs versus couples matched randomly (Silverman., 1970). 

One more recent study that seems to be a landmark study… (but I cannot find it anywhere but is mentioned everywhere). The study had 20 million husbands and wives in England and Wales and Dr.David Voas from the University of Manchester analyzed these relationships and found no evidence that shows attraction due to zodiac signs (University of Manchester., 2007). He got his information from the 2001 census and says the following “When you have a population of ten million couples, then even if only one pair in a thousand is influenced by the stars, you’d have ten thousand more couples than expected with certain combinations of signs, there’s no such evidence, though: the numbers are just what we’d predict on the basis of chance.”(University of Manchester., 2007). So it does seem pretty promising that zodiac signs are unreliable.

It is worth mentioning that these studies are strictly correlational and it would be very unethical to test this experimentally…but with all that being said, is there something that we can look for in our partner to make sure we are compatible?? 

Should you look for someone similar to you? Or different from you?… Do opposites attract? 

A few researchers’ looked at this experimentally and investigated the importance of four factors in determining romantic attraction; similarity, reciprocity, security, and physical attractiveness (Luo & Zhang., 2009). This was investigated using a speed-dating paradigm in which participants had several short conversations with individuals and then rated their attraction (Luo & Zhang., 2009). After three speed dating events participants were given surveys to assess their partners, and after that the researchers analyzed them (Luo & Zhang., 2009). Researchers found that  similarity and reciprocity were the most influential factors in predicting romantic attraction (Luo & Zhang., 2009). Moreover they found participants were more likely to be attracted to those who shared their same interests, values, and attitudes (Luo & Zhang., 2009). All in all, the study suggests that similarity and reciprocity are more important than attractiveness and security when predicting attraction… So does that mean we have to go look for our “personality twin” for the perfect partner?? Not quite… one systematic review looked at 313 studies that looked at actual partners in relationships and found that similarity in attitudes is what made people more attracted to each other (Montoya, Horton, & Kirchner., 2008). Moreover, they also mention that  someone may have preferences for someone because they see things in them that they lack (Montoya, Horton, & Kirchner., 2008)… So it seems as though we are attracted to those who are more similar to us and those who compliment us ???

So… once we find someone who is similar, what makes the relationship last? 



The beginning of a romantic relationship is always an exciting time. There is this novel sense of excitement, joy, and love that draws you into the person and makes it seem as though everything is right in the world. As time goes on, however, the flames die down and reality starts to make itself known again. Romantic relationships require continuous nurturing and attention, specifically regarding three vital components: “intimacy, passion, and commitment” (Kansky, 2018, p. 2). The strength of each of these components defines how a relationship may be classified by different kinds of love, which include “romantic, companionate, empty, infatuation, and consummate” (Kansky, 2018, p. 2). How these components grow and interact with each other is vital for relationship development and satisfaction. Attachment styles also play a crucial role in the success of romantic relationships, as the parental figure one forms their attachment style with will eventually get transferred to how they interact with their partner. In fact, attachment styles are so crucial to romantic relationships that it can be a predictor of how successful a relationship can and will be. Secure attachment styles in relationships consist of security and closeness, but when one perceives their partner as unavailable or untrustworthy, insecure attachment styles can form. Another important aspect of successful relationships is sexual satisfaction, which has been found to be a telling sign of how stable the relationship is. Couples that feel sexually satisfied in their relationship also points to how well they communicate with one another and understand one another’s needs (Kansky, 2018).

Ok so, we know the basics of what makes a relationship successful, but how do you maintain it? More importantly, what can prove to be an obstacle in maintaining it? Two words: hedonic adaptation. This term describes the phenomenon of various challenges that become present when attempting to return to baseline after a positive or negative event, such as newlyweds fresh from their wedding who must go on with their daily lives after. Or a partner losing their job and having to manage financial difficulties while looking for a new job. How well partners can manage these adaptations is a major indicator of stability and satisfaction in a relationship. Of importance is ensuring that adapting does not equate to boredom, as studies have shown that it can become toxic in romantic relationships. One way to avoid boredom is to include positive experiences that keep partners engaged in adapting. If the boosts in happiness start to dwindle in relationships, they will quickly adapt and become bored. Eventually, positive events and emotions will not be enough to ward off boredom, so novelty in these experiences is another strengthening factor for maintaining relationships. So instead of doing the same thing on Friday nights, try something different! It may just bring you that much closer. Appreciation of this process is also vital for relationship longevity, and reduces the risk of taking your partner for granted. Along with appreciation comes the delicate balance of expectations. Having high expectations of one’s partner has only been shown to be affiliated with higher quality relationships when the partnership has both reasonable desires and healthy communication skills (Jacobs & Lyubomirsky, 2013). Expectations that are associated with feelings of “entitlement or deservingness” have been shown to be especially harmful to the welfare of romantic relationships (Jacobs & Lyubomirsky, 2013, p. 200)

Clearly, romantic love takes a lot of work, but it can also be a beautiful and fulfilling aspect of life. The characteristics that make up a healthy relationship also allow for personal growth and discovery. So don’t rush trying to find “the one”. Good things come to those who wait. 




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Friendship 101

March 20th, 2023 · 12 Comments

Ever wondered what’s the secret to a good friendship? While many people think romantic relationships are the hardest relationships to attain and maintain, there are many facets that go into having healthy friendships. Because of this, people may often overlook the possibility and reality of how effortful friendship-building can be. In this blog post, we will discuss the important components of building and maintaining friendships while providing evidence-based relationship-building practices. 

Gena: Communication: the key to building successful friendships. 

While proximity and frequent communication are valuable in shifting relationships from acquaintances to friendships, maintaining and developing friendship bonds require effortful communication. Communication is imperative to the success of all relationships, but within friendships, the type of communication shared may differ. According to research by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, as friendships develop, individuals shift from discussing fewer and more shallow topics to discussing deeper and more thought-provoking concepts (Altman & Taylor, 1973). Whereas acquaintances may focus on discussing the weather outside or their plans for the weekend, close friends may discuss more sensitive topics or seek advice on navigating stressful life experiences. Naturally, as one person shares more, the other does, and self-disclosure increases the chance that someone else will share about themselves (Sprecher et al., 2013). You may have experienced this effect when talking with a friend. As they shared a specific and potentially vulnerable story, you may have felt inclined to also share more about yourself. Hearing disclosure increases familiarity with an individual (Sprecher et al., 2013), and this cycle of effortful communication between two individuals provides the foundation for building trust and mutual support (Nicolaisen & Thorson, 2017), which are essential factors in sustaining a friendship. When thinking about best practices in building and maintaining relationships, it is crucial to create space for authentic conversation that also prioritizes active and enthusiastic listening (Reis et al., 2010). According to past research, enthusiastic listening is more beneficial than neutral listening since enthusiastic responses convey validation which plays a positive role in supporting friendship (Reis et al., 2010). Within friendship conversations, it is imperative to focus on listening to understand rather than to respond. Practices such as using affirming language, repeating for clarification instead of assuming, and asking how to help before offering unsolicited advice are great practices in shifting towards more enthusiastic listening (Reis et al., 2010). 

Callie: How can long-distance friendships be successful?

One threat to our existing friendships is a lack of in-person contact. Many people do not live close to their friends for the entirety of their friendships. Friends are made at different stages in life, and the physical distance between individuals may increase as we change jobs or schools, enter retirement, move, etc. An increase in distance between two friends makes it harder for friends to see each other in person. Because of this, it is important to understand the best ways to communicate with someone so that a close relationship can be maintained. Oswald & Clark (2003) found that the frequency of communication is important when maintaining friendships where in-person communication is rare. When looking at high school best friends who transitioned to separate colleges, the study found that the most successful friendships were the ones who communicated frequently, as this increased the satisfaction and commitment of the relationship. 

