Papers on the psychology of close relationships

Lecture 2 – September 12
Interpersonal Attraction and Liking

Seeing I to I: A Pathway to Interpersonal Connectedness
Pinel, Long, Landau, Alexander, & Pyszczynski

I-sharing, instant friendship through shared subjective experience

The authors introduce the construct of I-sharing—the belief that one shares an identical subjective experience with another person—and the role it plays in liking. In Studies 1–3, participants indicated their liking for an objectively similar and an objectively dissimilar person, one of whom I-shared with them and the other of whom did not. Participants preferred the objectively similar person but only when that person I-shared with them. Studies 4 and 5 highlight the role that feelings of existential isolation and the need for closeness play in people’s attraction to I-sharers. In Study 4, people with high needs for interpersonal closeness responded to I-sharers and non-I-sharers with great intensity. In Study 5, priming participants with feelings of existential isolation increased their liking for I-sharers over objectively similar others. The results highlight the importance of shared subjective experience and have implications for interpersonal and intergroup processes.

Sexy red: Perceived sexual receptivity mediates the red-attraction relation in men viewing woman
Pazda, Elliot & Greitemeyer

Women in red are more attractive

In many non-human primate species, female red displays are a signal of sexualreceptivity and this signalattracts male conspecifics. In the present research, we proposed and tested a human analog whereby perceived sexual receptivity mediates the relation between red and sexual attraction in men viewing women. Two experiments were conducted, each of which provided support for the hypothesized mediational model. Experiment 1 documented the mediational role of perceived sexual receptivity using the experimental–causal-chain approach, and Experiment 2 did so using the measurement-of-mediation approach. Alternative mediator variable candidates were ruled out, and participants showed no evidence of awareness of the red effect. These findings docu-ment red as a subtle, but surprisingly powerful environmental stimulus that can serve parallel functions in the mating game for human and non-human primates.

Differential Effects of Reciprocity and Attitude Similarity Across Long- Versus Short-Term Mating Contexts
Lehr & Geher

We like people that think like us

Participants were 24 male and 32 female undergraduate and graduate students whom the authors recruited for an examination of the effects of attitude similarity and reciprocity on the degree of attraction toward potential mates. The authors examined the effects of these 2 variables on degree of liking in long-term and short-term contexts. The authors administered a vignette about a bogus stranger to each participant, varying the stranger’s attitude similarity with and liking of the participant. The authors enclosed the vignette in a folder that described the stranger as having either very similar or very different attitudes from the participant and that included a passage that notified the participant that the stranger either likes or does not like him or her. The dependent variables included 4 indexes of the extent to which participants reported liking the bogus stranger: a scale that measured short-term mating items, a scale that measured long-term mating items, a degree-of-liking scale, and a behavioral-intention item. Across these 4 attraction-relevant dependent variables, the authors found significant main effects of the reciprocity variable. Also, the authors found a significant main effect of attitude similarity on the likability measure. The authors found significant main effects of reciprocity in a long-term mating context and a short-term mating context.

When Does Playing Hard to Get Increase Romantic Attraction?
Dai, Dong & Jia

Playing hard to get only works when attainment is the challenge

Folk wisdom suggests playing hard to get is an effective strategy in romantic attraction. However, prior research has yielded little support for this belief. This article seeks to reconcile these contrasting views by investigating how 2 hitherto unconsidered factors, (a) the asymmetry between wanting (motivational) and liking (affective) responses and (b) the degree of psychological commitment, can determine the efficacy of playing hard to get. We propose that person B playing hard to get with person A will simultaneously increase A’s wanting but decrease A’s liking of B. However, such a result will only occur if A is psychologically committed to pursuing further relations with B; otherwise, playing hard to get will decrease both wanting and liking. Two studies confirm these propositions. We discuss implications for interpersonal attraction and the interplay between emotion and motivation in determining preferences.

Lecture 3 – September 19
Relationships and Self: Self-Disclosure and Self- Concept

Interpersonal goals, others’ regard for the self, and self‐esteem: The paradoxical consequences of self‐image and compassionate goals
Canvello & Crocker

Bragging backfires

People often adopt self‐image goals to increase others’ regard for them and perhaps their own self‐esteem. But do these impression management goals achieve their intended result in close relationships? And do they endure over time? We suggest that self‐image goals predict decreased self‐esteem and close others’ regard for the self through decreased responsiveness to others. In contrast, compassionate goals, which reflect a genuine concern for others’ well‐being, predict increased self‐esteem and others’ regard through increased responsiveness. We tested these hypotheses in a longitudinal study of college roommates followed across a semester. Path analyses supported both predictions, suggesting a paradox for interpersonal goals in close relationships: explicit attempts to increase close others’ regard for the self backfire and damage self‐esteem, but having goals to meet others’ needs result in others’ positive regard and promote self‐esteem.

Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responses to Positive Event Disclosures
Gable, Gonzaga & Strachaman

Sharing positive events more linked to relationship success

Close relationship partners often share successes and triumphs with one another, but this experience is rarely the focus of empirical study. In this study, 79 dating couples completed measures of relationship well-being and then participated in videotaped interactions in which they took turns discussing recent positive and negative events. Disclosers rated how understood, validated, and cared for they felt in each discussion, and outside observers coded responders’ behavior. Both self-report data and observational codes showed that 2 months later, responses to positive event discussions were more closely related to relationship well-being and break-up than were responses to negative event discussions. The results are discussed in terms of the recurrent, but often overlooked, role that positive emotional exchanges play in building relationship resources.

