A New Study Reveals the Best Ways to Indicate Romantic Commitment Online

How do you know that your partner is committed to your relationship based on social media communication? Research findings indicate that the strongest signs of romantic commitment on social media are actions that deliberately oppose engaging with appealing alternatives.

Social Media Can Be Beneficial and Detrimental to Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships have changed significantly because of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and multiple dating apps. They give people access to an abundance of information about past and potential romantic partners with whom they are in contact. This can be good or bad.

On the one hand, these online platforms can help people stay in touch. On the other hand, these online platforms can also connect individuals with attractive partners, potentially causing feelings of jealousy and anxiety. These possibilities on social media make individuals with high anxiety and an insecure attachment style especially vulnerable. This ambiguous nature of social media can make these online apps both beneficial and detrimental.

Researchers are interested in knowing what kinds of online behaviors might help anxious people deal with these psychological threats and successfully maintain relationships.

A Study Examined the Impact of Social Media Behaviors on Romantic Commitment

According to a recent study, certain social media behaviors, particularly for those with high levels of attachment anxiety, can improve the stability of their relationships. The results show that actions that actively resist interactions with alluring alternatives are the best indicators of romantic commitment on social media.

Alexandra E. Black, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, conducted two studies on the topic. She investigated how committed individuals perceive their partners’ social media activities, as well as how these activities influence feelings of relationship security and satisfaction.

The author published the results of these studies in her article “Responding to threatening online alternatives: Perceiving the partner’s commitment through their social media behaviors” in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Why The Study Is Interesting

The author of the article Alexandra Black, a postdoctoral scholar at the Social Connection and Positive Psychology Lab at Arizona State University, said,

“I have been interested in how people perceive threats to their romantic relationships for quite some time, but I wanted to apply it to today’s current dating world with the use of social media and dating apps.”

Alexandra Black

She has been interested in knowing what a romantic partner’s commitment level is when they are interacting with attractive others. The advent of social media has complicated these types of interactions:

“With physically attractive people readily available on social media sites like Instagram and TikTok, it can be difficult for people to feel satisfied and committed in their relationships.”

Alexandra Black

As Alexandra commented,

“I wanted to answer the question of what a romantic partner can do that signals they are committed to help ease the other person’s anxiety and allow them to feel more secure in their relationship.”

How the Researcher Conducted the Studies

The research comprised several phases, encompassing two pilot studies and two primary experiments.

In the initial pilot study, the author asked 240 undergraduate students to compile a list of online behaviors that indicate commitment in a relationship. This led to the initial identification of 81 behaviors.

However, after conducting a second pilot study with 149 undergraduate participants, the researcher reduced the list to 24 behaviors based on ratings of their likelihood and perceived commitment.

The First Experiment Showed

In the first experiment, a total of 900 individuals were randomly allocated to assess vignettes in which potential partners either exhibited or did not exhibit behaviors that indicate commitment. Subsequently, the participants assessed the perceived degree of dedication exhibited by their partner. The following behaviors were found to be the most effective in conveying commitment: removing dating applications, disregarding flirtatious messages, indicating relationship status, and unfollowing potential rivals.

As Alexandra Black noted,

“If you are trying to determine if someone you’ve just started dating is committed to you, pay attention to how they interact with attractive people on social media, Are they still responding to flirtatious DMs? Have they deleted their dating apps? These behaviors can signal important information about how your partner views your relationship.”

PsyPost by Eric W. Dolan

The Second Experiment Revealed

The second experiment examined these behaviors in a controlled experimental environment. The researcher gave participants a hypothetical situation in which they found out that their partner was engaging in intimate interactions with an attractive alternative on social media.

Participants were subsequently allocated at random to read either

  • a high-commitment response from their partner (such as explicitly informing the alternative person that they were in a committed relationship and unfollowing them) or
  • a neutral response (such as engaging in a conversation about a humorous video).

The researchers assessed the participants’ levels of relationship security and satisfaction both before and after implementing these manipulations.

The author discovered that individuals who experience high attachment anxiety reported notably elevated levels of unease, concern, and envy when envisioning their partner engaging with an appealing alternative on social media. This verifies that such situations are especially troubling for individuals with anxiety.

Remarkably, the partner’s display of strong commitment on social media effectively heightened the perception of partner commitment and reduced the perception of alternative options, irrespective of the participant’s attachment style.

However, these behaviors did not substantially improve feelings of security or relationship satisfaction for individuals with anxiety, as initially predicted. This implies that although explicit signals of commitment are significant, they may not be enough to completely alleviate the profound insecurities and fears linked to attachment anxiety.