Technology has provided modern friendships with a unique ability to communicate regardless of distance, and certain forms of communication are more effective than others. Shklovski et al. (2008) found that phone calls are the preferable way to communicate with someone when compared to emails. This is because the study found that phone calls both maintain and foster growth within a friendship when face-to-face contact is limited due to distance. Furthermore, increases in emailing were not found to help maintain or grow friendships, but decreases in emailing were found to negatively affect friendships. This may be because communication through email shows investment in the relationship, but does not provide the same personal connection (like a phone call does) that fosters relationship growth between two people. 

While being in a long-distance friendship may limit the frequency of in-person interaction, these types of friendships are often just as satisfying as close-distance friendships (Johnson, 2001). Johnson (2001) found that certain maintenance behaviors in long-distance friendships allow individuals to remain close. For example, openness and assurance were both behaviors that were found to foster closeness in friendships, and, because of technology, this can be achieved regardless of the amount of in-person interactions. 

When looking at the factors that go into successful long-distance friendships, it is clear that the quality and frequency of interactions allow for satisfaction in the relationship. Even though we may not see our long-distance friends in person as often as we’d like, we can still maintain a close relationship with them by engaging in frequent and meaningful communication. 

Andrea: Friendship Evolution or Dissolution?

Have you ever thought about why some of your friendships have stayed strong for years, and others didn’t last? 

It turns out that there were likely either some unreciprocated or reciprocated actions that determined the outcome. In a study by Oswald et al. (2004), dyadic relationships, or friendships between two people, were assessed based on their closeness level (either best, close, or casual) and determinants of the maintenance between said closeness level. It was found that the reciprocal effort to maintain the friendship was a predictor of what level of closeness the friendship reached. However, if this effort was not reciprocated, there was instability in the friendship that was either resolved by one member of the dyad decreasing or increasing their maintenance effort to match the other member or the deterioration of the dyadic friendship. 

More often than not, though, if there is an unreciprocated effort by one side of the dyad, then we see that one side is benefitting from the friendship more than the other, and it will dissolve. Additionally, we see that this is a behavior that likely develops very early, as it is seen in young children. In a study by Hallinan (1978), it was found that children in an elementary school stopped interacting with a potential friend if there was no reciprocated interest in a proposed friendship offer or no reciprocated effort to preserve the friendship.

Having said this, these findings may not definitively be indicators of your friendships stability and quality, but these trends may be able to explain variations in your past and current friendships, and moving forward, you can even use them as methods to upkeep relationships with people that you want to stay close friends with. In order to do so, one may ask what are maintenance strategies one can employ? In the study by Oswald et al., 2004, the most effective strategies were found to be positivity, supportiveness, and openness. Funnily enough, we see that these strategies are also found to be important maintenance predictors in romantic relationships. Thus, a positive externality of implementing these maintenance strategies in your friendships is that it could help with your romantic relationships as well!



Altman, I., & Taylor, D. A. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Hallinan. (1978). The process of friendship formation. Social Networks, 1(2), 193–210.

Johnson, A. J. (2001). Examining the maintenance of friendships: Are there differences between geographically close and long distance friends?. Communication Quarterly, 49(4), 424-435.

Nicholaisen, M., & Thorsen, K. (2017). What are friends for? Friendships and loneliness over the lifespan–From 18 to 79 years. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 84, 126-158

Oswald, D. L., & Clark, E. M. (2003). Best friends forever?: High school best friendships and the transition to college. Personal relationships, 10(2), 187-196.

Oswald, D. L., Clark, E. M., & Kelly, C. M. (2004). Friendship maintenance: An analysis of individual and dyad behaviors. Journal of Social and clinical psychology, 23(3), 413-441.

Reis, H.T., Smith, S.M., Carmichael, C.L., Caprariello, P.A., Tsai, F., Rodrigues, A., & Maniaci, M.R. (2010). Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 311-329.

Shklovski, I., Kraut, R., & Cummings, J. (2008, April). Keeping in touch by technology: Maintaining friendships after a residential move. In Proceedings of the sigchi conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 807-816).

Sprecher, S., Treger, S., & Wondra, J. D. (2013). Effects of self-disclosure role on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(4), 497–514.

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“You’re such an empath”: The social importance of practicing empathy in the real world and beyond

February 20th, 2023 · 12 Comments

Ella: What is Empathy, and How Can We “Do It Right”? 

In these modern times, one would not necessarily be exaggerating by saying that you can see the words “empath” or “empathy” or “empathetic”  everywhere you look, whether online or in real life. In the digital universe, you may have seen one of Buzzfeed`s myriad of quizzes promising to tell you whether you are an empath, or browsed a few Tik Tok videos offering you telltale signs that you are one. In the news, perhaps you have heard discussion about “empathy politics”; maybe you have heard remarks that someone in your life could use a little more empathy – or even a little less. 

A few natural questions arise from the wide usage of this word: what is empathy, and how does it work? Is it good or bad to be empathetic? How do we know? 

According to the Psychiatric Medical Care Communications Team, empathy differs from another commonly associated word – sympathy – in its being shown by how much compassion and understanding we give to one another, rather than pity (PMC, 2023). Emotions researcher Brene Brown further elucidates this decision with an excellent analogy: when someone else falls down into a hole, we enact empathy by climbing down into the hole with them, rather than looking down on them from above. In this way, she explains, “empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection” (PCM, 2023). What does climbing into the hole entail for Dr. Brown? It’s simple: we must open ourselves up to perspective taking, seek to listen and stay out of judgment, recognize the emotion the other person is experiencing that we have perhaps felt before, and then communicate that we can recognize that emotion (Psychology Today, 2014). However easy this sounds, it can be surprisingly hard to implement consistently: like anything else, empathy is a skill that needs repetition in order to gain proficiency. 

A potential aid to understanding how to better enact empathy interpersonally is learning how we experience empathy within ourselves. Elliot et al. (2011) explains that empathy consists of three major subprocesses that we can trace to specific brain regions. Firstly, empathy begins with emotional simulation, wherein brain activation centering in primarily the limbic system mirrors the emotional elements of another`s bodily experience (Elliot et al., 2011, p. 2). Next, we enter into a process of perspective taking via the medial and ventromedial areas of the prefrontal and temporal cortices, through which we attempt to “place ourselves in another’s shoes” (Elliot et al., 2011, p. 2). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is an emotional regulation process which allows us to soothe our own distress that we feel in response to another person’s pain or discomfort (Elliot et al., 2011, p. 2). 

As Brene Brown alludes to, empathy executed incompletely can be incredibly disconnecting. We can continue to distinguish empathy from sympathy through conceptualizing sympathy as two out of three critical processes, as described by Elliot: mentalization and self-regulation. Without emotional contagion – or the ability to feel what the other person is feeling – you are disconnecting by looking down on them from above the hole they feel stuck in. Similarly, and perhaps in some cases more damaging for relationships, is empathy that occurs without self-regulation. If you take on the emotions of others such that you can no

If you cannot understand, regulate, and work with your own emotions, unregulated empathy could lead you to take on the pain or distress of others and internalize it. This is not only harmful in that it leads to unnecessary personal suffering, but it also inhibits your ability to provide compassion or understanding for the other person; in short, it becomes all about you. When others are vulnerable with us and we react in ways that – albeit, unintentionally – center our emotional experience over their own, we communicate that their feelings are a burden to us, and we fail to forge connection in a time when it may feel critically necessary for the other person. 