Daily Self-Disclosure and Sleep in Couples
Kane, Slatcher, Reynolds, Repetti, & Robles

Wives open up and sleep better but men don't. Men open up and everyone sleeps better

An emerging literature provides evidence for the association between romantic relationship quality and sleep, an important factor in health and well-being. However, we still know very little about the specific relationship processes that affect sleep behavior. Therefore, the goal of this study was to examine how self-disclosure, an important relational process linked to intimacy, relationship satisfaction, and health, is associated with sleep behavior. Method: As part of a larger study of family processes, wives (n ϭ 46) and husbands (n ϭ 38) from 46 cohabiting families completed 56 days of daily diaries. Spouses completed evening diaries assessing daily self-disclosure, relationship satisfaction, and mood and morning diaries assessing the prior night’s sleep. Multilevel modeling was used to explore the effects of both daily variation in and average levels across the 56 days of self-disclosure on sleep. Results: Daily variation in self-disclosure predicted sleep outcomes for wives, but not for husbands. On days when wives self-disclosed more to their spouses than their average level, their subjective sleep quality and sleep efficiency that night improved. Furthermore, daily self-disclosure buffered the effect of high negative mood on sleep latency for wives, but not husbands. In contrast, higher average levels of self-disclosure predicted less waking during the night for husbands, but not for wives. Conclusion: The association between self-disclosure and sleep is one mechanism by which daily relationship functioning may influence health and well-being. Gender may play a role in how self-disclosure is associated with sleep.

Are You Happy for Me? How Sharing Positive Events With Others Provides Personal and Interpersonal Benefits
Reis, Smith, Carmichael, Caprariello, Tsai, Rodriguez, & Maniaci

Sharing good news with others increases the perceived value of those events

Sharing good news with others is one way that people can savor those experiences while building personal and interpersonal resources. Although prior research has established the benefits of this process, called capitalization, there has been little research and no experiments to examine the underlying mechanisms. In this article, we report results from 4 experiments and 1 daily diary study conducted to examine 2 mechanisms relevant to capitalization: that sharing good news with others increases the perceived value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically, and that enthusiastic responses to shared good news promote the development of trust and a prosocial orientation toward the other. These studies found consistent support for these effects across both interactions with strangers and in everyday close relationships.

Lecture 4 – September 26

An examination of relational-interdependent self-construal, communal strength, and pro-relationship behaviors in friendships

Mattingly, Oswald, & Clark


Individual differences in relational-interdependent self-construal (RISC) are associated with positive relationship characteristics. This suggests that RISC is positively associated with the degree to which individuals view their relationships as communally-oriented (i.e., governed by norms of responsiveness), which should in turn be associated with increased use of pro-relationship behaviors. Thus, the current study explored the associations between RISC, communal strength, and pro-relationship behaviors in friend-ships. As predicted, RISC was positively associated with pro-relationship behavior use, but this associa-tion was mediated by greater communal strength. This suggests that increased RISC is associated with greater relationship satisfaction because the manner in which individuals view their relationships (i.e., communally) explains the association between RISC and constructive relationship behavior.

Are you really just friends? Predicting the audience challenge in cross-sex friendships
Schoonover & McEwan


Cross-sex friends experience a variety of challenges including the audience challenge: when cross-sex friends are mistaken for a romantic couple by other members of their social network. This research sought to explore the various factors that might influence cross-sex friends’ experience of the audience challenge. Cross-sex friends who were strictly platonic were less likely to experience the audience challenge and less likely to be concerned about the audience challenge than individuals in mutual romance, desires romance, or reject romance friendships. Regression analyses indicated cross-sex friends tend to experience the audience challenge the least when their friendship network is supportive of cross-sex friends. The relation between network support and the audience challenge is moderated by romantic desire and sexual activity.

Creating positive out-group attitudes through inter-group couple friendships and implications for compassionate love.
Welker, Slatcher, Baker, & Aron


Building personal relationships with out-group members is an important catalyst of positive intergroup attitudes. In a 2 Â 2 experimental design, Caucasian and African American individuals and couples were randomly assigned to interact in either cross-race or same-race individual dyads and couple pairs. Participants completed pretest measures of race attitudes and engaged in a high self-disclosure closeness-induction task with an in-group or out-group race member in pairs of couples or individuals and completed measures of self-disclosure and intergroup attitudes. These results suggest that intergroup contact in the presence of romantic partners may be particularly effective for improving intergroup attitudes. We explore the implications of these results for developing compassionate love toward out-groups.

Lecture 5 – October 3
Emotion, Attachment, and Close Relationships

Suppression sours sacrifice: Emotional and relational costs of suppressing emotions in romantic relationships.
Impett, E.A., Kogan, A., English, T., John, O., Oveis, C., Gordon, A.M., & Keltner, D.


What happens when people suppress their emotions when they sacrifice for a romantic partner? This multimethod study investigates how suppressing emotions during sacrifice shapes affective and relationship outcomes. In Part 1, dating couples came into the laboratory to discuss important romantic relationship sacrifices. Suppressing emotions was associated with emotional costs for the partner discussing his or her sacrifice. In Part 2, couples participated in a 14-day daily experience study. Within-person increases in emotional suppression during daily sacrifice were associated with decreases in emotional well-being and relationship quality as reported by both members of romantic dyads. In Part 3, suppression predicted decreases in relationship satisfaction and increases in thoughts about breaking up with a romantic partner 3 months later. In the first two parts of the study, authenticity mediated the costly effects of suppression. Implications for research on close relationships and emotion regulation are discussed.

Love alters reactivity to emotions.
Schneiderman, I., Zilberstein-Kra, Y., Leckman, J.L., & Feldman, R.


Periods of bond formation are accompanied by physiological and emotional changes, yet, little is known about the effects of falling in love on the individual’s physiological response to emotions. We examined autonomic reactivity to the presentation of negative and positive films in 112 young adults, including 57 singles and 55 new lovers who began a romantic relationship 2.5 months prior to the experiment Autonomic reactivity was measured by Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) to two baseline emotionally neutral films, two negative films, and two positive films. Results demonstrated that RSA in singles decreased during the presentation of negative emotions, indicating physiological stress response. How-ever, no such decrease was found among new lovers, pointing to more optimal vagal regulation during the period of falling in love. Autonomic reactivity, indexed by RSA decrease from the positive to the negative films, was greater among singles as compared to lovers, suggesting that love buffers against autonomic stress and facilitates emotion regulation. Findings suggest that vagal regulation may be one mechanism through which love and attachment reduce stress and promote well-being and health.

