The University of Texas at Austin
What does your research focus on?
Broadly speaking, my research investigates how people initiate romantic relationships and how they remain committed and attached to their partners. At this point, I have two primary lines of research. The first examines how people’s ideal partner preferences (i.e., the qualities that they rate as critically important in a romantic partner) affect their feelings and judgments about potential or actual partners. This work has used a variety of methods (e.g., confederate interactions, implicit measures, speed-dating, longitudinal designs) to document how people’s romantic evaluations shift depending on whether they are considering a hypothetical target, a face-to-face interaction partner, or an established relationship partner. The second explores the adaptive functions of attachment bonds: When do strong romantic attachments emerge, and how do they reflect the specific selection pressures encountered by our hominid ancestors? For example, my colleagues and I have examined a) how the experience of anxiety in fledgling relationships is associated with attachment bond formation, and b) how attachment bonds in established relationships intersect with ovulatory shifts in women’s desire for sexual intimacy with their partners.
What drew you to this line of research and why is it exciting to you?
I have always marveled at the process by which two strangers become romantic partners. Although humans form millions of new relationships every day, it is an incredibly low probability event if you consider the vast sea of possible romantic pairings. The fact that we can use science to understand this process was an incredible discovery for me as an undergraduate; we do not have to attribute it all to providence and fate!
Who were/are your mentors or scientific influences?
My primary advisor in graduate school was Alice Eagly; I learned a great deal from her about how to be your own toughest critic in order to build a strong, programmatic, and persuasive line of research. Also, I was very fortunate that Eli Finkel arrived at Northwestern as an assistant professor the same year that I arrived as a graduate student. Our research interests grew together over the years and I expect that our collaboration will remain productive well into the future. In terms of scientific influences, Cindy Hazan’s Human Bonding class left an indelible impression on me as an undergraduate, and her writings have continued to inspire me over the years. Also, I always travel with my dog-eared copy of Gangestad and Simpson (2000); this paper and the associated commentaries have generated countless research ideas for me. Finally, Lisa Neff has taught me a great deal about strong writing — how to select every word so that the page conveys exactly the meaning that you intend. Deliberate, precise writing is a key component of how we change minds, and no one is better at this than Lisa.
What’s your future research agenda?
I consider myself to be both a relationship researcher and an evolutionary psychologist, and I hope that my work will identify novel areas of intersection between these two (partially overlapping) fields. For example, I am especially excited about a program of research that imports the classic evolutionary psychological concept of “mate value” into paradigms used by relationships researchers. In general, I think that both fields have a lot to learn from each other, and I hope to contribute in a small way to their synthesis.
What publication are you most proud of?
Eastwick, P. W., Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J, & Hunt, L. L. (in press). The predictive validity of ideal partner preferences: A review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin.
I’m proud of this paper for two reasons. The first is that it represents the culmination of a set of ideas that began about 10 years ago, just as I was entering graduate school. I feel very fortunate that I had the resources and mentors that helped me to grow these ideas into a complete program of research. The second is that the meta-analysis half of this paper was an awe-inspiring collaborative effort; approximately 40 independent teams of researchers analyzed their unpublished data for us. Some of them went so far as to dig up their 20-year-old undergraduate theses from storage! What a field.