All in all, empathy is an incredibly complex and powerful facet of the human experience. No person can know what it is like to be another person, but when it comes to understanding our emotional selves and that of others, it is essential for connection that we try. 


Cassie: Imagining Human Empathy and its Unique Ability to Transcend Reality

So, by now, it is clear that empathy is important for social connection among humans. In fact, many claims have been made by researchers and laypeople alike which suggest that humans have a special capacity for feeling empathy towards others. While research has largely refuted the idea that humans have a greater capacity for empathy than other non-human animals (e.g., Palagi et al., 2014), human empathic concern is still incredibly fascinating and important to consider as it extends beyond proximal social and physical boundaries.

Have you ever cried while watching or imagining your favorite character in a movie, TV show, or book as they experience grief from the death of a loved one? (Shout out to the heart-wrenching final chapter/movie scene when Hazel Grace reads Augustus’ letter in The Fault in Our Stars and the countless tear-jerking episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.) Or, have you ever smiled so embarrassingly wide at the end of a movie because of a feel-good ending? (Dozens of romantic comedies like The Proposal or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days come to mind.) If so, research suggests that you certainly aren’t alone. 

Aside from helping us to more deeply understand and support our loved ones in times of distress or elation, our incredible empathic capabilities allow us to understand and experience the emotions felt by fictional characters presented on a TV screen or in a book, too. So, when our favorite characters experience happiness, anger, sadness, or fear, we can feel and experience it with them–especially when authors or cinematographers create the right narrative-focused ambience (Keen, 2006; Lankhuizen et al., 2020). For example, one study found that, among a sample of young women with high levels of trait empathy, exposure to emotional movie clips meant to induce either a positive or a negative mood led to a larger cortical gamma response (which measures the processing of emotional information) and a greater subjective emotional reaction than exposure to a neutral movie clip (Maffei et al., 2019). However, among young women with low levels of trait empathy, a difference in gamma response was only observed when participants were exposed to a movie clip meant to induce a negative emotion (Maffei et al., 2019). Another article reports similar findings in dispositional differences between readers regarding felt empathy towards fictional book characters, suggesting that empathic concern is more readily expressed when reading about and trying to understand or empathize with a character’s negative emotions (Keen, 2006). These results suggest that humans have the ability to feel empathy – to some degree – towards fictional characters, despite their own varying empathic dispositions. Thus, they also support that humans have an intriguing – and perhaps unique – capacity for empathy.

But why would humans have the ability to empathize with people who don’t actually exist in the real world? One potential explanation is that empathizing with characters in movies, TV shows, books, and other forms of media increases perceived enjoyment of our watching and reading experiences. Being immersed in a fictional world by engaging in empathic concern for its characters may allow us to more completely buy into the narratives being portrayed, thus leading to greater enjoyment of the media we are exposed to (Green et al., 2004). Another possibility is that engaging in empathy with distant others has real-world benefits – even if those others appear only on a movie screen or in a book. For example, one account suggests that engaging in empathic concern for fictional characters allows us to hone our skills to better understand and interact with others (Mar, 2018). Whatever the reason, humans’ ability to empathize with fictional others seems to have important implications for the centrality of empathy to social connection and human nature.


Pomai: Keeping an Empathetic Mind in the Judicial System and Beyond

Bringing things back to the real world, empathy is crucial to how we understand people – not only those close to us, but also those who we wouldn’t normally share a connection with. It’s easy to be empathetic towards our friends and close relations, but what about those in need or those who we don’t always see eye to eye with? In the case of the judicial system, it’s so hard to be empathetic towards criminals and those prosecuted, especially when they seem so different from us. But empathy is an important part of being human, and it’s needed to ensure that all people, even those who are prosecuted, are treated with compassion and fairness. 

Empathy in the judicial system is complicated and there’s a growing debate regarding the use of empathy in court decisions. Some judges are intentionally empathetic in their cases, while others try to be as impartial as possible. The argument for empathy is that it makes judges more compassionate towards an accused person’s wellbeing (Cormack, 2021), making them less likely to inflict debatably immoral sentences such as the death penalty. However, psychologists also argue that empathy can lead to cognitive distortion and racial bias by overvaluing certain individuals’ perspectives more than others (Cormack, 2021). These distortions include potentially overvaluing a specific witness’s testimony and thus making a false accusation, and overvaluing a victim’s statement and thus being more willing to support the victim despite contrary evidence. For instance, in murder cases, if a judge is a White male (as they often are, given that White people account for ~98% of judges in most states) and is hearing testimonies from a White victim, the White victim’s perspective is significantly overvalued such that a Black defendant is 22 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a White defendant (IResearchNet, 2022). 

The drastic racial biases in judicial decisions make empathy seem like a dangerous flaw in the judicial system that prevents equality for all people involved. But to really understand empathy’s role, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves, when is empathy present in judges’ decision making? What we find is that arguments against using empathy are irrelevant because empathy inherently plays a role in judicial outcomes. 

As shown by our tendency to empathize with friends, family, strangers, and even fictional characters, empathy is a natural human response and it is inevitable. While we have a good amount of control over who we empathize with, studies have shown that we naturally empathize with people who we can relate to (Colby, 2012). So, we can’t just instruct judges to act impartially because they will subconsciously have more empathy towards groups of people who are more similar to them based on commonalities such as partisanship, race, and gender. Interestingly, a 2015 study found that judges who had daughters were more liberal in their decisions on criminal and civil court cases (Glynn et. al., 2015), which is a clear indicator of the subconscious role that empathy plays in decision-making. Even judges who don’t consciously empathize with a victim, witness, or defendant have too many life experiences that will sway their subconscious empathy towards specific individuals simply because empathy is a crucial part of being human. So to ask a judge to not have empathy at all is to deny people the right to connect with those in need. Yes, there will be mistakes in judicial decisions because empathy isn’t perfect. But judges can learn to set boundaries and work on recognizing what types of individuals they subconsciously empathize with so that they can make more just decisions. 

As for the rest of us, we can reconceptualize how we treat people based on how we view empathy. Empathy is not bad; it is not racist, nor unfair. It is just a tool that everyone can choose to use in a productive way. We should practice having empathy for those who are different from us and those who are distant from us, aiming to be more aware of our empathetic tendencies by taking on the perspectives of more than just our friends and making sure that we’re not judging people based on subconsciously perceived in-group connections. In doing so, we can live life with an open mind and be able to find ways to bridge the gap between our empathy and our biases.



Colby, Thomas B. (2012). In Defense of Judicial Empathy. Minnesota Law Review, 96(1), 



Cormack, Warren. (2021). Reassessing the Judicial Empathy Debate: How Empathy Can Distort 

and Improve Criminal Sentencing. Mitchell Hamline Law Review, 47(4), 81-108.

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Glynn, Adam N. & Sen, Maya. (2015). Identifying Judicial Empathy: Does Having Daughters Cause Judges to Rule for Women’s Issues? Midwest Political Science Association, 59(1), 37-53. 

Green, M. C., Brock, T. C., & Kaufman, G. F. (2004). Understanding Media Enjoyment: The Role of Transportation Into Narrative Worlds. Communication Theory, 14(4), 311–327. 

Keen, S. (2006). A Theory of Narrative Empathy. Narrative (Columbus, Ohio), 14(3), 207–236. 

Lankhuizen, T., Balint, K., Konijn, E., Savardi, M., Bartsch, A., & Benini, S. (2020). Shaping film: A quantitative formal analysis of contemporary empathy-eliciting Hollywood cinema. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 16(4), 704–718.

