Love 2.0: It’s All in the Micro-Moments, Says Scientist

At the grocery store last night, I came across three young men in the card aisle picking out valentines for their partners. They were mocking the selections. But behind the snarky comments, I smelled panic: Which of the $3.50 sentiments lined up before them—drippy, steamy, cheesy, or downright Elizabethan—would lock in the love that they (and we all) crave? Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the biological effects of positive emotions, would have us adopt a healthier attitude toward Valentine’s Day and love in general. I spoke to her earlier about her new book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become (Hudson Street/Penguin).

“I think that this new perspective on love will help us cut through the parts of Valentine’s Day that seem kind of difficult and forced and focus on what love really is,” she says. It’s a myth that love is “a lightning bolt that hits you one day and forever you’re in that state.” Rather, love is made of “micro-moments of shared connection,” or what she refers to as “positivity resonance.” And rather than being exclusive to a romantic partner, she points out, these moments can be experienced with all kinds of people in our lives, from our neighbors to the coworker in the next cubicle. (No jokes about The Office, please.)

Some of Fredrickson’s ideas on love and interconnectedness would nestle nicely into long-established religious traditions, and she cites various teachings in her book. But with colleagues in her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab, Fredrickson goes on to measure the physical benefits of these shared micro-moments, which she likens to nutrients for the body.

In one study, published in Psychological Science and described here in The Economist, researchers taught volunteers meditation skills to help them generate more moments of positive connection. “When they do that, they experience more of them and objective [health] markers like cardiac vagal tone improve,” Fredrickson says. Now her lab is looking at gene expression and how positive connections can change the body at the cellular level to help fight disease. (See the lab’s publications page for links to more studies.)

If love is so good for us, I wondered, why do we often miss these moments of connection? Fredrickson cites our reliance on technology. These micro-moments start with trust and a real-time sensory connection. (You can’t make eye-contact when you’re texting someone.) “The other reason is time pressure,” she says. While she’s talking on the phone with me, she admits to packing her bag to get ready for work. “Having that frenetic pace of today’s contemporary society really gets in the way of slowing down enough to connect with what we could be feeling with another. It’s a casualty of our contemporary world pace. We’re racing around at the speed of the mind when it’s like we need to feel these things at the slower speed of the heart.”

To give an example of what the pace of love looks like, Fredrickson described a recent conversation with a friend who’s dealing with a cancer diagnosis. “And I was just encouraging her to slow down and take care of herself, and we were connecting over the understanding of what each other was going through—me trying to offer support and her receiving it. It was a meaningful emotional connection.”

In another example, she described a woman whose disappointments made her cynical about romantic love. “The next week she wrote me to thank me for my ideas, [saying] ‘They really freed me somehow.’” By changing her expectations about what love was, Fredrickson says, “She was able to connect with people in her everyday life.”

That’s not to leave romantic relationships out of the picture entirely. According to Fredrickson, “We all know we shouldn’t take our loving relationships for granted. We should be attending to them and trying to make our partners feel valued and cherished,” she says. “These micromoments of shared positivity [are also] the building blocks of a strong resilient marriage.”

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Families: Study Finds Four Kinds of “Home Cultures” in America

Tip Estes and his family eating dinner, 1937. Photographer: Lee Russell. Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 010580-D [P&P].

The success of various parenting styles, from helicopter to free-range, is often debated. A new study by researchers at the University of Virginia finds more fundamental differences in family culture that are shaping today’s children.

The Culture of American Families Project—co-directed by James Davison Hunter and Carl Desportes Bowman at the university’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, and funded by the John Templeton Foundation—has identified four “home cultures” that make up 87 percent of families with school-age children: the Faithful, Engaged Progressives, the Detached, and American Dreamers. The data is based on a nationwide survey of 3,000 parents as well as longer follow-up interviews with 101 respondents.

“Though largely invisible, these family cultures are powerful, constituting the worlds that children are raised in, and may well be more consequential than parenting styles,” [Davison] said.

via U.Va. Study Identifies Four Family Cultures in America | UVA Today.

(I do wonder about the other 13 percent of families that didn’t fit neatly into one of these four groups. But let’s continue.)

More details on the project can be found in the executive report. Here are brief descriptions of each family type:

The Faithful (20 percent of American parents)

“The defining feature of the Faithful is that ‘morality’ is understood to be received from a divine, external source, whether within a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim tradition,” the report states.

Faithfuls tend to be politically conservative (51 percent Republican versus 13 percent Democrat), strongly oppose gay marriage, and attend religious services weekly. They believe their own children share their moral codes, though almost half of them report an overall decline in American standards.

Engaged Progressives (21 percent)

“At the center of the Engaged Progressives’ moral universe stands the virtue of personal freedom,” the report states. “With freedom comes choice and, by implication, responsibility for the consequences of one’s choices.”

They are the least religious of the four cultures; two-thirds say religion is not important to them. Although they hesitate to punish their children, 93 percent say they “invest much effort in shaping [their] moral character,” hoping they will grow into adults who treat others well. They typically let their teens have access to birth-control information at an earlier age. Continue reading