Associations between relationship quality and depressive symptoms in same-sex couples.
Whitton, S.W., & Kuryluk, A.D.


Extending research based on different-sex (i.e., heterosexual) couples, the authors explored associations between romantic relationship quality and depressive symptoms in a geographically diverse sample (ϭ
571) of U.S. adults in same-sex relationships. The authors also examined whether this association was moderated by individual characteristics (gender, age, and internalized heterosexism) or relationship factors (relationship length, commitment, and interdependence). Results indicated a moderate negative association between relationship quality and depressive symptoms, echoing findings from different-sex couples. This association was not moderated by gender, age, internalized heterosexism, or relationship length. In contrast, commitment and interdependence did demonstrate moderating effects. Although the negative association between relationship quality and depressive symptoms was present at all levels of commitment and interdependence, it was amplified at higher commitment and interdependence levels. In general, findings contribute to a growing literature suggesting many commonalities between same-sex and opposite sex couples. Specifically, they suggest the importance of relationship quality to the emotional well-being of LGBT adults, supporting clinical interventions and social policies that promote healthy and stable same-sex relationships.

Attachment anxiety uniquely predicts regret proneness in close relationship contexts. 
Joel, S., MacDonald, G., & Plaks, J.E.


Although regret plays a central role in decision making, few studies have explored the nature of regret in close relationships. The authors hypothesized that anxiously attached individuals, who are hypersensitive to relationship threat and prone to ambivalence in close relationships, would be particularly likely to experience regret over relationship-related decisions. Study 1 examined the relative abilities of attachment anxiety and neuroticism to predict regret proneness. Entered as simultaneous pre-dictors, neuroticism was the only significant predictor of general regret proneness, but attachment anxiety was the only significant predictor of interpersonal regret proneness. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to read regrettable relational versus nonrelational scenarios. Once again, neuroticism predicted regret in the nonrelational conditions, whereas attachment anxiety predicted regret in the relational conditions. Not only may these findings help explain anxiously attached individuals’ uncertain relational decision-making patterns, but they also highlight an important distinction between attachment anxiety and neuroticism.

Coregulation in romantic partners’ attachment styles: A longitudinal investigation. 
Hudson, N.W., Fraley, R.C., Brumbaugh, C.C., & Vicary, A.M.


The goal of the present research was to examine the coregulation of partner-specific attachment security in romantic relationships. We studied a sample of 172 couples 5 times over 1 year. At each assessment wave, partners independently completed a self-report measure of their security in the relationship. We operationalized attachment coregulation both as direct impacts (i.e., prospective effects of one partner on the other) and coordination (i.e., correlated changes across time). Results indicated that, after taking into account people’s prototypical levels of security, changes in security were coordinated within couples.


Lecture 6 – October 17
Romantic Love

“I Love You More Today Than Yesterday”: Romantic Partners’ Perceptions of Changes in Love and Related Affect Over Time
Susan Sprecher

Partners in romantic relationships provided reports on perceived changes in their love, commitment, and satisfaction and completed contemporaneous scales on the same relationship phenomena multiple times over several years. At each wave of the longitudinal study, participants whose relationships had remained intact perceived that their love and related phenomena had increased since they had last participated in the study. However, their scores on contemporaneous scales did not generally increase over time. Analyses indicated that participants’ reports of change were related to actual change in love, commit-ment, and satisfaction scores and with future relationship stability. Furthermore, participants who experienced a breakup during the longitudinal study reported an overall decrease in their positive affect in the months prior to the breakup.

Evaluating the Physical Attractiveness of Oneself and One’s Romantic Partner Individual and Relationship Correlates of the Love-Is-Blind Bias
Viren Swami, Stefan Stieger, Tanja Haubner, Martin Voracek, and Adrian Furnham

The present study sought to extend recent work by examining individual and relationship variables that predict the love-is-blind bias, that is, a tendency to perceive one’s romantic partner as more attractive than oneself. A sample of 113 men and 143 women completed a battery of tests that included various demographic, individual difference, and relationship-related measures. Results pro-vided support for a love-is-blind bias, in that both women and men rated their romantic partners as significantly more attractive than themselves on overall attractiveness and the attractiveness of various body components. Results also showed that the Big Five person-ality factor of Extraversion, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, and romantic love were positively correlated with the love-is-blind bias, whereas relationship length and playful love were negatively correlated with the bias. The results of this study are considered in relation to previous work on positive partner illusions.

Romantic love modulates women’s identification of men’s body odors
Johan N. Lundström , Marilyn Jones-Gotman

Romantic love is one of our most potent and powerful emotions, but very little is known with respect to the hormonal and psychological mechanisms in play. Romantic love is thought to help intimate partners stay committed to each other and two mechanisms have been proposed to mediate this commitment: increased attention towards one’s partner or deflected attention away from other potential partners. Both mechanisms find support in the literature. We explored the potential influence of each of these mechanisms by assessing women’s ability to identify (ID) body odors originating from their boyfriend, a same-sex friend, and an opposite-sex friend and the relationship between this ability and the degree of romantic love expressed towards their boyfriend. We hypothesized that an increase in attention towards one’s partner would render a positive correlation between ID of a boyfriend’s body odor and degree of romantic love; conversely, we hypothesized that attention deflected away from other potential partners would render a negative correlation between ID of an opposite-sex friend’s body odor and degree of romantic love for the boyfriend. Our results supported the deflection theory as we found a negative correlation between the degree of romantic love for the subjects’ boyfriends and their ability to ID the body odor of an opposite-sex friend but not of their boyfriend or same-sex friend. Our results indicate that romantic love deflects attention away from potential new partners rather than towards the present partner. These changes are likely mediated by circulating neuropeptides and a testable model is suggested.

