Dating and Race: Thoughts on Race Relations 50 Years After Civil Rights (part 2)

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Dr. Ken-Hou Lin of UT-Austin and Dr. Jennifer Lundquist of UMass-Amherst evaluated dating homogeneity through the lens of race in their publication “Mate Selection in Cyberspace: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Education”, which appeared in July’s American Journal of Sociology. Much research on dating centers around propinquity theory: the idea that relationships are most likely to be made with geographically close individuals. Many neighborhoods, schools, and settings for extracurricular activities contain homogenized populations, with shared socioeconomic status, race, and cultural values. Dating relationships generally emerge from the commonality of location and experience; though interracial dating and cohabitation rates annually increase, only 4% of marriages in the U.S. contain individuals from two different races.

Cyberspace eliminates many of the variables that support propinquity theory. Daters can access Match.com from hours away, as website servers provide the common meeting space. Dating websites can increase the likelihood of finding someone with your specific interests and establish some security limits, but the social boundaries that exist in live communities diminish. Avatars have fluid social value; I may be a shy, geeky introvert, but on the internet, I can advertise myself as a popular, extremely talented stud through funny, brilliant instant messages to those who draw my attention. People of various races, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses may be drawn to my page.

Lin and Lundquist, determining that daters are most likely to view profiles of and write messages to daters in their similar racial classification, explore the “crucial divide” amongst racial groups on dating websites: Do whites tend to sidestep all races or strictly black daters?

I mentioned in the last post that black men are the most likely of the gender/race classifications to date within their race. Interestingly, black men sent messages out to a fairly diverse group of women. Black men were also the least likely to receive responses from any women (especially white women, who reported as the least likely to send messages to diverse races).

Black women received the majority of their messages from black men, with Latino men occasionally sending messages. Asian and white men rarely sent inquiry messages to black women, and the messages they sent to other races were seldom responded to. Lin and Lundquist identify black women as the least contacted/most avoided group of all eight gender/race demographics. The authors also evaluate whether education trumps race when making dating choices. In cyberspace, college-educated Black women were the least likely to receive messages. Dating relationships with white women/black men significantly outnumbered relationships with black women/white men. The authors suggest that Black men fit a hypermasculine stereotype that some women find appealing, whereas Black women fail to fit a feminine stereotype that attract most men.

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Fifty years ago, the Senate, with President Lyndon B. Johnson, passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which includes the clause “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” (Sec. 201a). Many symbolic representations of racism have been demolished in the last fifty years, including segregated drinking fountains, African Americans being attacked by law enforcement by water hoses, and near-eradication of the “n” word.

However, many subtle racial stereotypes still exist. Lin and Lundquist’s study provides an excellent commentary on 21st century racial barriers through its focus on dating. Though some people date strictly to have fun and/or erase feelings of loneliness, most daters have a part that seeks something more permanent. Dating serves as a test ground for levels of commitment and vulnerability; families are forged from successful dating processes.

Remember, in order for online daters to learn about a prospective date’s shared interests and experiences, they must click on the profile picture, and most daters only click on those they find physically attractive. Lin and Lundquist don’t explore the types of stereotypes that daters make when looking at a profile picture; they only make assessments off of quantity of profile views, messages sent, and messages returned. However, for some reason, black daters seemed to be routinely ignored when they contact daters of other races. Black women receive the fewest messages from other daters. Educated black women, whom one could argue attain upward social mobility due to their collegiate degrees, receive fewer messages than other women of any educational status.

I don’t want to make any assumptions about any of the daters participating in this study, especially as an educated white male. However, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in the coming months, we uncomfortably struggle with the results of this study and realize that we have a long way to go in achieving racial equality.

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Dating and Race: Thoughts on Race Relations 50 Years After Civil Rights (part 1)

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When K and I began dating, we developed a list of our numerous similarities. We are both introverts. We both grew up in conservative Evangelical traditions, with shared youth group experiences. We both love to sing; I went on to major in vocal performance, while K received a minor in music. Our list had quirks. Both of our best friends in high school were opposed-gendered Catholics with whom we spent numerous hours convincing peers we weren’t dating.

Yah, we were those kinds of people.

Jurafsky and McFarland insinuated in their 2013 research on clicking through speed dating that homogeneity of interests and experiences most successfully signified connection. Couples seeking shared meaning succeed when their experiences and hobbies are already fairly similar.

