Western researcher finds bias toward being in a relationship vs. being single

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A new study from a researcher at Western University is shedding some light on the psychology of being in a relationship and biased towards that choice.

The study shows that when it comes to deciding whether to stay in a relationship, people are more inclined to stay and move forward with it rather than leave.

The findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review by co-authors Samantha Joel from Western and Geoff MacDonald from the University of Toronto.

The paper looks at decision-making in the context of romantic relationships across a range of fields such as social psychology, sociology, family studies and behavioural economics.

“Making sure you’re paired off may have been more important for the survival of genes than being really choosy and finding an ideal match,” said Joel.

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Joel and MacDonald argued that evolution and cultural norms are behind the tendency to be drawn in the direction of increasing investment and commitment in such relationships.

She thinks that over time, bias towards relationships may have formed because our ancestors, who did not have as much choice in partners as we do now, could have had the idea that having any romantic partner may have been more important than having an ‘ideal’ one.

People who waited for an ideal partner and missed out may have been less likely to pass their genes down to us, she said.

“We experience a lot of societal pressure to be in a relationship. And there’s a lot of good research on how singlehood is stigmatized,” said Joel.

“There are social benefits, too, regardless of who your partner is. Culturally, being coupled means being seen as a legitimate social unit.”

Other past studies examined by Joel and MacDonald found that people tend to become invested in new relationships quickly. One study with a sample of 122 people showed 36 per cent of partners moved in together within six months of dating, while a second study showed that participants tend to be deeply attached to new romantic partners within three months of dating.

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“Often, by the time you’ve figured out that your partner has some traits or life goals that are incompatible with yours, you’ve already invested substantially in that relationship. At that point, it’s much harder to cut your losses,” said Joel.

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