Stayovers in emerging adulthood: Who stays over and why?

Emerging adulthood is an intense period of personal development and interpersonal exploration; most emerging adults engage in several romantic relationships of varying commitment levels throughout their late teens and early twenties. The current study explored whether one relationship behavior, staying over, is related to specific demographic characteristics, previous experiences, and personal beliefs and attitudes. A sample of 627 emerging adults were surveyed about their experiences with staying overnight with their romantic partners, their reasons for doing so, and their attitudes about full-time cohabitation. Participants who were older, had cohabited at some point, lived independently from family, viewed religion as unimportant, and had positive attitudes about cohabitation were found to be more likely to stay over.

Does a Long-Term Relationship Kill Romantic Love?
Bianca P. Acevedo and Arthur Aron

This article examines the possibility that romantic love (with intensity, engagement, and sexual interest) can exist in long-term relationships. A review of taxonomies, theory, and research suggests that romantic love, without the obsession component typical of early stage romantic love, can and does exist in long-term marriages, and is associated with marital satisfaction, well-being, and high self-esteem. Supporting the separate roles of romantic love and obsession in long-term relationships, an analysis of a moderately large data set of community couples identified independent latent factors for romantic love and obsession and a subsample of individuals reporting very high levels of romantic love (but not obsession) even after controlling for social desirability. Finally, a meta-analysis of 25 relevant studies found that in long- and short-term relationships, romantic love (without obsession) was strongly associated with relationship satisfaction; but obsession was negatively correlated with it in long-term and positively in short-term relationships.

Lecture 7 – October 24
Sexuality and Relationships

Differing Relationship Outcomes When Sex Happens Before, On, or After First Dates
Brian J. Willoughby, Jason S. Carroll, and Dean M. Busby

While recent studies have suggested that the timing of sexual initiation within a couple’s romantic relationship has important associations with later relationship success, few studies have examined how such timing is associated with relationship quality among unmarried cou-ples. Using a sample of 10,932 individuals in unmarried, romantic relationships, we examined how four sexual-timing patterns (i.e., having sex prior to dating, initiating sex on the first date or shortly after, having sex after a few weeks of dating, and sexual abstinence) were associated with relationship satisfaction, stability, and communication in dating relationships. Results suggested that waiting to initiate sexual intimacy in unmarried relationships was generally associated with positive outcomes. This effect was strongly moderated by relationship length, with individuals who reported early sexual initiation reporting increasingly lower outcomes in relationships of longer than two years.

Sexual Satisfaction and Relationship Happiness in Midlife and Older Couples in Five Countries
Julia R. Heiman, J. Scott Long, Shawna N. Smith, William A. Fisher, Michael S. Sand, Raymond C. Rosen

Sexuality research focuses almost exclusively on individuals rather than couples, though ongoing relationships are very important for most people and cultures. The present study was the first to examine sexual and relationship parameters of middle-aged and older couples in committed relation-shipsof1–51yearsduration.Survey research was conducted in Brazil, Germany, Japan, Spain,and the U.S. targeting 200 men aged 40–70 and their female partners in each country, with 1,009 couples in the final sample. Key demographic, health, physical intimacy, sexual behavior, sexual function, and sexual history variables were used to model relationship happiness and sexual satisfaction.Themedianageswere55formenand52for women; median relationship duration was 25years. Relationship satisfaction in men depended on health,physical intimacy, and sexual functioning, while in women only sexual functioning predicted relationship satisfaction. Models predicting sexual satisfaction included significant physical intimacy and sexual functioning for both genders and, for men, more frequent recent sexual activity and fewer lifetime partners. Longer relationship duration predicted greater relationship happiness and sexual satisfaction for men.However, women in relationships of 20 to 40 years were significantly less likely than men to report relationship happiness. Compared to men, women showed lower
sexual satisfaction early in the relationship and greater sexual satisfaction later. Within the long-term committed relationship context, there were significant gender differences in correlates of sexual andrelationshipsatisfaction,withsexualfunctioninga common predictor of both types of satisfaction and physical intimacy a more consistent and salient predictor for men.

Identifying and Explicating Variation among Friends with Benefits Relationships
Paul A. Mongeau, Kendra Knight, and Jade Williams, Jennifer Eden, Christina Shaw

This two-study report identifies and validates a typology containing seven types of ‘‘friends with benefits relationships’’ (FWBRs). Study 1 asked heterosexual students to define the term FWBR and to describe their experience with the relationship type. Qualitative analysis of these data identified seven types of FWBRs (true friends, network opportunism, just sex, three types of transition in [successful, failed, and unintentional], and transition out). Study 2 quantitatively differentiates these relationship types in the amount of nonsexual interaction, strength of the friendship at the first sexual interaction, and history of romantic relationships with the FWBR partner (before the FWBR, after it, or both). Results from both studies clearly suggest that FWBRs represent a diverse set of relationship formulations where both the benefits (i.e., repeated sexual contact) and the friends (i.e., relationship between part-ners) vary widely. In many cases, FWBRs represent a desire for, or an attempt at, shifting the relationship from friends to a romantic partnership. Other implications are discussed, as are limitations and directions for future research. The diverse nature of FWBRs provides challenges for researchers that likely require multiple methods and theoretical frames.

