Monday, July 12, 2021

The Friends-to-Lovers Pathway to Romance: Prevalent, Preferred, and Overlooked by Science

The Friends-to-Lovers Pathway to Romance: Prevalent, Preferred, and Overlooked by Science. Danu Anthony Stinson, Jessica J. Cameron, Lisa B. Hoplock. Social Psychological and Personality Science, July 12, 2021.

Abstract: There is more than one pathway to romance, but relationship science does not reflect this reality. Our research reveals that relationship initiation studies published in popular journals (Study 1) and cited in popular textbooks (Study 2) overwhelmingly focus on romance that sparks between strangers and largely overlook romance that develops between friends. This limited focus might be justified if friends-first initiation was rare or undesirable, but our research reveals the opposite. In a meta-analysis of seven samples of university students and crowdsourced adults (Study 3; N = 1,897), two thirds reported friends-first initiation, and friends-first initiation was the preferred method of initiation among university students (Study 4). These studies affirm that friends-first initiation is a prevalent and preferred method of romantic relationship initiation that has been overlooked by relationship science. We discuss possible reasons for this oversight and consider the implications for dominant theories of relationship initiation.

Keywords: romantic relationships, close relationships, friendship, dating, relationship initiation

I have never been on a date and probably never will…I have always done the friends-to-lovers pathway, where you just start sleeping with your best friend and then move in…Sometimes I really regret this, and get jealous of people who get pretty and put on their best selves, and go outside to have adventures with strangers.

—Tumblr user @elodieunderglass (2017)

Our results reveal that psychologists have largely overlooked the most prevalent and desirable form of relationship initiation. Even though two thirds of the nearly 1,900 participants in the studies that we meta-analyzed in Study 3 reported friends-first initiation, and even though 47% of the university age participants in Study 4 claimed that friends-first initiation is the best way to initiate a relationship, just 18% of the studies that we located in our literature search actually focused on this method of initiation. Notably, our impression is that many of these studies covered friends-first initiation in a brief or peripheral manner. Given the paucity of research on friends-first initiation, it is not surprising that the textbooks we coded only cited two articles that focused on friends-first research at all, and these works exclusively focused on friends-with-benefits relationships. This means that the field of close relationships has only a partial understanding of how romantic relationships actually begin.

There are certainly flaws in our research that should be addressed in future studies. Our research concerning the prevalence of friends-first initiation was based on retrospective reports. Such reports are easy to collect, but they can be biased by subsequent experience, and this threat to validity may be particularly salient for emotionally charged experiences like romance (Holmberg et al., 2004). Longitudinal, prospective studies may be better suited to studying friends-first initiation. In addition, although the samples we included in Study 3 lived in different regions of Canada and the United States and comprised both younger and older adults, our samples were still relatively WEIRD (i.e., Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, & Democratic; Henrich et al., 2010) and most samples did not include singles. Future research should examine cultural differences in the prevalence of friends-first initiation and other forms of initiation that may not be commonly recognized in the West, but which may be similarly overlooked by extant scientific theories and data. Further, although our analyses in Study 3 suggested that friends-first initiation is more common among same gender/queer couples than among couples that include a man and a woman—perhaps due to group differences in the size of the available dating pool, differing scripts concerning intimacy and communication, and fluid understandings of gender, among other reasons (e.g., Rose, 2000)—our sample size for the former group was very small (N = 84 across four samples; see the OSM), and we did not explicitly assess sexual orientation. Although our results are not definitive, they do support prior observations made about same-sex romantic relationship formation (Diamond, 2003). Nevertheless, future research examining the prevalence of various relationship-initiation strategies should include all sexual orientations. Research should also examine whether friends-first initiation is preferred among older adults, as our sample in Study 4 comprised university students. Finally, we did not define “friendship” for any of our participants, so our results may be biased by participants’ ability to self-define a relationship that lacks a precise and shared cultural definition to begin with (e.g., VanderDrift et al., 2016). Future research should seek to document the characteristics of friendships that do and do not lead to romance and to ensure that our prevalence rate is not potentially inflated by some participants’ excessively broad interpretation of friendship.

But to achieve these important goals and develop a science of relationship initiation that truly reflects people’s behavior, researchers may need to take a cold, hard look at the reasons why the field has overlooked friends-first initiation in the first place (and yes, we include ourselves in this critique). As we explained in the introduction, it is difficult to study social–psychological phenomena that occur spontaneously and in private, and it is easier to use experimental paradigms that enhance scientific control. Yet researchers’ preference for these methods may have shaped the very questions we think to ask, a kind of “tail wags the dog” situation that may have diverted attention away from friends-first initiation. Thus, researchers and funding agencies need to invest in more longitudinal studies that offer the possibility of capturing different types of relationship initiation as they spontaneously occur.