Maffei, A., Spironelli, C., & Angrilli, A. (2019). Affective and cortical EEG gamma responses to emotional movies in women with high vs low traits of empathy. Neuropsychologia, 133, 107175–107175.

Mar, R. A. (2018). Stories and the Promotion of Social Cognition. Current Directions in Psychological Science : a Journal of the American Psychological Society, 27(4), 257–262. 

Palagi, Norscia, I., & Demuru, E. (2014). Yawn contagion in humans and bonobos: emotional affinity matters more than species. PeerJ (San Francisco, CA), 2, e519–e519. 

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Seeing the World Through Foggy Rose Colored Glasses

February 13th, 2023 · 14 Comments

QOTD: Do We Remember Our Old Cars With Rose Colored Glasses? | Curbside Classic

By: Elle Freedman and Wendy Carballo

“Oh, so you study psychology at Harvard? Does that mean you can read my mind?”

No psychology concentrator at Harvard has escaped this inevitable conversation. What if instead of the typical eye-roll response, you tell them “actually, reading minds isn’t a skill reserved for psych majors. Making inferences about what someone else is thinking is crucial for forming social connections and navigating everyday life.” Either they’ll get an unnecessary ego-boost or ask you to explain mentalization and the theory of mind. 

Mind perception consists of two components, mind detection and mentalizing. Mind detection is simply the notion of identifying another entity with a mind. Mentalizing, or theory of mind, is the ability to infer thoughts, feelings, and desires from other people. Mentalizing allows us to humanize, connect with others, and synchronize behavior to strengthen relationships. But what happens when one’s personal feelings and biases get in the way of mentalization? Can your internal emotions affect your ability to mentalize, possibly over-mentalize, and perhaps become blind to lies and deception? Does seeing the world through rose-colored glasses improve our relationships, or set us up for failure?

Wendy: Being Happy Can Turn a Blind Eye to Reality 

In 2008, researchers Joseph Forgas and Rebekah East made an attempt to illuminate these questions by studying the effect of mood on skepticism and the detection of deception. Specifically, they set up a blind experiment in which undergraduate students were randomly assigned to watch either a neutral, positive, or a negative film meant to induce a happy, neutral, or a sad mood, respectively. After watching the videos, participants were asked to watch multiple clips of males and females who were either honest or deceptive during their testimony of an alleged theft. Finally, to confirm the intended mood-induction, participants took a survey in which they rated their feelings based on a good-bad and a happy-sad scale. 

The results of this study were insightful. As indicated by the scales, it was found that participants who were in the happy mood condition experienced significantly more positive feelings compared to those in the neutral and negative mood conditions. Conversely, participants in the negative mood condition experienced significantly more negative feelings compared to those in the neutral and happy mood conditions which affirms the experimenter’s ability to control mood affect. Moreover, consistent with their hypothesis, participants in the happy mood condition reported greater judgements of innocence regarding the theft testimonies, while participants in the sad mood condition reported greater judgements of guilt. Happy and neutral participants failed to distinguish between innocent and guilty targets, showing that mood has a greater influence on guilt judgments of deception than truthful communications. 

These findings have some intriguing implications regarding mentalization and our interpersonal relationships. Specifically, the idea that experiencing happy moods can hinder our ability to detect lies and lead to false judgments of other people’s actions suggests that positive feelings can hinder our mentalization skills. Conversely, experiencing sad or negative moods can enhance our ability to detect deception and hence read other people’s minds. 


Elle: Emotion and the Fundamental Attribution Theory

Furthermore, a positive mood goes hand in hand with the fundamental attribution error. Forgas and Wyland’s book Emotional Intelligence in Everyday Life pools together various studies that affirm the way one feels is inseparable from our cognition and how we subsequently act and make social judgements. In one study, Forgas asked happy or sad people to observe and rate their own and their partner’s behaviors in a videotaped social encounter. The experiment involved conditioning the emotional affect of either happy or sad moods, and then rewatching a video tape of a previous interaction with them and their experimental partners. The group conditioned to be happy “saw” more positive, skilled and fewer negative, unskilled behaviors in themselves and in their partners than did sad subjects (Forgas and Wyland 2006). This is consistent with the idea that people pay attention to affect-consistent rather than affect-inconsistent information, and that can have major implications in the way that we try to make sense of complex and inherently ambiguous social behaviors, which is the underlying mechanics of mentalization. 

This has direct relevance to the fundamental attribution error, which is the tendency to overestimate the importance of dispositional factors (individual characteristics that influence behavior, like personality traits and temperament) when forming impressions on others, and to underestimate the importance of the situation that the observed behavior is occurring (O’Sullivan). Forgas put the question of temporary mood’s influence on the occurrence of the fundamental attribution error to the test in a single study of three separate experiments. In the first experiment, participants were conditioned to have either a happy or sad temporary mood and then read an essay and make judgments about the writer. The results showed that happy mood emphasized dispositional inferences over all other stimuli, which resulted in committing the fundamental attribution error, despite being controlled for coercive behaviors. Conversely, the group that was manipulated to have a temporary bad mood gave more weight to external stimuli, therefore being more situationally analytical in their inferences (Forgas 323). Essentially, the group manipulated to be happy was more likely to agree and positively rate a highly popular and coercive essay, whereas the sad group was much more stringent on their judgements and did not fall into the persuasive content of the essays. Negative moods decrease and positive moods increase the FAE because of the information processing consequences of these affective states (Forgas 318). Sad people are less likely to be fooled and coerced, whereas happy people are easily convinced and susceptible to other people’s opinions. 


So are you telling me that being sad will improve my mentalizing skills and I’ll make more friends? 

Not necessarily! Positive and negative moods both have their advantages and disadvantages in social behavior. In regards to mind perception and mentalization, however, these studies raise the thought that it might be advantageous to be a bit more skeptical in judging social cues, and having a negative mood emphasizes situational factors in judgements rather than dispositional. So, mentalizing and forming social bonds is deeper than just recognizing other’s conscious experiences and trying to infer- your own mind and mood could be influencing how you interpret the actions of others and subsequently how you connect with them. The best thing to do may be to just wipe the dust and fog off your glasses before you put them back on!

So then, what does this say about our ability to socialize and create connections? Should we monitor our moods in the presence of others? If you’re a social butterfly or an extrovert, this information has surely shaken your world as our ability to make friends is greatly dependent on our ability to understand others’ thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Surely if one has high energy and thrives in the social scene, then chances are that one is more gullible and less able to understand other people’s minds, correct? Not quite. 

While our judgment skills are certainly influenced by our feelings and emotions, positive feelings towards social interactions need not be mutually exclusive with mentalization and social connection. As Waytz and Epley (2011) underlined in their paper about the effect of social connection on dehumanization, feeling socially connected or satiated can lessen our desire for more relationships and thus lead to the dehumanization of distant others. (Dehumanization, in this context, meaning a decreased practice of mentalization or attribution of human characteristics to others). This would imply then that we can create social connections by putting on our mentalization hats and actively attempting to understand others. Through these lenses, positive feelings in the presence of others need not decrease our ability to read others’ minds but instead motivate us to do so. In other words, we just need a desire to connect and mindfully pursue it. 




Forgas, J. P., & Wyland, C. L. (2006). Affective intelligence: Understanding the role of affect in everyday social behavior. Emotional intelligence in everyday life, 77-99.

Forgas. (1998). On Being Happy and Mistaken. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 318–331.

O’Sullivan. (2003). The Fundamental Attribution Error in Detecting Deception: The Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf Effect. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(10), 1316–1327.