The Importance of Sexual Self-Disclosure to Sexual Satisfaction and Functioning in Committed Relationships
Uzma S. Rehman, PhD, Alessandra H. Rellini, PhD, and Erin Fallis MA

Introduction. Past research indicates that sexual self-disclosure, or the degree to which an individual is open with his or her partner about sexual preferences, is a key aspect of sexual satisfaction and that partner’s lack of knowledge about one’s sexual preferences is associated with persistent sexual dysfunction. Aims. To replicate and extend past research by examining (i) how one’s own levels of sexual self-disclosure are related to one’s own sexual health (after controlling for partner’s levels of sexual self-disclosure); (ii) how one’s partner’s levels of sexual self-disclosure are associated with one’s own sexual health (after controlling for one’s own levels of sexual self-disclosure); and (iii) whether gender moderates the associations between sexual self-disclosure and sexual health. Main Outcome Measures. Scores from the Golombok Rust Inventory of Sexual Satisfaction and the Sexual Communication Satisfaction Scale. Methods. A cross-sectional dyadic study using a convenience sample of 91 heterosexual couples in long-term committed relationships. Data were analyzed using the Actor–Partner Interdependence Model. Results. One’s own level of sexual self-disclosure is positively associated with one’s own sexual satisfaction, b=-0.24, t(172.85) =-3.50, P < 0.001. Furthermore, partner’s level of sexual self-disclosure is associated with men’s sexual satisfaction but not with women’s sexual satisfaction, b=-0.45, t(86.81) =-4.06, P < 0.001 and b= 0.02, t(87.00) = 0.20, ns, respectively. The association between own self-disclosure and sexual problems is stronger for women as compared with men, b=-0.72, t(87.00) =-6.31, P < 0.001 and b=-0.24, t(86.27) =-3.04, P < 0.01, respectively. Conclusions. Our results demonstrate that sexual self-disclosure is significantly associated with sexual satisfaction and functioning for both men and women, albeit in different ways. Our findings underscore the importance of sexual self-disclosure and highlight the importance of the interpersonal level of analysis in understanding human sexuality.

Lecture 8 – October 31
Relationship Communication

Let’s Get Serious: Communicating Commitment in Romantic Relationships
Joshua M. Ackerman & Vladas Griskevicius

Are men or women more likely to confess love first in romantic relationships? And how do men and women feel when their partners say “I love you”? An evolutionary–economics perspective contends that women and men incur different potential costs and gain different potential benefits from confessing love. Across 6 studies testing current and former romantic relationships, we found that although people think that women are the first to confess love and feel happier when they receive such confessions, it is actually men who confess love first and feel happier when receiving confessions. Consistent with predictions from our model, additional studies have shown that men’s and women’s reactions to love confessions differ in important ways depending on whether the couple has engaged in sexual activity. These studies have demonstrated that saying and hearing “I love you” has different meanings depending on who is doing the confessing and when the confession is being made. Beyond romantic relationships, an evolutionary– economics perspective suggests that displays of commitment in other types of relationships—and reactions to these displays—will be influenced by specific, functional biases.

The Premarital Communication Roots of Marital Distress and Divorce: The First Five Years of Marriage
Howard J. Markman, Galena K. Rhoades, Scott M. Stanley, and Erica P. Ragan, Sarah W. Whitton

Using data from 210 couples who provided data across the first 5 years of marriage, we examined how premarital communication quality was related to divorce and later distress. The results showed that premarital observed negative and positive communication nearly reached significance as predictors of divorce, while self-reported negative communication was significantly associated with divorce. In terms of marital adjustment, we found that both premarital observed and self-reported negative premarital communication (but not observed positive communication) were associated with lower adjustment during the first 5 years of marriage. The most important questions addressed in this study pertain to how positive and negative dimensions of communication change over time and how these changes are related to being distressed or nondistressed after 5 years of marriage. This is the first study, to our knowledge, to examine the changes in communication over time that are so central to theories of the development of marital distress and for research-based interventions. We found that all couples showed decreases in negative communication over time, but the nondistressed group declined significantly more than the distressed group in negative communication, suggesting they are handling negative emotions better. Implications for future research on the develop-ment of relationship distress and for enhancing research-based couples’ intervention pro-grams are provided.

By its very nature, relationship commitment is generated in the context of a relationship and becomes relational when it is communicated in some way to the other. This study investigated how expressions of commitment and commitment-related perceptions are interdependently connected among romantic partners. The authors derived and tested a dyadic cyclical model of the everyday expressions of commitment with a sample of 189 romantically involved couples. Results revealed that individual’s level of commitment are associated with her or his own expressions of commitment, those expressions of commitment are noticed by the partners, and the partner’s level of commitment is associated with those perceptions of the other’s expressions of commitment. The research sheds light on the complex ways intimate couples experience and express commitment in their everyday lives.

Lecture 9 – November 7
Conflict, Jealousy, Infidelity, and Aggression

Recovering from conflict in romantic relationships: A developmental perspective.
Salvatore, J.E., Kuo, S.I., Steele, R.D., Simpson, J.A., Collins, W.A.

This study adopted a developmental perspective on recovery from conflict in romantic relationships. Participants were 73 young adults (target participants), studied since birth, and their romantic partners. A novel observational coding scheme was used to evaluate each participant’s degree of conflict recovery, operationalized as the extent to which the participant disengaged from conflict during a 4-min “cool-down” task immediately following a 10-min conflict discussion. Conflict recovery was systematically associated with developmental and dyadic processes. Targets who were rated as securely attached more times in infancy recovered from conflict better, as did their romantic partners. Concurrently, having a romantic partner who displayed better recovery predicted more positive relationship emotions and greater relationship satisfaction. Prospectively, target participants’ early attachment security and their partners’ degree of conflict recovery interacted to predict relationship stability 2 years later, such that having a partner who recovered from conflict better buffered targets with insecure histories.

Disarming jealousy in couples relationships: A multidimensional approach.
Scheinkman, M., & Werneck, D.