As the author finally concluded,

“I was surprised that it is not when a partner posts about you or likes your content that most impacts feelings of commitment. Instead, it matters more when a partner is actively shutting down threats from attractive people. It appears, at least from my work, that effective commitment expressions on social media rely less on a presence of the positive and instead require an absence of the negative.”

Alexandra Black

How Our Perception Tricks Us When We Are in Love

How can we know if someone loves us or at least finds us attractive? There are certain verbal and non-verbal expressions and behaviors that we recognize as mutual attraction (Karandashev, 2024). However, our perception when we are in love is biased. Once we love someone, we tend to believe that he or she also loves us, and that our attraction is mutual. Why does this occur?

Romantic love involves the idealization of the beloved and the relationship (Karandashev, 2019; 2022). It turns out that our love and romantic attraction make our perceptions positively biased. We tend to deceive ourselves in hopes of a mutual attraction.

Men are especially prone to overestimating the interest of others in them. When a man finds someone attractive, he is likely to believe that the other person is also interested in him.

A New Study on How Romantic Attraction Affects Our Perception

A recent study demonstrated how romantic attraction influences our attention and perception, as well as how we make choices when we find someone attractive. To explore these questions, cognitive psychologist Iliana Samara from Leiden University in the Netherlands conducted her project on the topic “How do we form romantic bonds?

Does a Long Gaze Indicate Attraction?

Speed dating experiments showed that people tend to respond faster to attractive faces. In four experimental sessions, the researchers paired 10 women and 10 men for a five-minute speed dating encounter with all participants from the opposite sex.

Prior to their actual meeting, researchers showed participants a picture of the person with whom they would later go on a speed date and asked them to rate their level of attraction towards them. Then, the participants’ speed dates followed.

Researchers observed the participants’ gazes using eye tracking technology and found that they lingered longer on the faces of those they previously rated as attractive.

How Our Excitement Blinds Us

Following the speed dating experiment, researchers asked the participants whether they were interested in a subsequent date. Researchers also asked participants whether they expected that interest to be mutual. It turned out that men often overestimated the likelihood that their date would desire to meet them again.

Researchers primarily observed this tendency in men who felt attracted to their dates. Men with a lower degree of attraction and interest in the other person were more realistic in their estimations of their chances for a mutual attraction.

Such sexual over-perception bias implies that the way we interpret social cues perceived in communication with other people depends on how aroused we are ourselves. Why do men, in particular, overestimate their likelihood of getting mutual attraction from others more than they really do?

As Iliana Samara, a Leiden University researcher, explains,

“A theory from evolutionary psychology suggests that women have to be more selective; if they have sex with a man who then does not invest in them, they may have to handle a resulting pregnancy and offspring on their own. Women are therefore more vulnerable if they make a wrong judgment in dating. On the other hand, men would rather risk some embarrassment than miss out on the opportunity to mate.”

How a Coy Smile Betrays Our Sexual Interest

The final experiment by Iliana Samara looked at how partners mirror one another’s nonverbal cues on speed dates. She explains,

“Mimicking each other’s facial expressions and body language has a social advantage; people who subtly mirror each other find each other more likable.”

Samara conducted a thorough analysis of more than a hundred videos from the speed dates to identify the expressions that were associated with a follow-up date. She rendered the videos without sound to focus exclusively on the facial expressions. During the coding process, it took her more than three hours per video to record the facial expressions and observe the speed at which they occurred consecutively.

Participants in speed dating who looked at their dates with the same expression for five seconds were probably subconsciously mimicking them. Samara commented,

“We assumed that imitating each other’s smiles would increase the chances of getting a second date. Surprisingly, that was only true for the coy smile, where, while smiling, you tilt your head or look away for a moment. This expression often indicated mutual interest. Conversely, people who mirrored a broad, genuine smile at each other during a date more often did not want to go on a second date with the other person.”

Conclusion

These findings add important pieces of knowledge about non-verbal cues of interpersonal attraction to the abundance of scientific publications that are available on the topic (see Karandashev, 2024, for review). Iliana Samara is going to continue this line of research on romantic attraction at Leiden University. In the future, she would like to adopt a different approach to this research.

How to Better Communicate with Your Dating Partner in the Digital Era: Should You Text or Talk?

In modern digital life, romantic partners have different means and possibilities to communicate. In their relationships, they can talk to each other in person or just communicate by exchanging text messages.

It can be hard to decide whether to text or meet in person, especially when it comes to romantic relationships where communication is important. What is a better way to initiate and maintain a relationship with your partner? The preference for texting over face-to-face conversation may not be solely about convenience but rather about the quality of a relationship.