Forgas, J. P., & East, R. (2008). On being happy and gullible: Mood effects on skepticism and the detection of deception. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1362–1367. 

Waytz, A., & Epley, N. (2012). Social Connection enables dehumanization. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 70–76.

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Are you in or are you out?

April 8th, 2022 · 24 Comments

Mitchell Saron (Hyper polarization between political parties)


For the past decade, it seems that Americans have become substantially more politically polarized. Unfortunately, as Americans continue to indulge in social media, they will absorb news and political discourse from applications like Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. These platforms are designed to feed users with the most polarizing content as it generates the most views and data. It is unclear how far this could divide our nation, but it has already damaged many familial relationships and friendships. In the past, friendships were not harmed due to the friction of political affiliation. Nowadays, Americans will not even consider a friendship with an individual of opposing political views.


What makes an individual align with a political party? Currently, political ties can be attributed to a person’s parents or guardians, friends, political outlets, and the invasive political messages within our current social media outlets. However, on the most basic level, a person’s political affiliation is contrived from their values. I think a lot of people would agree that a friendship, relationship, or marriage would not work with each party having opposing political views. With some relationships, I fully agree that not sharing a political party with a spouse can lead to an unsuccessful marriage. This is especially true when raising children with a partner as you want to both share the values that you want to bestow on your kids. Nevertheless, I think it is embarrassing that the current state of our political climate has made it taboo to have a friend with different views as yourself.


My home town has a history of being predominantly conservative, but in recent years it has become pretty split between Republican and Democratic affiliation. As a result, my high school classmates emulated this demographic as well. My friends from home have views across the political spectrum and it has never once affected the healthiness or longevity of a relationship. I think many people today consider members of the opposing political party as a threat to society, evil, or ignorant. Yet, this natural need for tribalism has been exacerbated by the media which has led to the demonizing of each political party from each side. In reality, people just have different values. For the most part, two people can like and enjoy each other’s company without having the exact same value system. These political labels merely create division that was not there in the first place.


In Buliga and MacInnis (2020), the authors yield that relationships between different political group members are usually characterized by “antipathy and avoidance.” In their study, they measured positive reactions such as hope of the relationship lasting, intentions to engage in friendship maintenance behaviors, and trust between members of the same and different political party. Specifically, there were four groups measured: in-group friend, potential in-group friend, out-group friend, and potential out-group friend. Ultimately, participants were most positive toward the established in-group friend, followed by potential in-group friend, then the established out-group friend, and finally the potential out-group friend. Therefore, people were more likely to be positive toward a person they had just met than an established friend due to differing political views.


I wonder how the results of this study would differ had it been conducted 20 years ago. From my point of view, it is very scary and sad that people would rather have better intentions toward a complete stranger than a recognized friend just due to a political label. Even my parents, who have been married for about 30 years, have always been on the opposite political spectrum. I grew up with my mother watching CNN in the living room while my Dad listened to Fox News in his office. Perhaps I am biased due to my upbringing, but I think there has to be a balance between natural tribalism and the hatred between our current political parties. It’s natural to enjoy friendships with those that share a similar value system, but there is no reason to bias ourselves into only having relationships with those that mimic our political creeds.


Anthony Nelson (Biases and Perception)


Are we all unconsciously biased? Is there a part of us deep down that just favors familiar things more?  The idea of in-groups and out-groups can help one understand why research has shown the answer to these questions is, yes. The most relevant way these biases can be explained would be by looking at our own country’s political divide. Especially in the past two presidential elections. In high school back in Florida it was clear to see peoples’ political alignments from their clothes, and accessories to how they interacted with people in our government class. It was truly interesting to see how affiliation to certain groups can be so apparent in school when the association is strong enough.


In the paper by L.M. Hackel et al (2014) it was said that they found evidence that showed social identity can exert a top-down influence on the threshold for perceiving minds. These findings indicate that group motivations can influence mind perception. I can support this claim because personally there have been many times when I have seen on social media platforms, media outlets, etc. where people berate, insult, and assume a person’s character based solely on their political alignments. Any day you can go on Twitter and find threads of people supporting logicless statements and assumptions or undermining scientifically proven facts simply because the person who posts is either also a democrat or a republican.


I can personally say I know individuals from home who take political alignments to the extreme and claim they can’t be friends with a person with another political alignment than themselves. These types of behaviors are a bit frightening because it is said social cognitive models of person perception suggest that in-group members are more motivationally relevant to perceivers, and are thus more likely to be individuated and processed in greater depth (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). This will lead to cycles of disputes if no one from the opposite group will not give the time of day to the other group. This is outside of simply politics because this same feeling of animosity toward an out-group has led to horrible outcomes in human history. Whether it be racism, sexism, genocide, or homophobia these like mentioned in the paper stem from the sentiment of in-group vs out-groups.


Buliga, E., & MacInnis, C. (2020). “How do you like them now?” Expected reactions upon discovering that a friend is a political out-group member. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(10-11), 2779-2801.


Fiske, S. T., & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum of impression formation, from

category-based to individuating processes: Influences of information and motivation

on attention and interpretation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social

psychology. , Vol. 23. (pp. 1 –74). : Academic Press.

Hackel, L. M., Looser, C. E., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2014). Group membership alters the threshold for mind perception: The role of social identity, collective identification, and intergroup threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 15-23.


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Pursuit, Security, & Maintenance of Romantic Relationships

April 4th, 2022 · 21 Comments

Love can be a complicated thing, whether it be for friends, family, or that special someone. In class, we discussed several ways of starting as well as maintaining a romantic relationship, and even tried out Aron’s 36 Questions ourselves. Our blog post follows a structure similar to that of the stages of a relationship itself; Maya wrote about the initiation of a relationship, Helena speaks to how one gets closer in a relationship, and Sofie discusses bettering committed relationships with ToM and perspective taking. While complicated, we must also keep in mind that love is such a special, beautiful aspect of our lives.

The Pursuit of a Romantic Relationship – Maya

Last week my favorite song, “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift, started playing over the loudspeaker at an event that I was at with my friends. My friend and I were dancing when all of a sudden a man approached us and stuck out his hand to introduce himself to me. My friend slowly floated away into the crowd (not a great friend move) and I was left alone with this guy I had never met. He began asking me questions about what school I went to and told me all about why he was in town. All I could think of were two things – “don’t be an asshole, Maya” and “I really want to just go back to dancing to You Belong with Me with my friend.” The conversation continued as I replied with one word answers hoping he would get the hint. Finally I caught the eye of another friend of mine and made a wide-eyed look that screamed please help me!! She waltzed over, grabbed my hand and started dancing with me – saving me from that horribly awkward and uncomfortable situation.
When reflecting on this week’s readings and lecturette I started replaying moments like these in my head and why they make me so uncomfortable. One reason I could think of is that I seem to care a lot about what the other person will think of me. Upon reflection I think I do not want to come across as “better than them” and I always want to assume the best intention and feel guilty outright rejecting someone. Many of us have likely found ourselves in situations like these where a rejection feels “wrong” because we are worried that there may be costs associated with our reputation or we do not want to make false assumptions. But as Bohns et al., 2018 points out “uninterested targets ultimately find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.”