Jealousy is a powerful emotional force in couples’ relationships. In just seconds it can turn love into rage and tenderness into acts of control, intimidation, and  even suicide or murder. Yet it has been surprisingly neglected in the couples  therapy field. In this paper we define jealousy broadly as a hub of contradictory  feelings, thoughts, beliefs, actions, and reactions, and consider how it can range  from a normative predicament to extreme obsessive manifestations. We ground  jealousy in couples’ basic relational tasks and utilize the construct of the  vulnerability cycle to describe processes of derailment. We offer guidelines on  how to contain the couple’s escalation, disarm their ineffective strategies and  power struggles, identify underlying vulnerabilities and yearnings, and  distinguish meanings that belong to the present from those that belong to the  past, or to other contexts. The goal is to facilitate relational and personal changes that can yield a better fit between the partners’ expectations.

Psychological distress: Precursor or consequence of dating infidelity?
Hall, J.H., & Fincham, F.D.

Everyday aggression takes many forms.
Richardson, D.S.

Lecture 10 – November 14
Breaking up and Divorce

Negative cognitions in emotional problems following romantic relationship break-ups.boelen-reijntjes-2009
Boelen, P.A., & Reijntjes, A.

Breaking up is hard to do: The impact of unmarried relationship dissolution on mental health and life satisfaction.rhoades-kamp-dush-atkins-stanley-markman-2011
Rhoades, G.K., Kamp Dush, C.M., Atkins, D.C., Stanley, S.M., Markman, H.J.

Implicit negative evaluations about ex-partner predicts break-up adjustment: The brighter side of dark cognitions.fagundes-2011
Fagundes, C.P.

Incremental change or initial differences? Testing two models of marital deterioration.lavner-bradbury-karney-2012
Lavner, J.A., Bradbury, T.N., & Karney, B.R.

Will I divorce or have a happy marriage?: Gender differences in comparative optimism and estimation of personal chances among U.S. college students.helweg-larsen-harding-klein-2011
Helweg-Larsen, M., Harding, H.G., & Klein, W.M.P.

Lecture 11 – November 21
Loss and Bereavement


Does relationship quality moderate the impact of marital bereavement on depressive symptoms?
Abakoumkin, G., Stroebe, W., & Stroebe, M.

Prospective predictors of positive emotions following spousal loss. ong-fuller-rowell-bonanno-2010
Ong, A.D., Fuller-Rowell, T.E., & Bonanno, G.A.

Mediating processes in bereavement: The role of rumination, threatening grief interpretations, and deliberate grief avoidance.van-der-houwen-stroebe-schut-stroebe-van-den-bout-2010
Van der Houwen, K., Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Stroebe, W.

Continuing bonds in adjustment to bereavement: Impact of abrupt versus gradual separation.
Stroebe, M.S., Abakoumkin, G., Stroebe, W., & Schut, H. stroebe-abakoumin-stroebe-schut-2012

Lecture 12 – November 28
Relationship Maintenance, Satisfaction, and Thriving


Development of self-esteem and relationship satisfaction in couples: Two longitudinal studies. erol-orth-2014
Erol, R.Y., & Orth, U.

Relationship-specific identification and spontaneous relationship maintenance processes.linardatos-lydon-2011
Linardatos, L., & Lydon, J.E.

To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. gordon-impett-kogan-oveis-keltner-2012
Gordon, A.M., Impett, E.A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D.

Ways of giving benefits in marriage: Norm use, relationship satisfaction, and attachment-related variability.clark-lemay-graham-pataki-finkel-2010
Clark, M.S., Lemay, E.P., Jr.

Lecture 13 – December 5
Social Support, Coping, and Health


Helping each other grow: Romantic partner support, self-improvement, and relationship quality. overallfletcher-simpson-2010
Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G.J.O., & Simpson, J.A.

The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction. randall-bodenmann-2009
Randall, A.K., & Bodenmann, G.

Negative aspects of close relationships as a predictor of increased body mass index and waist circumference: The Whitehall II study. kouvonen-et-al-2011
Kouvonen, A., Stafford, M., De Vogil, R., Shipley, M.J., Marmot, M.G., Cox, T., Vahtera, J., Vaananen, A., Heponiemi, T., Singh-Manoux, A., & Kivimaki, M.
Stadler, G., Snyder, K.A., Horn, A.B., Shrout, P.E., Bolger, N.P.

Close relationships and health in daily life: A review and empirical data on intimacy and somatic symptoms. stadler-snyder-horn-shrout-bolger-2012
Stadler, G., Snyder, K.A., Horn, A.B., Shrout, P.E., Bolger, N.P.

Bidirectional associations between sleep (quality and duration) and psychosocial functioning across the university years.tavernier-willoughby-2014
Tavernier, R., & Willoughby, T.

Lecture 14 – December 12
Positive Psychology

There Will Be Short Shorts

I recently read an article about a controversy at a Brazilian high school regarding a “no short shorts” policy. A 16-year old girl was being applauded for mobilizing her classmates to sign a petition to do away with a sexist policy requiring girls to dress in “non-provocative” clothing by prohibiting items such as short shorts, after all boys were not required to hide their legs. At face value, the demand seems fair enough. Why should girls be required to hide their legs only because boys might find them distracting. The rule is arbitrary at best and sexist at worst. Shouldn’t we strive for a society where men and women are treated equally? After all, in Europe women regularly bathe topless at public beaches and the behavior is seen as natural and healthy. European men seem to have achieved a maturity that other men lack in the face of nudity. Moreover, if we as a society yield to pressures by conservative forces to cover women up, we will soon witness a generalized maltreatment of all women similar to that seen in Muslim cultures. Shouldn’t we expect more from men? Shouldn’t men learn to control their sexual urges? Why should women pay the price for their immaturity? Where will it end? This line of reasoning fails to acknowledge certain fundamental truths about human nature, particularly human sexuality.