A New Study on Dating Communication

Anthony Chen from the University of California, Irvine, and his colleague Catalina Toma recently conducted a study where they looked at how the trade-offs between these different ways of communicating may be closely linked to the fears people experience in romantic situations.

Researchers conducted a survey of 257 young men and women to find out which way of communicating—texting or in-person meetings—they preferred in an exclusive dating relationship. The authors presented a variety of scenarios, ranging from ordinary ones like arranging a date or exchanging daily information to more difficult ones such as conflicts, profound discussions about the future of the relationship, or even the difficult circumstances of breaking up.

The Handy Convenience of Text Editing

Researchers revealed a distinct pattern in their findings: individuals with higher levels of social anxiety consistently favored texting over in-person conversations of all kinds. More socially anxious people preferred texting over face-to-face interaction, even for uninteresting conversations. But when it came to handling difficult conversations and breakups, their preference for texting was particularly noticeable when compared to those who were less socially anxious.

Texting gives socially anxious people a better sense of control over their communication than face-to-face interactions. Texting enables them to edit their messages until they present the version of themselves that they feel most comfortable with. This accounts for at least some of their preference for texting.

This “editable” feature of digital communication becomes increasingly valuable and provides a lifeline for individuals with social anxiety as the likelihood of emotional discomfort in the conversation increases. It acts as a barrier against the vulnerability and immediacy of in-person interactions.

For people with social anxiety, it’s not just about avoiding awkward silences or not knowing what to say in a difficult situation. It’s also about coming up with a response that makes them feel safe and shows how they want to be seen.

People Are Still Longing for In-Person Communication

What is interesting is that the authors also discovered that even with the increasing availability of digital communication, such as texting, many women and men still prefer in-person interaction about some themes and in some special circumstances. Among those topics are conflict, the possibility of emotional harm, or talking about a possible breakup.

This disposition implies that, at their core, people understand the special importance of face-to-face communication in forging deeper bonds and understanding—something that text messages are unable to adequately express.

Why We Communicate the Way We Do in This Digital Age

This study sheds light on how people in the digital age initiate and maintain romantic relationships. Women and men use digital tools in a variety of ways, depending on their motivations, comfort zones, and interpersonal circumstances.

Many people typically prefer face-to-face communication, indicating a shared desire for more meaningful, in-depth connections.

Nonetheless, the deliberate use of texting by men and women with social anxiety reveals a complex landscape in which technology can serve as both a bridge and a barrier in romantic relationships.

This contrast between the convenience of digital technology and the need for human contact emphasizes that personal connection and understanding are still necessary in this digital age. Instead, modern digital possibilities modify the routes that individuals take to satisfy those needs. Understanding these subtleties enables people to thoughtfully incorporate technology into their lives. These new opportunities improve rather than degrade the quality of their relationships as they engage in romantic relationships in the digital age.

Ghanaian Love Meets the Needs of Close Others

Modern Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic cultures commonly perceive material relationships and love relationships as existing in distinct and even opposing realms. However, in numerous other societies, expressing love typically involves providing material resources to family members and other close individuals (Karandashev, 2019; 2022).

Such a cultural understanding of love is consistent with patterns of love that researchers have documented in many parts of Africa. In all these cultural contexts, love implies material and social arrangements (e.g., Coe, 2011; Cornwall, 2002; Osei-Tutu et al., 2018; van Eerdewijk, 2006).

A Recent Study on Love in Ghana

In their recent study of love in Ghana, a country in West Africa, researchers investigated how Ghanaians think about love in the context of family. Let us consider some of the major themes that 61 participants, men and women from 20 to 70 years old, whom researchers interviewed expressed about their understanding and experience of love (Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

How do contemporary Ghanaian Christians conceptualize love?

The major themes of the interview data showed that people express love by meeting the material needs of their children, spouses, parents, and close relatives. They also love helping others in need and giving affectionate care. Community-based and maintenance-based love seems to be how Ghanaians show their love to the elderly, friends, and strangers.

In this article, I present only one aspect of the Ghanaian cultural understanding of love that the authors revealed in their analysis of interview data. This is an understanding of love as fulfilling the needs of close others.

Love as Meeting the Needs of Children, Spouses, Parents, and Close Relatives

Approximately 96% of the participants interpreted love as fulfilling responsibilities towards their children, spouses, parents, and other immediate family members (such as siblings). These social obligations are fulfilled through

  • the provision of financial and in-kind assistance, such as food, clothing, and shelter,
  • emergency aid,
  • personal presence, such as visiting the ill or attending funerals,
  • offering verbal support, such as advice or encouragement.