Gender Dynamics:
Furthermore, the Bohns reading made me reflect on the gender dynamics at play in these situations. The Bohns paper opens with a quote from a Title IX investigator who says, “I can think of several cases I’ve investigated where the (usually male) perpetrator is completely oblivious, and the (usually female) target feels like she’s trapped and can’t really say “no.” Right off the bat the Bohns paper touches on some of the stereotypical gender dynamics that can happen with romantic advances. They generally allude to the dynamic in which the “suitor” is a male and the “target” is a female. They support this by making the conclusion that “women were more than twice as likely to report having been pursued by someone whom they were not interested in than men.” This fact in and of itself is quite startling but also perhaps makes sense given the frequency to which a male may act as the “suitor” compared to the female. In fact, another study by Hafen et al., 2014 suggests that women will use “self-silencing” as a coping mechanism in instances in which they “experience worry over rejection.” This supports the thought that perhaps women feel less empowered to reject as they are worried about the repercussions of their actions in both a social setting and in work or school dynamics, and instead remain silent in instances of discomfort. Moreover, the male “suitor” may have a more difficult time understanding “the difficult position they put targets in” due to their lack of experience in the reverse role. So the question remains how does one pursue a romantic advance in a comfortable and balanced manner?
*I would also like to note that I was surprised at the degree to which this paper decided to focus on only two genders and not explore some of the dynamics outside of the male and female gender paradigm.*

Shouldn’t We Shoot Our Shot?
While I have always been one for “shooting your shot,” the Bohns paper provides some clear cut points for why we perhaps need to rethink exactly how we do this. With complex gender dynamics at play, perhaps it is worth it to rethink how romantic advances could play out. I personally think we should all continue “shooting our shot” as it is important to put yourself out there and meet new people, but that being said, I think it is vital to be cautious as to how the person you approach reacts and responds. Look for the signs and do not make too many leaps too quickly. Rather than jumping to ask for their “snapchat” or number, start off by making simple conversation in order to sense their comfortability.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because it is not an easy question and there are no simple answers – what are solutions to this issue and how would you approach someone who you were interested in given this newfound knowledge from the Bohns et al., 2018 paper?



Security of a Romantic Relationship – Helena

Quite often, society places a heavy emphasis on getting into relationships, whether it’s the how or when or who. But then this excitement slows once we get into the stages of the actual relationship, and discussions regarding how to get closer in a relationship and how to best maintain one become muted in significance. Yet, this is arguably one of, if not the most important stage of any relationship, since, after all, what is a relationship if it cannot be sustained?

For better visualization, let’s narrow down a situation while simultaneously putting this idea into a big picture concept: looking ahead, as we grow older and start developing long-term relationships, we’re warned about this time period, this standstill that occurs in a relationship. Early on, relationships are easy; everything is new and exciting, full of dates and time spent together to get to know each other more. Then, after a while, a feeling of being comfortable with them creeps in, and maybe it’s a little too comfortable (Butler & Randall, 2013). Having been with my significant other for over 4.5 years now, this feeling certainly isn’t foreign. Relationships aren’t supposed to be one event after the other after the other. There are pauses and lulls, whether it be the feeling of comfort or having too many priorities to focus on in life, and this is where the feeling of being at a standstill comes in, and that’s completely okay. However, this is when it is most crucial to continue to develop closeness to maintain the relationship. Aron et al. speak towards specific tasks designed to generate closeness, starting with a series of 36 questions and then following with staring into the others’ eyes for four minutes (Aron et al., 1997). The main findings here were that reciprocal self-disclosure plays a crucial part in building closeness in a relationship, even more so than things like agreeing with one another, mutual likings, and goals.

While Aron brings up a lot of interesting points, upon reading Aron’s papers, a feeling of discomfort settles in at the bottom of my stomach. Particularly, the line regarding, “presents a practical methodology for creating closeness in an experimental context […] we have tried to make being in a relationship accessible to laboratory study and experimental manipulation”. The idea of having a relationship be put in an experimental setting such that closeness can be created and taken away by others is so incredibly strange, and yet we see this all the time. There are numerous articles online discussing “A 4-Step maintenance plan to keep your relationship going”, or “8 Steps to Having a Lasting Romantic Relationship”. Confining a relationship and defining it merely to steps to take in order to be successful seems like boxing in something that is so beautiful, and the steps that one has to take in a relationship just seems so artificial in and of itself. Quite frankly, it seems to be the exact opposite of what love is supposed to be like; instead, we think of it to be something generated purely from the heart. So, if love is something that can be accelerated from a few simple steps, whether it be the 4-step maintenance plan or even from 36 questions, what truly is love?

I think this comes with the notion that there’s a difference between falling in love, and staying in love. Falling in love, as Maya spoke to above, is a wonderful thing. Then, there’s value in maintaining a relationship, and making the choice to push ourselves to commit to someone. As French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir proposes, authentic love is about supporting each other in discovering themselves, and ultimately, enriching the world together. Perhaps we should worry less about what love is and instead, be more interested in how we can love better.



Maintaining a Romantic Relationship: Perspective-taking, Empathy and Theory of Mind – Sofie

One important lesson which I’ve learnt about romantic relationships in the last few years has been that at the core of understanding and communication is learning to put yourself in your partner’s shoes when working through a situation. My partner and I met in Hong Kong during COVID and we are extremely different people – he is much older, grew up in New Zealand in a very stoic, masculine environment where vulnerability is not encouraged whereas I wear my heart on my sleeve, am sensitive and very open about my emotions and like talking about feelings in general. I am also always aware that men vs. women have different approaches to their relationships as well. A lot of the time, I start difficult conversations with my partner like this if I am having trouble perspective-taking because of a barrier (such as gender):
“This is how I feel about ____. A lot of the time women will feel this way when ___ happens. I’m not sure how the majority of men approach a situation like this but please help me understand how you perceive it because I can’t know unless you tell me.”

Ramezani et al. find that empathy plays an important role in maintaining romantic relationships. Specifically, they looked at how Theory of Mind (ToM) training can improve empathy between married couples. Theory of mind refers to the ability to ascribe independent mental states to self and others to explain and predict social behavior. It is very related to the ability to perspective-take, which is a social skill in which you are able to mentally represent the mind (beliefs, desires, intentions, emotions included) of another person. The ability to perspective-take helps with being able to anticipate what another person is thinking or feeling. In the study, they found that there is an association between efficient ToM training and improvements in empathy within couples. Even though I have not done any official ToM training, I have always felt that empathy, perspective-taking, and theory of mind have been strengths of mine. In my relationship, I find myself trying to put myself in my partner’s shoes and think about the way they would perceive a situation before getting upset. I feel like this has helped me maintain the relationship because we are able to communicate honestly with one another, trying to understand the way the other person perceives something. In past relationships, I’ve noticed there were a lot more arguments, I would get upset a lot more, and overall it felt like there was a lot less commitment to wanting to understand one other’s perceptions. I also feel like as we get older, meet more people and have more experience, perspective-taking becomes easier so it would be interesting to see if there is any existing research linking age & maturity with empathy or perspective-taking. Even though the 36 questions that we went through in class was presented as a study for a “way to fall in love” I actually also believe they can help strengthen and maintain a relationship because the more questions you’re asking each other, the more you’re learning and able to then perspective-take and empathize (Catron, 2015). It would make sense that the better you know someone, the easier it is to empathize.




Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental
generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.

Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2018). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more
difficult than suitors realize. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(8), 1102–1110.

Butler, E. A., & Randall, A. K. (2013). Emotional coregulation in close relationships. Emotion
Review, 5(2), 202-210.

Catron (2015). To fall in love with anyone, do this. New York Times.