Dr. Ken-Hou Lin of UT-Austin and Dr. Jennifer Lundquist of UMass-Amherst evaluated dating homogeneity through the lens of race. In their publication “Mate Selection in Cyberspace: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Education”, which appeared in July’s American Journal of Sociology, Lin and Lundquist evaluated dating patterns, specifically, the numbers of people emailed, profile views, and demographic trends, from the database of an online dating service.

Image by Tiffany Jones on our blog

Image by Tiffany Jones on her blog

The study explores the following question: Do racial homogeneity or racial hierarchy have more significance when defining dating connections?

They identified several psychological theories that support racial homogeneity. For example, Leon Festinger and other MIT psychologists established the propinquity theory, suggesting that geographic and psychological closeness lead to greater likelihood of relationship formation. The more you see somebody, the more likely they are to enter your circle of friends. Propinquity theory also correlates with Murray Bowen’s idea that people date those with similar levels of anxiety. (“Differentiation” is Bowen’s word, which will take another blog series to explain. For now, we’ll say anxiety.) Most adolescents form subgroups based around similar race and culture.

The quantity of interracial dating relationships is changing; one study reports that 50% of minorities have dated someone from outside of their race. More American high schools and universities have students of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, leading to an increase of interracial dating experiences. Demographic research has discovered that although around 85% of Americans support interracial marriages. However, only 4% of marriages are interracial.

A program such as Match.com provides a unique arena for research on race. Daters introduce themselves through the physical features of their profile picture. A dater clicks on someone’s profile because they find them physically attractive, at which point the dater learns more about interests, hobbies, and dreams through reading profile information. Jurafsky and McFarland are not the first sociologists to determine that clicking exists primarily when there are shared interests or traits.

Lin and Lundquist find a similar result: daters are most likely to approach those from a similar race.

Race refers to the genetic characteristics and geographic ancestry of a person. Historically, in the U.S. anyway, race has been classified primarily by skin color, although verbiage has shifted more toward geographic ancestry in the last fifty years. Culture, the shared behaviors and beliefs, such as religion, language, and values, between a group of individuals, often gets inappropriately enmeshed with race. If I get uncomfortable around an African American person, it’s not because of his/her skin color; it’s because of the assumptions that I make about that person’s culture–his/her values and abilities–when I see said skin color, which of course, I convince myself, are different from mine.

51 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by their color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Racism becomes challenging to eradicate because we are naturally drawn to people that look like us, “act” like us, and have similar values and interests. We create in-groups and builds families with these people, either through cliques of friends or dating relationships. We also have a bad tendency of creating an “out-group” for every established in-group. I believe that fifty years later, our society has made progress through the reduction its inflammatory language toward people of different races; when someone says something racially inappropriate, such as Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, a diverse group of people express their disapproval and their desire for more hospitable language.

However, as Lin and Lundquist suggest, we tend to avoid those who are not like us. For example, they discovered that white women took some initiative to explore the profiles of men from other races, but they generally only responded to requests from white men. Black men showed the highest level of “homophily”–dating and communicating within one’s racial classification. All racial groups showed high levels of homophily.

We’ll explore other aspects of this study in the next two blog posts, but for now, I want to leave this question: Can we help eradicate racism by creating relationships (dating or otherwise) only with those in our racial classification?

In the Beginning: Part 4 of 4

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Stanford professors Daniel McFarland and Dan Jurafsky published “Making the Connection: Bonding in Courtship Situations”, a study on how people develop initial romantic bonds, or “click”, using the arena of speed dating, in May’s American Journal of Sociology. The series “In the Beginning” elaborates the study’s findings.

As McFarland and Jurafsky evaluated the content of numerous speed dates, they discovered a common pattern of interactions that created a sense of bonding, with each gender playing a common role. Women, for example, click more with men when they have permission to be the target of the four-minute conversation. Men clicked less frequently with women when their interests centered conversations. The study also showed an inverse relationship between connectivity and questions asked; women reported feeling more stress when men asked numerous questions, or, in an effort to keep the conversation going, they had to ask questions of men. Conversations centered around an interview format seemed to create an uncomfortable power structure, one in which the interviewer used question asking to control the date.