Here are some examples:

For our parents, they’re number one [priority]. As I’m staying here my mother is … 90 something [years old]. I used to go there; the least is twice a week or even more than that….When I’m going there, you know money matters. You send some little thing.

 (70-year-old female)

I also show love by supporting family when they need me. Uhm, I also show love when I make sure that my other siblings are also well taken care of.

(29-year-old male)

In their analysis, four sub-themes of the love experience stood out to anthropologists: The sub-themes they identified were

  • (A) need identification,
  • (B) need anticipation,
  • (C) need provision, and
  • (D) need remittances.

Love as Need Identification

The subtheme of need identification involves getting close to people by visiting or calling them to find out what they need:

Sometimes you see because you have [sic] married they [parents] don’t want to put pressure on you. So they’ll prefer, even if they are dying, they’ll keep it to themselves. But you find out daddy why this, or mummy why are you doing this…. You do a general check up and make sure they are in good health. Then they’ll know that oh my son is caring for me.

(34-year-old male)

Love as Need Anticipation

Need anticipation in love entails determining people’s needs and meeting them without their express request or prompting:

There was this instance and I bought eh sandals …ladies sandals to my wife not knowing she was really in need of it, expecting me to do that. So I called and she said how do you get to know that I need this at this point in time. She was, I mean, glad.

(37-year-old male)

Love as Need Provision

The subtheme of love as need provision implies giving financial or in-kind support to meet the needs of family members. Support is provided in the form of clothing, food, and shelter, depending on the recipient’s developmental needs. Furthermore, meeting children’s needs entailed providing educational necessities such as school supplies.

For spouses, providing “chop money” implies meeting their needs. “Chop money” is the custom when a husband gives money to his wife or when parents give money to their children. Spouses express their love for each other as a need provision in the form of companionship and meeting other needs.

Love as Remittances

Participants also said that they provide remittances as an expression of love by giving monetary support to family and parents as a regular income source:

As a husband I’m supposed, as much as I’m supposed to fend [for] my family, make sure there’s food, make sure there’s shelter, make sure there’s clothes.

(30-year-old male)

For parents, sometimes let’s say we’re working. When you earn salary and you didn’t give anything to your parents that means you doesn’t [sic] love them.

(64-year-old female)

While the majority of participants emphasized the significance of fulfilling needs, a small number indicated that this demonstration of affection is contingent upon certain conditions. For instance, some propose that remittances should be affordable unless there is an urgent situation:

If you’re working, I think at the end of every month you should be able to give them [parents] some money as well as you buy some ingredients and other things they may need at home.

(23-year-old male)

Communal Expressions of Love in Ghanaian Cultures

One can see that the expressions of love among Ghanaians are largely communal in nature. The distribution of basic material resources is the primary way in which people express love. Both cultural factors and the economic conditions of everyday life influence the experience and expression of love for men and women in Ghana.

This conceptualization of love aligns with research among Ghanaian transnational families. In Ghanaian culture, the allocation of material resources serves as an indication of love and affection.

Such an understanding of love means that migrant parents who leave their children behind in Ghana can continue to be good parents by sending remittances. Furthermore, they may be considered better parents than caregivers who stay and are poorer (Coe, 2011; Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

How to Make an Online Dating Profile Appealing: New Research

The fact that the first dating websites appeared only in the 1990s might seem surprising. However, dating websites have developed significantly over the last three decades. This development had a significant impact on how partners met, fell in love, and developed their relationships. These days, over one-third of marriages start online. But this data differs depending on the culture.

Modern online-mediated cultures of relationships have changed intimate practices in online dating apps.

Research findings have shown the ambiguities and opportunities men and women experience using dating apps.

One of the challenging questions is how to create an attractive online dating profile.

Most people who are looking for love online will fill out their profiles with all the interesting things about themselves that make them stand out. They have a dog, three kids, or an iguana. On the weekends, they paraglide and do hot yoga, or something like this.

Sometimes, though, they forget to say what they want to know about a potential partner. They, however, are not always aware that others are not less but may be more interested “to be known” than “to know them as their partner.”

New Research on Dating Profiles Shows

A recent series of experiments conducted by Juliana Schroeder, Professor of Management Philosophy & Values at Berkeley Haas, and Ayelet Fishbach, Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, showed that the most important thing online dating users should keep in mind is that people are more satisfied when they feel like “they are known,”  rather than when they feel like “they know the other person.