Moreover, as we explained in the introduction, implicit heterosexist biases hinder relationship science (Rose, 2000) and that may help to explain researchers’ relative neglect of friends-first initiation. For example, despite convincing evidence that passion-based intimacy can arise from friendship-based intimacy among same-gender friends (e.g., Diamond, 2003), it may not have occurred to researchers that such a thing could also happen in platonic friendships between heterosexual men and women. Moreover, if people assume that men and women cannot be platonic friends because sexual attraction inevitably gets in the way, and if researchers assume that everyone desires and prioritizes romantic relationships over friendships and singlehood (but see Bay-Cheng & Goodkind, 2016Fisher & Sakaluk, 2020Fisher et al., 2021), it may be difficult to conceive of the possibility that heterosexual men and women might maintain a platonic friendship for months or even years, like our Study 4 participants, before romantic feelings start to blossom. Interrogating and overcoming these and other heterosexist assumptions about relationships may be the first step to developing a science of relationship initiation that truly reflects the full diversity of human experience.

The gulf between the fields’ excessive scientific focus on dating initiation and people’s frequent lived experiences of friends-first initiation also has important implications for theories of relationship formation and maintenance. Researchers may need to revisit the validity of dominant models of relationship formation, including risk-regulation theory (Cameron et al., 2010Stinson et al., 2015), sexual strategies theory (e.g., Eastwick et al., 2018), and assortative mating (e.g., Fletcher et al., 2000Hoplock et al., 2019), all of which were devised by studying dating initiation, and all of which may apply differently, or not at all, to the process of friends-first initiation (see Hunt et al., 2015). Moreover, researchers should examine whether people exhibit systematic preferences for one type of initiation or another, and whether psychological variables like attachment (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2020), sociosexuality (e.g., Gangestad & Simpson, 1990), life history (e.g., Belsky, 2012), or personality (e.g., McNulty, 2013) predict that preference. They may also need to examine whether these same variables moderate the success of each type of initiation, and whether such variables moderate the trajectory of relationships that form via dating or friends-first initiation. As such, studying friends-first initiation may be a fruitful enterprise that not only promises to expand extant theories of relationship initiation, but which also promises to shed light on new aspects of relationship initiation that could shift our understandings of how romantic relationships begin and progress.

Moral inference is not only sensitive to whether people make moral decisions, but also to features of decisions that reveal their suitability as a relational partner

The relational logic of moral inference. Molly J. Crockett, Jim A.C. Everett, Maureen Gill, Jenifer Z. Siegel. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, July 12 2021.

Abstract: How do we make inferences about the moral character of others? Here we review recent work on the cognitive mechanisms of moral inference and impression updating. We show that moral inference follows basic principles of Bayesian inference, but also departs from the standard Bayesian model in ways that may facilitate the maintenance of social relationships. Moral inference is not only sensitive to whether people make moral decisions, but also to features of decisions that reveal their suitability as a relational partner. Together these findings suggest that moral inference follows a relational logic: people form and update moral impressions in ways that are responsive to the demands of ongoing social relationships and particular social roles. We discuss implications of these findings for theories of moral cognition and identify new directions for research on human morality and person perception.

Keywords: MoralityInferenceMentalizingSocial cognitionCharacterJudgmentPerceptionImpression formation

Dark Triad traits in a sample of 318 seafarers from Croatia

Dark Triad traits and attitudes toward communication and coordination in seafarers. Krešimir Jakšić, Toni Bielić, Jelena Čulin. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 182, November 2021, 111091.


• Dark Triad model of personality was confirmed in the sample of seafarers.

• Psychopathy is negatively related to seafarers' attitudes toward shipboard communication and coordination.

• Narcissism is positively related to seafarers' attitudes toward shipboard communication and coordination.

Abstract: Research on seafarers' personality traits is sparse, and little is known about the influence of personality traits on seafarers' behaviour on board. An important aspect of seafarer behaviour on board is effective communication and coordination with other crew members. Since previous research has associated Dark Triad traits with ineffective team performance, the study aimed to examine the relationship between these traits and attitudes toward communication and coordination on board in a sample of 318 seafarers from Croatia. The results of the study show that psychopathy has a negative relationship with seafarers' attitudes toward communication and coordination on board, while narcissism has a positive relationship with the same construct. Practical implications are given.

Keywords: SeafarersPersonalityDark TriadCommunicationCoordination