McFarland and Jurafsky report that women click with male partners who interrupt them. The Stanford professors discovered that men who interrupted in speed dates seldom did so not to control the conversation, but rather as a way to share meaning with their partners. These men brought up shared experiences, opinions, and stories to continue and extend ideas expressed by women. Partners who clicked had a consistent ability to complete the sentences of others. Interruption conveyed a desire to co-construct narratives using experiences and anecdotes from individual daters.

Active listening, or “interrupting” in McFarland and Jurafsky’s research, can be difficult. Rohit Bhargava, founder of the Influential Marketing Group, describes interrupting and listening as polar ends of a continuum. Listening strictly with your ears involves passivity, and often results in a restriction of information sharing. Interruption carries a negative, aggressive connotation in the social etiquette of many; those who interrupt may be perceived as self-centered and power-hungry. Our initial social experiences promote passive listening and punish interrupting, as they exist in the midst of a clear power structures (elementary schools), so many people lack the ability to actively listen.

Interrupting, Bhargava explains, is “an art”, and lists several tips for improved interrupting. (Asking questions works in a professional context as a way to reduce existing power structures. Ideally, daters enter relationships on an equal power level, where unfortunately, many attempt to create a power structure to deal with their anxieties. That’s another blog post.) McFarland and Jurafsky note that male daters that clicked the most had the most experience with dating, adding to the notion that active listening/interrupting takes practice.

Positive interrupting seeks to create a collaborative meaning and understanding, while negative interrupting aims to dictate a (usually inappropriate) power hierarchy.

In the Beginning: Part 3 of 4

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Stanford professors Daniel McFarland and Dan Jurafsky published “Making the Connection: Bonding in Courtship Situations”, a study on how people develop initial romantic bonds, or “click”, using the arena of speed dating, in May’s American Journal of Sociology. The series “In the Beginning” elaborates the study’s findings.

I took a course on documentation writing in graduate school. Therapists are frequently asked to write reports following psychological testing and for legal and other medical professionals, as well as their own documentation of content during sessions. Our professor emphasized “hedges“: phrases that reduce assertiveness and provide cushion to potential wrong analyses.

Let’s say that a school asks me to assess a child for ADHD. ADHD differs from the common cold, where there are easily-ascertained biological symptoms, such as a sore throat, fever, or consistent sneezing. Keith Conners wrote the most popular ADHD assessment (the aptly-named Conners assessment), which consists of a series of questions about behaviors. Whereas a primary care physician can get objective information about my common cold by looking at the color of my glands or manipulating my breathing patterns and listening for congestion, the Conners relies on subjective information: observations of parents and teachers. Observations can sometimes correctly identify reality. However, bias and mood often affect and distort my observations; if I arrive at school following an anxious discussion with my spouse, I’m more likely to see my students as obnoxious hoodlums.

I might receive high scores from both parents and teachers that support an ADHD diagnosis, but as an ethical researcher, I must view the results of these assessments as subjective. My written documentation needs to match the subjectivity of the assessment: “It seems that this child struggle with focusing. Children in similar situations may have difficulty sitting still. These behaviors might lead to more severe behaviors in the future.” It’s possible that my assessment leads to wrong conclusions; hedging protects me by providing a disclaimer that my evaluation may be incorrect.

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McFarland and Jurafsky discover that quality of interaction, even if it exists in four-minute speed dates, provides a significant indicator of “clicking”, the initiation of attraction. Men who laughed, particularly when accompanied with women’s laughter, proved more successful at clicking. Women who varied their pitch in conversation achieved higher click rates.

blackboard_hedgeThe Stanford professors researched what kind of verbal forms on interaction influenced the clicking process. As they wrote out the scripts for numerous speed daters, they discovered that those who received the fewest clicks from other daters commonly used a similar communication device: hedging.

Hedging several several functions in verbal communication. It can convey politeness and humility; in Southern cultural etiquette, for example, a speaker wants to avoid portraying self as pompous or arrogant, favoring an “aw, shucks” attitude. Hedging can reduce the intensity of a conversation; “Maybe he didn’t really feel like playing,” could be a soothing response to an upset child searching for a neighborhood playmate. Hedging can also protect against a feared emotional response, a vocabulary of walking on eggshells.

McFarland and Jurafsky insinuate that hedging, regardless of the validity of the non-committal statement, was perceived by the receiver in negative ways, although the research failed to assess specifically how hedging comments are perceived in dating situations. Perhaps hedging comments construed a lack of confidence, an unwillingness to state one’s opinion. Perhaps consistent hedging elucidated a generic anxiety in the speaker. To the blogosphere: what messages get conveyed when you’re with someone who uses too many hedging statements?