Juliana Schroeder and Ayelet Fishbach recruited a group of research assistants to analyze dating profiles from Match.com and Coffee Meets Bagel. According to the information provided in the profiles, more than 50% of the writers were rated as desiring recognition from a potential partner, whereas only around 20% expressed a wish to know their potential partner.

Subsequently, the researchers requested a group of many online participants to compose their own profiles, with the option to emphasize being known or getting to know the other person. Then, they surveyed an additional 250 individuals to evaluate these profiles based on “how much they found them appealing and how much they would potentially want to contact them” using a rating system ranging from 1 to 7. Thus, their ratings evaluated the level of attractiveness and the likelihood of wanting to initiate contact with the individuals in the profiles.

What Do People Look for in Dating Profiles?

Consistent with their previous findings, Schroeder and Fishbach discovered that the raters exhibited a preference for the profile authors who placed emphasis on their desire to understand the other person.

These findings could provide valuable guidance for individuals seeking to enhance their attractiveness on a dating platform.

“What they want to be doing is saying, ‘I really care about you, and I’m going to get to know you and be there for you and listen to you and be a great partner,”

Schroeder says.

That makes sense, Schroeder says, adding credence to the notion that the phenomenon of a parent-child relationship is primarily about support.

 “It’s the one relationship where it’s very clear the parent needs to be supporting the child.”

A New Perspective for This Research

Schroeder and Fishbach’s next research task is to explore how individuals can redirect their attention towards utilizing their understanding of others to genuinely make them feel recognized. Then, it’s likely that experiencing a sense of being recognized may enhance both partners’ satisfaction with their relationships.

This positive perspective may also work in a workplace context, improving relationships with coworkers.

“To develop relationships with work colleagues, you might think not just about personal knowledge but also what are people’s habits and how they like to work,”

Schoeder says.

“While this was beyond the scope of our study, it’s possible that stronger workplace relationships could ultimately make a difference in terms of people’s satisfaction with their jobs.” 

What Is More Important for Relationship Satisfaction: To Know Others or To Be Known?

Partners’ mutual understanding in a relationship is very important for relationship satisfaction in romantic and companionate relationships, as well as with friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers, and casual acquaintances.

What Is More Important: “To Know Your Partner” or “To Be Known”?

A series of experimental studies conducted by Juliana Schroeder and Ayelet Fishbach showed that the most important thing is that people are more satisfied when they feel like “they are known, rather than when they feel like “they know the other person.

“People want to be known, so they’re looking for partners who will know them and support them. But because other people also want to be known, they end up writing these not-super-appealing profiles when trying to attract partners.”

Juliana Schroeder said.

In their recent paper “Feeling Known Predicts Relationship Satisfaction,” Juliana Schroeder, Professor of Management Philosophy & Values at Berkeley Haas, and Ayelet Fishbach, Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, contend that this phenomenon affects all types of our interpersonal relationships, including those with friends, romantic partners, neighbors, family members, coworkers, and casual acquaintances.

“Of course, people say they want to know their relationship partner and support their partner. But that’s not actually the thing that makes them happiest in their relationships. People feel happier in relationships where they feel like they are being supported—and for that, they have to be known.”

Juliana Schroeder said.

Here’s What Really Leads to Relationship Satisfaction

In their experimental studies, researchers first asked participants to rate how well they thought they knew a family member, partner, or friend compared to how well they thought they were known. Then, researchers asked participants to rate their relationship satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 7. It’s interesting to note that people frequently believed they knew the other person better than they did.

Researchers called this effect the illusion of asymmetric insight.

“People think they are unique and special and have a lot of complexity to them, so other people just don’t know their true self. Whereas once they know one thing about the other person, they’re like ‘I know you. Done. “

Schroeder says.

People value relationships more when they feel that someone truly knows them, maybe because it happens so rarely. The results of that study showed that

“In fact, the degree to which they knew the other person mattered less in how they felt about the relationship compared to the degree to which they felt they were known, regardless of how they felt about the overall quality of the relationship.”

Schroeder says.

In another study, the researchers gave participants one of two scenarios in which they encountered an acquaintance at a party who either forgot their name or whose name they forgot. Participants reacted differently to the two scenarios. Schroeder commented on this:

“If you forget their name, it’s not great for the relationship, but if they forget your name, it’s much worse — the relationship is over,”

Schroeder says.

What Occurs in Our Brain When We Fall in Love with Someone?

The need for love is one of the most basic physiological and psychological needs people have. We need to love someone and be loved by somebody. Although people’s experiences and expressions of love may vary across cultures and situations, their basic human needs for love are still universal across the world (Karandashev, 2019).