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Professor of Psychology. (2022, January 21). A 4-step maintenance
plan to help Keep Your Relationship Going Strong. The Conversation. Retrieved April 1,
2022, from

Gillette, H. (2021, October 14). 8 Tips for a Lasting Romantic Relationship. Psych Central.
Retrieved April 1, 2022, from

Hafen, C. A., Spilker, A., Chango, J., Marston, E. S., & Allen, J. P. (2014, March 1). To accept or reject? the impact of adolescent rejection sensitivity on early adult romantic relationships. Journal of research on adolescence : the official journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from

Ramezani, A., Ghamari, M., Jafari, A., & Aghdam, G. F. (2020). The effectiveness of a Theory
of Mind (ToM) training program in promoting empathy between married couples.
Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 19(1), 1-25.

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The Relationship Advice You Didn’t Ask For, But Need

April 1st, 2022 · 26 Comments


I’m sure many of us are familiar with (or secretly binge-watch) reality dating shows. Clearly, people enjoy watching others fall in love–The Bachelor, the original show of this kind, attracts millions of viewers each season. So why is it so hard to find love like that in real life? Many people idealize dating shows and compare them to their own love lives, however, it’s important to remember just how unrealistic they are. 

Fundamentally, the show is designed to harbor many false feelings of attraction and love. The couples travel the world and go on outrageous dates: we’ve seen hot air balloon rides, sky diving, bungee jumping, and more. However, when participants have these wild experiences on just the first or second date, it’s more than possible that their adrenaline rushes and states of high arousal may be confused for romantic and/or sexual attraction.

The Schachter-Singer two-factor theory of emotion–the idea that emotions are the sum of your physical reaction and a cognitive label–is the reasoning behind this concept. So if we attached the wrong label to our current state, we can mix up what we are actually feeling. In 1962, Schachter & Singer injected study college students with either adrenaline or a placebo fluid. Some of those who received the adrenaline were informed of truthful possible side effects, while others were told random side effects or nothing at all. After completing several mundane tasks, those who knew the adrenaline would heighten their arousal reported feeling less anger and frustration. Schachter & Singer believed this to be because those unaware of how the adrenaline would make them feel inaccurately attributed their heightened arousal to emotions, not the drug (Schachter & Singer, 1962). 

The two-factor theory of emotion was put in the context of romantic relationships with the 1974 “shaky bridge” study discussed in our lecturette. Here, male participants were more attracted to and were more likely to afterward reach out to a female interviewer if their conversation occurred on the middle of a long, shaking suspension bridge rather than a stable one (Dutton & Aron, 1974). 

So, of course Clayton and Susie fell in love after just 3 dates–they traveled the world together, rode in helicopters, and swam in hot springs. It seems unlikely that they would have had an equally epic love story if they had just been walking the dog and going to the grocery store like every other couple in America. Therefore, it is certainly not out of the question that Bachelor producers purposely create such high-adrenaline scenarios for couples in order to foster relationships that otherwise may not be very strong–in other words, keep their emotions high to produce that much more drama. You’ve got to make good TV one way or another! 

The final verdict: all of these shows should be taken with a grain of salt. And keep in mind, next time you go on a first date that involves falling through the sky, be careful to not misinterpret your fear for love—unless you plan on skydiving for the rest of your life!


Can you guess what my exes and my current boyfriend all have in common? If you answered “their incredibly good taste in a woman,” I love you, and yes, that is true. But the real answer is that each of them has told me this:


Guilty as charged! But am I ashamed? No! And if you’ve ever been called needy or have called someone else needy or if someone has ever told you that they wish you were more needy, then this is for you. Yes, you. Because I’m going to share with you guys something that changed my entire perspective on dating, and I hope that each one of you can use it to understand yourself and/or your (future) partner better.

If you’ve taken an introductory psychology course, you might recall a theory about attachment, which is described as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings (Bowlby, 1969). Psychologist Mary Ainsworth observed how infants reacted when they were briefly left alone and then reunited with their mothers. She and her team found that their reactions tended to fall within one of three groups: secure (actively seeking and maintaining proximity with the mother), avoidant (little to no tendency of seeking proximity with the mother), or ambivalent (anxious and unconfident about their mothers’ responsiveness). 

As it turns out, these attachment styles can translate into adult romantic relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987):

  • Securely attached adults can resolve conflict well, communicate effectively, and don’t hesitate to ask for their needs to be met and likewise are willing to meet others’ needs. 
  • Avoidant adults desire a high level of independence, tend to suppress their feelings, and deal with conflict by distancing themselves from partners. 
  • Anxiously attached/ambivalent adults seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from partners and become overly dependent on them.

Can you guess which one I might be? (If you guessed anxious, you’re a genius!) But the real question is: do you know your own attachment style? Your partner’s? The point is, attachment styles tell us all about our needs and tendencies. And as we’ve learned in the lecturette this week, understanding, communicating, and responding to each other’s needs is important in forming a strong communal relationship. Additionally, perceived understanding can serve as a critical buffer against potentially detrimental effects of relationship conflict (Gordon & Chen, 2016) and understanding your partner’s perspective is key to forming and maintaining strong romantic relationships. 

The best thing I’ve done for myself is to realize my needs as someone who is anxiously attached and communicate them to my partner. The next best thing I’ve done is to find someone who is understanding of me and my needs and strives to meet them. So go out there and learn more deeply about yourself and your partner and respond to each other’s needs! ‘Cause I think we all deserve a love like that. <3


Everyone knows the heart racing, pit in your stomach, nervous energy type feeling you get right before asking someone out. Or, rather, many people know that feeling. I for one don’t, given that I’ve never asked anyone out before. I’ve always been far too risk-averse, especially when it comes to dating. Coming of age I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than admitting to someone that I liked them with the potential to be shot down.

It turns out, I’m not the only one. So many other people struggled with risk-taking, and, like me, assume that rejection is the worst possible outcome. People overlook, however, the discomfort that comes with being the person doing the rejecting. According to a 2019 study, people underestimate the “difficulty and discomfort” people experience when saying no to suitors (Bohns and DeVincent). When people imagined themselves in the suitor role, they thought that the targets would be better off than they were post-rejection.

I hope that these findings humanize the people that we have feelings for. This study should serve as a reminder that the ideas we have in our heads of our crushes are just that: ideas. They are real people who feel awkward and uncomfortable, and besides, you are very possibly not the most uncomfortable person in that situation (not sure if that helps or hurts!) Either way, Bohns and DeVincent show how inaccurate our understandings of suitor-target dating dynamics can be, so you might as well put yourself out there without overthinking it too much.


Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2019). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more difficult than suitors realize. Social psychological and personality science, 10(8), 1102-1110.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. (OKS Print.) New York: Basic Books.

Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(4), 510–517.

Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2016). Do you get where I’m coming from?: Perceived understanding buffers against the negative impact of conflict on relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 239-260.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524.

Schachter, S., & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, 69(5), 379–399.


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Strangers, Ride or Dies, and All the Ones in between

March 25th, 2022 · 26 Comments

Strangers, Ride or Dies, and All the Ones in between

7.9 billion human beings live on this planet, and you and I are two of them. How many will we meet? How many more will stick with us, whether in physical proximity or in memory, in a single moment or for the rest of our lives? Why does it matter? Through self reflection, empirical findings, and a general consideration of our own relationships, we explore the nature and importance of our ties with other people in our world.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Forming Bonds, Starting with Strangers (Olivia)

The girl who came up to me in an arcade in China when I was maybe six who stared at me for a few long seconds and opened her mouth and said, “You have REALLYYYY long eyelashes,” her face akin to ?, who then smiled and happily skipped away leaving me stunned on the game seat… This girl. She is a stranger I remember.

Who is a stranger you remember? The maker of this YouTube video asks this question to strangers on the street, and the answers are fascinating. Why do some people stick, even if you never see them again?