The Stanford professors discovered that daters clicked with other daters who were visually and conversationally engaged, used a lot of “I” statements, expressed excitement and used assertive tracking statements to validate their stories. Most of them avoided daters who consistently used hedging statements.

Saturday Reflection: Why We Don’t Have ESPN

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Every Saturday, I reflect on my own marriage. Some of the Saturday reflections may be serious. Others may bring a tear to your eye. Most of them will be silly. Silliness is an important ingredient to committed relationships.

Thursday evening’s foot-deep blizzard led to a Friday vacation. Okay, so I get most Fridays off, especially as I build up my caseload, but my wife joined me as her office was kind to close down because of the snows. We generally lounge around, read, and write on vacations (and Saturdays), although yesterday involved an hour of snow shoveling in single-digit degree weather. I lost her for an hour, an embarrassing feat considering the coziness of our apartment; she was organizing her desk in our guest room while I studied in the living room.

2014_College_Football__BCS_Championship_20131208182330_320_240Upon our reunion, she asked if I was watching any college bowl games. My dad and I spent many January 1s glued to the TV to watch the Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl, but my New Years priorities have changed since getting married. “No,” I told her, “All the bowl games are on ESPN this year.”

There’s a reason that we don’t have cable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to watch Sox and Bruins games on NESN, or follow the college football and basketball seasons on ESPN. For that matter, I’d love to watch out-of-network Rangers games on MLB Network or catch Tottenham Hotspur games on NBCSports Networks. I’d be an excellent sports blogger.

But I value my marriage more. It’s bad enough that I’m on this computer as much as I am, sitting on one love seat while my wife lounges in the other, individually reading blogs, New York Times, or ridiculous Facebook and Twitter posts for an hour at a time. My wife tolerates my sports passion; she’s gone to several games at Fenway with me, and we have a date at a Celtics game in a couple of weekends. Three hours a night of getting involved in the unpredictable drama of ESPN would be catastrophic to our marriage; even three or four nights a week might be crossing the line.

I have much to learn about committed relationships, but I’ve learned that commitment involves setting checks and balances on myself, especially my driven, hyper-focused parts. Sometimes that involves halting a promising career path. Other times, it asks me to find other ways to decompress, ways that involve presence with those I love.

In the Beginning: Part 2 of 4

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Stanford professors Daniel McFarland and Dan Jurafsky published “Making the Connection: Bonding in Courtship Situations”, a study on how people develop initial romantic bonds, or “click”, using the arena of speed dating, in May’s American Journal of Sociology. The series “In the Beginning” elaborates the study’s findings.

In part one of “In the Beginning”, McFarland and Jurafsky discovered that physical beauty matters in determining clicking. Beauty augments mystique: assuming I have the courage to speak to her in the first place, I’m willing to initially overlook the fact that Kate Beckinsale might be a selfish jerk because she’s drop-dead gorgeous. However, in the speed dating game, the beautiful former cheerleader did not receive the most votes from male daters, nor did the studly former football star from female daters.

McFarland and Jurafsky determined that interactions do matter, even those forged in the four minute constructs of the speed date, and evaluated the qualities of interaction that led to emotional clicking, as well as interactions that mattered for each gender. This is the brilliance of the study: daters are forced to construct awkward, quick-paced conversations that give a semblance of what qualities and interests each dater contains without sharing too much information (after all, nobody likes a braggart). The interaction process that ensues in the four-minute conversation determines the wedge between date-worthy and not date-worthy.

k7769McFarland and Jurafsky expound upon the research of University of Penn sociologist Randall Collins, who elaborated on work by Emile Durkheim to write Interaction Ritual Chains. Collins explains that people create “social solidarity” by comfortably developing a routine script, or “synchronization”, of interactions. (Please note that the cited phrases refer to McFarland and Jurafsky’s article rather than Collins’ writing, although you can read the first chapter of Collins’ book here.) Sometimes, dyads can be synchronized antagonistically, where individuals respond to perceived negative non-verbals with stronger, more negative non-verbals, creating a negative feedback loop. Other times, dyads synchronize around emotional excitement, or “intensification”. McFarland and Jurafsky write that emotional intensification “gives sacredness and value to an exchange that it otherwise mundane” (p. 1600).