I wrote about how our brain developed the ability to love in another article.

The activation of certain neural and physiological mechanisms in our body and brain generates the psychological experience and expression of love. These biological mechanisms for the capacity and necessity to love have developed in our mammalian ancestors throughout the course of biological evolution (Karandashev, 2022).

How Our Brain Works When We Fall in Love

Studies of the neurophysiological processes involved in our feelings of love have proliferated in the last two decades. Brain imaging techniques have been a valuable method to study human cerebral functions associated with love and romantic relationships.

Neuroscientists have traditionally investigated the subcortical structures of reward-related systems involved in the experience of love. Later neuroimaging studies showed that, in addition to these subcortical structures, different cortical networks and cognitive factors play an important role in reward-related systems associated with the experience of love.

Several scientists investigated how men and women feel in the early stages of romantic love and what occurs in their brains and bodies. Early-stage romantic love often induces euphoria.

What is happening in our brains when we are falling in love? According to Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and her colleagues, the first activation of love occurs in a primitive part of the brain’s reward system that is located in the midbrain. This finding once again confirms that our ability to love stems from the long evolutionary history of our animals’ ancestors. It is possible that romantic love originated from a mammalian drive to pursue preferred mates.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Love

Lucy Brown and her colleagues studied seven men and ten women who were “in love” using the method of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Some of these participants were intensely in love, while others were moderately in love or had a low thrill for their partner.

Participants in this study alternately perceived a photograph of their beloved and a photograph of another familiar person that researchers exposed to them in the fMRI machine. When participants perceived the photo of their romantic partner, they experienced a feeling of love. What occurred in their brain? Researchers recorded brain activation in the midbrain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA). This is the part of the brain connected to meeting basic needs, such as eating when we are hungry and drinking when we are thirsty.

Professor Brown commented,

“It’s the area of the brain that controls things like swallowing and other basic reflexes. While we often think about romantic love as this euphoric, amorphous thing and as a complex emotion, the activation we see in this very basic part of the brain is telling us that romantic love is actually a drive to fulfill a basic need.”

The Hormones of Love

Stephanie Cacioppo, a professor from the University of Chicago, and her colleagues revealed more findings on how love affects our brains.

Researchers found 12 areas of the brain that are activated to release chemicals such as dopamine, the hormone associated with “feel-good,” oxytocin, the hormone associated with “cuddle hormone,” and adrenaline, which stimulates a euphoric sense of purpose. These findings also showed that the brain’s reward circuit, which includes the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex, is sensitive to behaviors that induce pleasure. These parts of the brain are active when we are talking about a loved one, and these areas have increased blood flow.

When these processes are occurring in the brain, our level of serotonin, a hormone responsible for the regulation of appetite and intrusive anxious thinking, decreases. Low levels of serotonin are common among men and women experiencing anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

“This explains why people in the early stages of love can become obsessed with small details, spending hours debating about a text to or from their beloved,”

Stephanie Cacioppo

What Love Languages Are and Whether We Should Know Them

Over 30 years ago, Baptist pastor Gary Chapman introduced a theory of love languages, suggesting five typical ways people express and perceive love. His book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” has become very popular since that time in many countries around the world. Chapman’s theory suggests that love means different things to different people. The author identified 5 different meanings and corresponding ways of expressing love. These languages of love are

  • words of affirmation (giving compliments),
  • gifts (presents big and small),
  • acts of service (helping your partner with chores or in other ways),
  • quality time (doing things together) or
  • physical touch (such as hugs, kisses or sex).

Gary Chapman claims that understanding your partner’s love language is the key to a good relationship. Many people who read his book have found it to be helpful in their relationship with a partner. This competency can have a tremendous positive impact on romantic and marital relationships.

Is the Theory of Love Languages Science or Pop Culture?

A neuroscientist and journalist, Richard Sima, discusses this question in a recent article in the Washington Post, January 15, 2024. Let’s consider some evidence.

Chapman strongly believes that almost everyone has a primary love language. And this language “tends to stay with us throughout a lifetime,” he said. According to his opinion, the only people he has encountered who say all five are equally important are those who either were always loved or never loved.

Chapman admits, “I’m not a researcher.” He said that some researchers criticizing his theory of 5 love languages interpret his work too strictly.

“I was never dogmatic to say that there’s only five love languages. I’m still open, but I’m a little more confident that these(five)are pretty much fundamental to human nature.”

Chapman said.

