From Bronte to blogging
Professor writes on her favorite subject — love — on Psychology Today website
It was a passion for British literature that led Pamela Regan to dedicate her career to the study of love.
As an undergrad at Williams College, Regan majored in English and specialized in 18th‒ and 19th‒century British novels — romances such as “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice.”
“What I enjoyed about those stories was that they were about love, of what love does to us, desire, passion, for good, for bad. I was 18, 19 years old, so that’s what I was thinking about myself,” Regan said.
For her graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Regan turned to psychology as a way to study love, and was mentored by Professor Ellen Berscheid, a leading researcher of interpersonal relationships.
“That was just dumb luck,” Regan admitted. “I realized that romantic love could be studied empirically, scientifically, so I could study the very things that I loved reading about, but could do it from a psychological perspective.”
Since 1996, the professor has taught courses in statistics and social psychology at Cal State L.A., where she also founded the Social Relations Lab. In that time, Regan has published dozens of research papers and authored or co‒authored several books on social psychology.
Her expertise is so well‒regarded within the field that Psychology Today recently approached her to write a blog on love and sex.
“Psychology Today wanted someone who could survey the field and not just one small area,” Regan said. “One of the things writing textbooks does is give a broad knowledge of what other people are doing. So I said I’ll try it for a year.”
Regan and research assistants Saloni Lakhanpal and Carlos Anguiano recently published a study in Psychological Reports that found Indian couples in the U.S. whose marriages were arranged were no different from couples in traditional marriages when it came to measures, such as romance, love, satisfaction and commitment. To view the research paper, visit http://www.amsciepub.com
Love Science launched in June and the monthly blog posts—which cover topics such as infidelity, first kisses and human pheromones—are inspired by everyday life and Regan’s own students.
Love scholarship is challenging because it is subjective, Regan explained. There’s a number of different ways to approach the subject, ranging from physiological and emotional responses to mapping brain activity.
“Love is so complex, it’s a monstrous system. Its causes are multiply determined so none of us are going to find the answer to love,” she explained. “But the nice thing about having many researchers approaching this system from many different angles is that we can hopefully create a body of knowledge that gives us useful information about this very interesting human experience.”
Regan’s research focuses on aspects of sexual desire, passionate love and mate preference. She relies on self‒reporting by participants, using love scales to measure the behavioral and physiological components of passion, as she and research assistants did recently for a study comparing the satisfaction of love‒based and arranged marriages in the United States.
Cal State L.A. Today Magazine couldn’t resist the chance to ask this love expert a couple of questions on tips and trends for dating in 2013:
On finding the right mate:
It’s the question we all have. You will never find someone if you never meet people. Relationships take time, meeting people takes time, dating takes time and if you are very happy and busy with work or hobbies, family or friends, you have to take time from those fulfilling things to go out and meet someone romantically. Be open to it. It’s not just about us looking for partners; other people have to be looking for you, too. And if you go into the market and keep your head down and put ear buds in or are on a phone, you’re telling people you’re not open to interacting. That’s how friendships start. We know people love eye contact and smiling.
On where to meet people:
It can all depend on what you’re looking for. For some people, the best way is out of existing friendships, because they love in a friendship‒based way. Some fall in love with a relative stranger, so the best way to meet someone is by going out in public, to events or clubs. Most people meet through work, school, friends and social network. At some point, every relationship has to be offline, it has to be face‒to‒face or it can’t grow and develop.
On what makes a good relationship:
What we do know is that once you are in a relationship, the things that predict whether it is successful are good communication, good conflict‒ and problem‒solving skills and friendship for each other. Basic liking can get you through a lot of things.
On the rise of cyber dating:
An interaction affords us an opportunity. Now, interaction can happen in virtual space or online, so it has essentially widened our field of possible mates. Online can be beneficial for people who have features that make it difficult to meet other people—stuttering, physical differences or shyness—because it relaxes the impact that physical appearance has and can allow people a chance to get to know you, whereas in the past they may have judged you instantly. The downside is that people can lie, manipulate, and some people can feel safe and anonymous in online forums, revealing very personal things about themselves. We do know that intense use of online forums, like Facebook, is actually correlated with loneliness, narcissism—some things that aren’t healthy.
On TV dating shows:
They are absolutely not a good representation of real life. Most people meet their partners out of the field available around them. Those shows are so scripted and forced; it’s painful for me to watch. I can’t watch “The Bachelor.” I find Patti Stanger smart on “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Her job isn’t to necessarily find a life partner. It’s to say “look, here’s a chance to have an interaction. You make it work or not.” She’s absolutely right. That’s how relationships start. So I think that’s a little less painful to watch.