For the Love of Research: Shanhong Luo Studies Love and Romantic Relationships

In the midst of this romantic holiday, it's easy to see how cards, flowers or dinners can impress a date and increase attraction, but what is the psychology behind it? UNCW's Shanhong Luo wants to know.Shanhong Luo

To find out, she's conducting numerous studies with her students to prove and disprove common myths about attraction, romance, and love. Even as a child Luo described wanting to know more about "that magical process" of falling in love, and as she started doing research she wondered if she could find out how it works. She's still not sure, but she's taking steps to finding out.

While Luo is most interested in the early stage of relationships including attraction and partner selection, her students focus on a variety of aspects of romantic relationships. Luo's lab covers a broad list of things inside her areas of interests. Her many studies have included projects involving speed dating, infidelity, perceptual biases, humor, text messaging, effect of attire and much more.

Luo is also focused on the positive aspects of relationships. She mentions that many studies focus too heavily on the ways in which a relationship can go awry but not enough prove hypotheses for how to keep a relationship strong. In this vein, Luo and her students carried out a study researching the positive effects of texting and online communication in a relationship.

The original worry is that with these interactions, face-to-face encounters are ignored and the relationship may suffer, but the hope is that there is also an opportunity to show love through these technological venues. After a two-week study, Luo and her students found there was virtually no difference in the relationships between the students who were instructed to send more affectionate text messages to their partners and those who were not. In a follow-up study, Luo plans to have the students will compose their own texts, as she fears the drafts written by the researchers in the previous study may have turned-off the partners due to sounding false.

Currently, Luo is working with two graduate students and one undergraduate from the honors college, She has a series of studies designed to test hypotheses based on evolutionary theories of attraction. For example, one study concerns how payment reflects and affects one's expectations and perceptions in the first date.

Luo's studies are conducted primarily using the student population at UNCW, meaning Luo's pool of diversity is limited and so far all her studies have been on heterosexual relationships in which 70-80% of the participants are Caucasian and Christian. Luo hopes to broaden these studies by involving community and online samples, but she notes it is good that we can get an accurate view of this campus's relationship patterns. One of her ongoing studies is to examine homosexual individuals' ideal partner concepts compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

Dr. Luo says there are many reasons a relationship may not work, including unfaithfulness, dishonesty, miscommunication, children issues, stress from external factors like money or a death in the family. But, what it all boils down to is two factors: whether or not the initial partner selection was a good choice and the amount of effort both partners are willing to put forth into a relationship.

"We all know the divorce rate is high in America, especially that of remarriages," Luo said.

She thinks this rate would be lower if more care was taken in these two aspects, saying "breakups and divorces [are caused because] the partner they chose wasn't a good fit." But, even after a good choice is made, each partner must continue to work on the relationship to stay connected. "When people fail to take care of their relationship, magic no longer works."

By Sally J. Johnson '14 MFA