I think a key part is the emotional impact of the interaction. A random stranger by definition has no prior connection to you, no obligation to interact, no ulterior motive to be kind, or rude. So, when such a person does cross your path in a way that affects your mood or thoughts, the experience sticks out. There are studies that show how even brief or chance social interactions can lead to more happiness and wellbeing.

Back, Schmukle, and Egloff (2008) conducted a study on college students to test whether random physical nearness and random assignment of people to the same group during an initial encounter would influence the likelihood of further friendship. They found that indeed, being near somebody by chance in an initial interaction can promote the development of a meaningful friendship, suggesting that prior connection or intention to know someone are not as necessary as we may think in forming friendships.

Another study demonstrated how weak social ties, not just close friendships,  are positively linked with social and emotional-being (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2014). The barista at your favorite coffee shop and the classmate on the street you wave to in passing are not your close friends, but such daily and repeated brief interactions are as important to our wellbeing as the deep relationships we treasure and maintain.

What if you are actively trying to make friends and form meaningful relationships? From what I have learned from my own experience and from reading and hearing others, the most essential thing is to be open – open-minded, non-judgmental, leading with your true intention and letting the other person know.

Once you’ve started a friendship, how do you maintain it?

Maintaining Friendships (Spencer)

Maintaining friendships over extended periods of time can be a difficult feat. Two factors that have been demonstrated to lead to the formation of friendships — proximity and being part of the same group (Back, Schmukle, & Egloff, 2008) — can often go away as life takes people in different directions. In addition, jobs, family situations, significant others, health problems, physical distance, and more can all get in the way of stable, long-term friendships.

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

If situational factors like these are constantly subject to change, what is it that allows some friends to maintain close bonds over long periods of time? According to a longitudinal study of college friends, the two factors that best predicted whether or not a pair of best friends would remain close almost 2 decades later were 1) similarity between the friends and 2) previous investment of time in the friendship (Ledbetter, Griffin, & Sparks, 2007). Furthermore, when people are asked what constitutes closeness in a friendship, they commonly report that self-disclosure, support, shared interests, and explicit expression of the value of a relationship make friendships feel close (Parks & Floyd, 1996). If these things go away, the friendship is likely in trouble.

With this in mind, I would like to tell the story of my relationship with my best friend from middle school. It’s an example of trying to maintain a friendship, failing, and ultimately coming to terms with the “commemorative” place that a friend can hold in my life.

Our friendship began in 6th grade. At that time, it felt like we connected over everything. We went to school together, we lived a few blocks from each other, we played the same position on the same basketball team, we both loved the same goofy sitcoms, and we were both used to being the shortest kid in the class. For three years, we were largely inseparable, hanging out with each other most days after school and doing things together almost every weekend. As a result of how much time we spent together, our moms became best friends and our family units gradually integrated together. In short, our lives were deeply intertwined.

Then high school came. Each of us remained largely the same in terms of our personalities and our interests, but signs began to emerge that our paths were diverging. For one, we no longer went to the same school. This resulted in our social circles and our time commitments changing. In spite of these shifts, we remained fairly close and continued to bond over our shared interests, such as playing sports, following the NFL, and watching the sitcoms we both loved. But over time, every hang out began to require more planning and effort. It also became difficult for the two of us to spend time together in larger social groups, because we no longer knew the same people. Our friendship began to feel like a small island within the vast, churning sea of our broader lives.

When college came, this island sank under the waves. We initially bonded as freshmen over the shared newness and excitement of college, but as we began to find ourselves in completely different worlds, both socially and geographically, we invested less and less in the friendship.

Today, I’d consider us mere acquaintances; he’s no more than a weak tie.

Does the fact that we drifted apart mean that we failed to maintain an important friendship? Maybe. It’s possible that if each of us had invested more in the relationship, as the Ledbetter et al. study suggests, that we’d still be best friends, as inseparable as we were in middle school. But when I really think about it, I don’t believe that’s true. I think that the very same similarities and shared situational factors that brought us together in 6th grade are what drove us apart. We simply no longer have much in common, beyond a set of good memories.

A quote from a 2015 Atlantic article about friendships in adulthood succinctly sums up the way I feel about him. In the article, Julie Beck wrote, “A commemorative friend is not someone you expect to hear from, or see, maybe ever again. But they were important to you at an earlier time in your life, and you think of them fondly for that reason, and still consider them a friend.” (Beck, 2015)

Just as Beck wrote, I will always consider him a friend and have made peace with the commemorative place he holds in my life.

Texting and the Role of Social Media in Friendships (Lane)

Texting and social media seem to have improved the ease with which you can find, develop, and maintain relationships. While there is a lot of research discussing the mental health consequences of social media I will be focusing on social media’s impact on friendships. 

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

According to an article on Forge by friendship expert Lydia Denworth (2020), the more media platforms we use to maintain a relationship, the stronger that bond is likely to be, and people who are more active on social media are less likely to be lonely than those who aren’t

While I’m not active on many social media platforms, my personal experience in group chats and facebook groups is in line with this. Digital mediums have certainly improved some of my friendships and helped me form some meaningful new connections. 

One of my primary concerns with texting and social media is that it can easily lead to miscommunication. Communication is 55% body language, 38% vocal, and only 7% words (Mehrabian, 1967) so texts present us much less information than we are used to to extrapolate meaning from. Especially with weak ties who you don’t share much interpersonal mindfulness with. On top of this, texting involves delayed responses, which can cause uncertainty and upset expectations. Pair both of these now with the fact that there is also more at stake — because digital interactions are easier to share and harder to erase — and texting seems like a recipe for more frequent and more damaging miscommunications between friends. I would guess that current adolescents and young adults cycle through more friends now than they did twenty years ago because so much more communication is through text and social media now.

In addition to being a worse form of communication I also dislike texting because it tends to drain me of energy, in line with an Atlantic article sharing that emotional satisfaction is the main thing we lose from maintaining relationships online (Beck, 2015). On several occasions I’ve felt overwhelmed with messages I need to respond to, which begs the question: at what point might too much digital interaction with friends have a negative — rather than positive — impact on our friendships? A lack of separation between work and home during the pandemic led to many burning out — can an inability to distance oneself from friends given that we always have our phones on us lead to a similar burn out or degradation of friendships? I think so, even if most of the messages are from strong ties. Because texting lacks the emotional satisfaction that phone calls or in-person interactions do, I feel like responding to texts is more akin to email than socializing. I much prefer calling people on the phone but social norms for college-age people today seem to favor text exchanges, especially between acquaintances.

Overall, texting and social media have the potential to have significantly positive impacts on our friendships and acquaintances. That being said, there are communicative and emotional sacrifices that need to be navigated effectively in order to maximize net benefits of utilizing these tools.


  • Back, M., Schmukle, S., & Egloff, B. (2008). Becoming friends by chance. Psychological Science, 19(5), 439-440.
  • Beck, J. (2015). How friendships change in adulthood. The Atlantic.
  • Boothyby, E. J., Cooney, G., Sandstrom, G. M., & Clark, M. S. (2018). The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think? Psychological Science, 29(11), 1742–1756.
  • Denworth, L. (2020). Why the Digital Age Is Not Destroying Friendship. Forge.
  • Ledbetter, A. M., Griffin, E. M., & Sparks, G. G. (2007). Forecasting “friends forever”: A longitudinal investigation of sustained closeness between best friends. Personal Relationships, 14(2), 343-350.
  • Mehrabian, A., & Ferris, S. R. (1967). Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels. Journal of consulting psychology, 31(3), 248.
  • Parks, M. R., & Floyd, K. (1996). Meanings for closeness and intimacy in friendship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 13(1), 85-107.
  • Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: The surprising power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910-922.

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