9524d35176304c8d6ade36192aec02adA reasonable compromise might be to require the same dress code of boys. If girls aren’t allowed to show their legs, neither should boys. This compromise seems to recognize the inherent sexual differences between men and women while achieving a common denominator of fairness. However, this line of reasoning also fails in that it is counterproductive to the very idea it intends to uphold: equality. The idea of a gender-less society is dangerous and will ultimately lead to the oppression of both sexes. We don’t need to imagine a world where gender is suppressed. We already live in one. Boys today are taught that it is wrong to acknowledge physical differences in strength between themselves and girls. Boys are bombarded with the idea that there is nothing girls can’t do better. I will submit that most boys today passively absorb this notion and incorporate it with a sense of inferiority. This is undoubtedly the pendulum of cruelty finally swinging back at men; however, it is celebrated as justice rather than recognized as petty vengeance. The result is the alienation of boys who ultimately will not disobey their own biology. The effects are already seen as teenage boys attempt to escape this repression by manifesting their masculinity by consuming pornography. Pornography today leaves nothing to the imagination. Pornography today cleverly caters to the most visceral and raw human appetites by bringing out the worst of both men and women. Through pornography, women (and men) are demeaned, objectified, and stripped of all human dignity. Today, it is impossible to pretend that pornography is art – an argument that many might have been appealed to at the height of Playboy magazine era. The dangers of pornography are already understood but still ignored by many. Rape today is an epidemic. Boys are indoctrinated with the idea that boys and girls are “equal” but the nuances of this parity are never properly communicated. As a result, boys unrealistically expect girls to share the same sexual cravings they do – a notion that is reinforced by pornography. Tragically, girls are also brainwashed with the same idea and end up objectifying themselves. This dynamic probably incurs long lasting emotional effects and self-image problems on both men and women.

I find it ironic that we pretend to “embrace” diversity but we silence voices that celebrate the natural differences between men and women. I have recently read more than one article on experiments with “gender-less” bathrooms or locker rooms around the country and the problems they create. We’ve come to believe that we’ve finally tamed nature and it’s time to ignore gender. No amount of technology will undo millions of years of evolution. For this reason, a topless woman at the beach will always be very different from a topless man at the beach. Why is it then that some cultures don’t seem to have a problem with nakedness? Are we really seeing the entire picture? I can tell you that pornography is no less of a problem in Europe than it is in any other part of the world. The fact that some men have been dulled to the sight of a naked woman speaks only to the societal norms that have developed and not necessarily to the actual health of men, women, and their relationships. Coincidentally or not, European divorce rates are not only higher than US divorce rates, their marriage rates are lower. Maybe the dangerously low European fertility rates could benefit from a little prudishness.

Should 14-year old girls be allowed to wear tiny skin tight shorts to school? I suppose. It’s a free world. Is it wise? Doubtful. I fail to see the virtue in exploiting the super-sexualization of girls (or women of any age). Female sexuality is now understood and promoted in strictly male terms. The entertainment industry feeds girls a contradictory version of “female empowerment” where women express power through a false image of sexual dominance (one that many men are all to eager to accept and delight in). It would be hard to find a man who would not prefer to see women wear less clothing. The exploration of the role that men and women play in this vicious cycle is often met with accusations of ‘victim blaming‘. This tactic has stalled the conversation and has further victimized women by portraying them as helpless. Assigning blame is a fruitless enterprise and expecting (or requiring) sartorial modesty from girls is not blaming the victim. Consider the social injustices that drive people to a life of crime. While we ought to hold people accountable for their actions, it would be a greater crime to ignore the circumstances of their lives and upbringing that may have contributed to their decisions. Men and women are different and thrive under different expectations and given different opportunities. Furthermore, I would argue that patronizing girls by reaffirming that they can ‘also’ do what men do does more harm by casting doubt where there may not be any to begin with. Is it not important to teach young girls that their greatest gift is their mind? Do we not make that task more difficult by promoting a more sexually permissive culture with the wrong role models?

We have arguably left an era of female repression and are entering a new era of male repression. It can only be called “repression” because roles of perceived dominance by one sex over the other are confusing and misunderstood. I envision an era of mutual cooperation. An era when men and women are honest with each other about their weaknesses and strengths and chose to compliment each other in a healthy way.

Bill Nye the Science Guy?

Bill Nye the Science Guy took a clear position today on the abortion debate and was cheered by the pro-choice movement. In a four minute video, he made his case for a woman’s right to abortion that was quickly celebrated with headlines such as Newsweek’s “Bill Nye Brings Down Hammer of Science on Abortion Opponents” or Huffington Post’s “Bill Nye Debunks Anti-Abortion Logic With Science”. The headlines imply that the pro-life logic is scientifically unsound and that the issue of abortion is resolved. The video starts out describing the scientific nature of life’s beginnings but quickly takes a decidedly unscientific and condescending tone toward those who oppose abortion. Below is the transcript of his video and a commentary.

“Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. Eggs get fertilized, and by that I mean sperm get accepted by ova a lot. But that’s not all you need. You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb.”

Bill Nye begins with a loaded statement about what a human is and is not. He stealthily equates “becoming human” with something more than just an embryo. He quickly lends credibility to his statement by iterating some of the necessary biological steps for a successful pregnancy that the average person might not be familiar with, because he is a “science guy”. These opening sentences are the only bit of “science” in Bill Nye’s entire video and enough to feed an entire debate on the issue of life and when it begins. Bill Nye falls short of stating when exactly he believes “a human” begins. Indeed there is much science to be discussed about when life begins arriving at a “scientific consensus” is not as easy as it may seem. Both sides make legitimate arguments about what we should consider to be a human life but Bill Nye does not make any pronounce himself on any of it. He continues with a socratic assumption with the intention of debunking it.

“But if you’re going to hold that as a standard, that is to say if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized it’s therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy who’s sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you?”