Some researchers, however, question the scientific validity of the concept of 5 love languages. Emily Impett, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, Canada, and her co-authors Haeyoung Gideon Park and Amy Muise  recently published an article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science presenting an extensive review of the scientific literature on the topic (Impett et al., 2024). They concluded that core assumptions about love languages stand on shaky ground, unsupported by empirical evidence.

Their analysis of scientific publications has shown that there is no strong empirical support for the book’s three central assumptions that

  • (a) each person has a preferred love language,
  • (b) there are five love languages,
  • (c) couples are more satisfied when partners speak one another’s preferred language. 

Here are the main points of critiques:

1. Do People Have a Primary Love Language?

The existence of the person’s “primary” love language is a cornerstone of love language advice. So, a key assumption of Chapman’s book is that you need to know the primary love language your partner speaks. Researchers found that people tend to connect with several love languages, not one.

“In real life, we know that people often don’t need to make these kinds of trade-offs between do you want a partner who is going to touch you versus express love in some other way,”

Impett said.

“If that’s the core assumption, then everything that follows kind of falls apart in a lot of different ways,”

said Sara Algoe.

2. People Have More Than 5 Love Languages

Researchers show that people experience and express love in more than the five ways, or five key love languages, as defined by Chapman.

Other expressions of love are possible, such as the support of a partner’s autonomy and personal growth.

“We know that these things are really key for relationship satisfaction and might be more meaningful to couples with more egalitarian values,”

Impett said. 

“Just being nice to your mother-in-law, being on time for the opera, creating interests together, learning things together, doing novel things together. It’s a little different than just spending time together.”

said Helen Fisher

3. Having the Same Love Language May Not Lead to Relationship Satisfaction

Chapman’s theory of love languages implies that learning the love language of a partner and speaking the same love language as your partner’s would lead to a successful relationship.

However, studies show that partners who have the same primary love languages do not necessarily have higher relationship satisfaction compared to those who have different love languages.

According to Emily Impett, research suggests that perceiving expressions of love in any form leads to high relationship satisfaction.

Family therapist Dr. Gottman, co-founder with his wife Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, is renowned for scientific relationship research. He expressed his doubts that learning your partner’s love language is a key to relationship happiness.

“My general conclusion is that these dimensions are not very distinct conceptually, nor are they very important in terms of accounting for variation in marital happiness and sexual satisfaction,”

said Dr. Gottman.

Gottman believes that the idea of love languages focuses on the important question of partners’ needs and their satisfaction in a relationship:

“What can I do to make you feel more loved now, and help me understand where you are right now?”

Responding to all criticism, Chapman said that

“He understands that love languages aren’t “the answer to everything in marriage, for sure. But I think it could be a helpful tool for any individual or any couple that wants to enhance their relationship and especially meet each other’s need to feel loved.”

Personal Qualities That Are More Attractive for Love Than Our Looks

Many believe that our looks are what matter most in attracting the love of a potential partner. Yes, physical attraction is what people desire in a loved one. However, desirable personality traits are what matter most.

According to the surveys of heterosexual and homosexual partners, appearance and sexiness are only in the middle of the preferred characteristics of a partner. On the other hand, such personality traits as extraversion, intelligence, and agreeableness are higher than physical attraction as the qualities that women and men in different-sex and same-sex couples look for in a partner.

As co-founder of the dating app So Syncd, Jess Alderson says, we do prefer personality over looks. For example, in the sample of more than 1,000 users, almost 90% preferred certain personality traits over looks.

Why Agreeableness Is Desired for Love

Agreeableness is among the indicators of someone’s interpersonal skills. It characterizes how compassionate and caring people are. This personal quality plays an important role for both men and women in their initial preference for a date’s desirability. This trait is also a strong predictor of current and future relationship satisfaction and durability. For men as well as for women, physical attractiveness comes together with agreeableness in their desire for a love relationship. “Agreeableness is kind of a necessity,” says Greg Webster, a psychology professor at the University of Florida. In relationships, agreeableness, combined with other attractive traits, can bring the best out of people. See more about this research here.

The factor of similarity also plays a role. We feel attracted to others who share values similar to ours.

How does it work in the case of agreeableness? More agreeable people tend to see others as kind and friendly, finding them similar. This is why we match with people who have personalities similar to our own.

Why Similarity and Familiarity Matter for Love

We tend to look for similar and familiar others in our pursuit of love, not only in agreeableness but also in other personality traits, such as openness to a new experience and conscientiousness.

Partners with high similarity in the personality traits of conscientiousness and openness to a new experience are better in their ability to solve problems and manage daily tasks.