Dyads that created emotional intensification in their four minute speed dates were the most likely couples to click. Daters were microphoned throughout their speed dates, and their conversations were not only scripted but evaluated for non-verbals. The Stanford professors discovered that men who laughed, particularly in synchrony with the women’s laugh, varied their loudness, and spoke from a similar pitch variance (though not monotone) were most likely to receive emotionally intense responses. Women who spoke softer, with some volume variation, raised and varied their pitch, and took shorter turns speaking also received emotionally excited responses from their partners. These emotional inflections happened in tandem, allowing for greater likelihood of mutual appreciation and sympathy, and creating a shared, emotionally exciting conversation.

We will discuss various communication theories on this blog, but most can be reduced to a similar concept: context and non-verbals, including body posture, tone, and flow of speech, matter significantly more than literal content, even in the establishment of clicking.

In the Beginning: Part 1 of 4

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Stanford professors Daniel McFarland and Dan Jurafsky published “Making the Connection: Bonding in Courtship Situations”, a study on how people develop initial romantic bonds, or “click”, in May’s American Journal of Sociology. The series “In the Beginning” elaborates the study’s findings.

kate-beckinsale-new-haircuts-and-hairstyles-2013-6Everyone has a celebrity crush list. My Hollywood beauties include Kate Beckinsale, Eva Green, and Zooey Deschanel. Christian Bale tops my wife’s celebrity crush chart.

I know a grand total of zero of the women on my celebrity crush list. Okay, I connected with the personalities of some of the characters they portray. I’m drawn to the quiet assertiveness of Kate Beckinsale’s portrayal of monster slayers in Van Helsing and the Underworld series. I find Zooey Deschanel’s mixture of awkward and confident in New Girl and Elf endearing, comforting, and attractive. Eva Green combines serious, flirtatious, and a hint of bad ass in her role as the original Bond girl in Casino Royale (and I’m crazy excited to see this magnified in the new 300 and Sin City films).

But let’s be honest. Eva Green’s piercing blue/green eyes, Zooey Deschanel’s charming smile, and Kate Beckinsale’s, well, good grief she’s beautiful…ness are the reasons these women are on my celebrity crush list. They could be awful, selfish individuals in real life, but if I were dating again (and I happened to be rich and famous), I’d be willing to risk discovering those traits simply because they are gorgeous.

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McFarland and Jurafsky began their study on clicking by asking the question: Does interaction matter?

After all, Western societies coined the phrase “Love at first sight“. Romeo states: “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight/For I ne’er saw true beauty until this night,” when he first lays eyes on Juliet. The Beatles sing, “Would you believe in love at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time,” in “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Numerous industries–fashion, film, advertising–strive for success by linking beauty and vision, hoping that the presentation of physical beauty leads customers to desire the marketed product by way of desiring the physical attractiveness of the stunning model’s face/body. Americans spent $8 billion in cosmetics, $10.4 billion in cosmetic surgery, and $2.6 billion in gym memberships in 2012 in a nationwide attempt to seek beauty, to create images that may be attractive to other people. In worst case scenarios, social psychologists link the advent of eating disorders with the excessive emphasis on visual media and the inability of many to meet the “ideal” physical image.

McFarland and Jurafsky determine that interaction does matter in ways that will be discussed later in the series, but physical traits affect clicking just as much. Women found taller speed daters more attractive than the shorter ones. Men chose women with lower than average body mass indexes (BMIs). Clicking appears to start with physical attractiveness.

McFarland and Jurafsky also evaluated how clicking works for those deemed “physically attractive”. Men who met the desired physical stature (tall, dark and handsome) reported more connection with other women than men who didn’t. Women in general reported clicking less than men; the Stanford professors note that women are more careful and methodical in creating romantic connections via speed dating. Interestingly, women who met the desired physical stature reported the least amount of connection. This seems to connect with evolutionary theories, which state that those with the highest physical status can afford be the choosiest when selecting mates. I’d be interested to discover how this is true for women but not for men.

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Commitment, the daily choosing of one individual because/in spite of a compilation of interactions, contrasts the theory of “love at first sight”. Throughout this blog, I want to write articles that debunk dominant societal discourses about physical attraction, gender, and sexuality. But we start our conversation about relationships with an unavoidable truth: physical beauty matters.