Similarity and familiarity are important in many other things (Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Orbuch & Sprecher, 2003). We also find attractive the other person who is physically and genetically similar to us, how close they live geographically to us, whether we belong to the same social groups, and whether we approve of their friends.

Why Some Differences Are Attractive for a Relationship

Despite the importance of similarities and familiarities in traits, personality differences might also be appealing for love.

Partners with complementary traits match well with each other, according to the observations of Jess Alderson, a co-founder of the dating app So Syncd.

“It makes sense that we’ve evolved to be attracted to people who at least have a certain amount of differences to ourselves. We make a stronger team and would be more likely to survive. But again, you need that kind of intimacy that draws you together.”

“We pair couples who have just enough similarities to form a strong connection, and then just enough differences to create that spark of excitement,” says Alderson.

“If you are too similar, it can be a little bit boring. And then if you’re too different, it can just not be that fun on a daily basis.”

It turns out that similarity and equality between partners are not necessarily the best things for a good relationship. And the dominance quality of one partner can be a good thing for love.

For example, social psychologists Angela Bryan, Greg Webster, and Amanda Mahaffey looked at socially, physically, and financially dominant people and the effect agreeableness had on their appeal (Bryan, Webster, & Mahaffey, 2011).

Researchers found that social, physical, and financial types of dominance are attractive to others. Each can provide a kind of protection or access to basic needs, like food and shelter, through to more desirable needs, like lavish lifestyles.

Yet, dominance traits can be used for good and bad:

“We can think of dominance as being turned inward towards a relationship or as being focused outward away from the relationship. What people want are partners who are socially, physically, or financially dominant, but not necessarily towards their partner,”

says Webster.

When dominance is mediated by agreeableness, it is a combination of qualities appealing to interpersonal attraction. “It’s one thing if you’re able to dominate other people, but are you willing to share those resources with your romantic partner?” For attractive partners, agreeableness accentuates the benefits of other personal qualities.

How Online Dating Changed Cross-Cultural Love and Relationships

The last several decades have witnessed the emergence and extensive development of dating websites. This progress greatly changed the way partners meet, love, and how their relationships evolve.

How Dating Websites Emerged and Expanded

It may look surprising that the first dating websites came only in the 1990s. In 1995, Match.com went online. In the early 2000s, a new wave of dating sites like OKCupid came out. When Tinder came out in 2012, it changed dating even more. There are now more than one-third of marriages that begin online. This data, however, varies across cultures.

These websites have obviously had a significant influence on dating behavior. However, evidence is mounting that their impact is far more substantial. Interesting statistical data from research shows the variety of places and ways in which partners met each other over the last decades.

How Traditional Networks of Dating Work

The social networks associated with family, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances were the most prevalent sources of prospective dating partners. People are strongly connected to a small group of neighbors and only loosely connected to people who live far away. It turns out that these loose connections are very important.

Loose ties have traditionally played an important role in meeting partners. While most people were unlikely to date one of their best friends, they were much more likely to date someone from their group of friends, such as a friend of a friend. Men and women met their partners through their families, at church, through mutual friends, in bars, in educational institutions, at work, and so on.

The Modern Way of Online Dating

The networks of dating have changed with the onset of online dating. Nowadays, heterosexual couples meet through online dating, which is the second most popular method. It’s the most popular choice by far for homosexual couples.

Online dating has led to significant consequences, extending the pool of potential dating partners. “People who meet online tend to be complete strangers,” say Josue Ortega from the University of Essex in the U.K. and Philipp Hergovich from the University of Vienna in Austria, the authors of the recent study.

Online Dating Is Conducive to Intercultural Marriages

These new opportunities extended chances for intercultural relationships, love, and marriages. Some societies are more favorable for intercultural marriages than others.

The statistics of intercultural marriages in the United States of American present a good example for analysis. For instance, J. Ortega and P. Hergovich compared the rates of interracial marriages in the U.S. over the past several decades and found that the number of interracial marriages increased for some time, but the rates were still low.

However, the rates of increase in interracial marriages substantially changed at about the time that online dating became popular. The researchers say,

“It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like Match.com, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly.”

When online dating became even more popular, this increase in interracial marriages became even steeper in the 2000s. Later, in 2014, the proportion of interracial marriages expanded again. “It is interesting that this increase occurred shortly after the creation of Tinder, considered the most popular online dating app,” researchers say.

Married Couples Who Meet Online Are More Stable

It is worth noting that, with about 50 million users, Tinder produces over 12 million matches daily. In the meantime, research into the strength of marriage has discovered some evidence that married couples who meet online have lower rates of marital breakup compared to those who meet in traditional settings.