These questions are part of Bill Nye’s reductio ad absurdum argument which falsely assumes that opponents of abortion want – necessarily – to punish with lawsuits and imprisonment someone – anyone – when an abortion is committed. This unfairly paints a picture of abortion opponents as hateful people who are in the abortion debate simply to judge others and would find fault or guilt in a woman who had a miscarriage. Many pro-lifers (myself included) are genuinely seeking truth and have a very compassionate view of justice. I could not imagine condemning a woman to prison even if she knowingly and willfully aborted a child, much less someone who never had any idea that an egg was ever fertilized. But back to Bill Nye’s case. There are just as many or more questions to be asked of abortion advocates. If you’re going to hold that a fertilized egg has no rights, when did each of us acquire our rights? Was it when we became attached to the uterine wall inside of the womb? What about the hundreds of other steps required for a successful pregnancy? Are they not as necessary? What about a pregnant woman who smokes or takes drugs? Is she not failing her child? The bottom line is that we all – Bill Nye included – make judgment calls based on what we believe to be truth and if Bill Nye wants to shed light on the scientific truth about when life begins, he should do just that. Unfortunately Bill Nye forgoes any pursuit of truth and uses the rest of the video to insult and try and humiliate anyone who believes that purposely destroying an embryo is even morally troubling.

“It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding and you literally or apparently literally don’t know what you’re talking about. And so when it comes to women’s rights with respect to their reproduction, I think you should leave it to women. This is really — you cannot help but notice. I’m not the first guy to observe this: You have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance. Sorry you guys. I know it was written or your interpretation of a book written 5,000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby. That’s wrong and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature.”

It’s hard not to get offended at Bill Nye’s generalization that abortion opponents believe all sexual encounters lead to a pregnancy. Nye has abandoned all civility and let his deepest prejudices surface. So many abortion opponents are women, so many abortion opponents have no religious convictions, so many abortion opponents have principles with no roots in male European laws (whatever that means). This is a reflection of a deep lack of understanding of who he thinks his enemy is. Men also play a role in reproduction. Ignoring this scientific fact deprives fathers of their rights as well. Why don’t we leave decisions about reproduction to informed adults? Nye continues with the condescending tone of a teacher dealing with schoolchildren:

“I mean it’s hard not to get frustrated with this everybody. And I know nobody likes abortion, okay. But you can’t tell somebody what to do. I mean she has rights over this, especially if she doesn’t like the guy that got her pregnant. She doesn’t want anything to do with your genes; get over it, especially if she were raped and all this. So it’s very frustrating on the outside, on the other side.”

The fact is we all tell people what to do all the time, and with good reason. We have laws that protect the innocent and Bill Nye fails to really explain why we should not extend those rights to the unborn. He simply takes it as a settled premise that women have the right to destroy another life so long it is within her metabolic control. In this respect Bill Nye expresses a common attitude within the scientific community, one that separates life from its inherent dignity and treats an embryo as a parasite and sex as simple evolutionary activity similar in every respect to the division of an amoeba or the insemination of cattle. This cold attitude has become confused with a kind of scientific authority that has charmed abortion proponents. I would like to as Bill Nye why is it that “nobody likes abortion”? From a purely “scientific” perspective it should not even matter whether abortion is pleasant or not. Bill Nye left science almost completely out of the equation in this video and then further attempts to distract and dismiss with the conclusion of his video.

“We have so many more important things to be dealing with. We have so many more problems to squander resources on this argument based on bad science, on just lack of understanding.
It’s very frustrating. You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently. You wouldn’t know the process. You wouldn’t have that shot, the famous shot or shots where the sperm are bumping up against the egg. You wouldn’t have that without science. So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t is trouble. Let me do that again. Let me just pull back. At some point we have to respect the facts.

Abortion is not important to Bill Nye but it is to a lot of people. You simply cannot dismiss other people’s opinions as unimportant because they contradict your beliefs or you believe they are uninformed. You may be very wrong about how informed others are. Nye’s attempt to assign to abortion proponents dominion over all scientific discoveries related to embryology is almost childish. To claim people do not have a right to an opinion about this matter because they didn’t make the scientific discoveries is absurd. Moreover, there are plenty of pro-life scientists that are good scientists. The video clearly shows an retake of his statements and was left in the final edit of the video. Clearly even Bill Nye realized he went overboard. His correction is to say that we have to “respect the facts”. What facts is Bill Nye referring to? That there is scientific consensus as to when life begins? There isn’t even any consensus as to whether there is any consensus at all! Let us not forget that it is this same appeal to a “lack of scientific consensus” that gives climate change deniers freedom to pollute the environment. If anything, we should err on the side of life.

“Recommending or insisting on abstinence has been completely ineffective. Just being objective here. Closing abortion clinics. Closing, not giving women access to birth control has not been an effective way to lead to healthier societies. I mean I think we all know that. And I understand that you have deeply held beliefs and it really is ultimately out of respect for people, in this case your perception of unborn people. I understand that. But I really encourage you to look at the facts. And I know people are now critical of the expression fact-based but what’s wrong with that? So I just really encourage you to not tell women what to do and not pursue these laws that really are in nobody’s best interest. Just really be objective about this. We have other problems to solve everybody. Come on. Come on. Let’s work together.”

What exactly has “insisting on abstinence” been ineffective against? Unintended pregnancies? Why should that even matter if you are in favor of on-demand abortions? Besides, women have had access to birth control and abortion for several decades and I think it’s a mistake to think that we live in a healthy society. We live in a society that commits 1 million abortions a year, and as Bill Nye himself declared, “nobody likes abortion”. Nye’s final words are just plain ridiculous attempting to take a conciliatory tone of a tolerant referee that has just ruled the game in favor of science and against ignorance. This video was clearly made off-the-cuff and shows little forethought so I don’t want to hold Bill Nye to everything he said. Instead, I would like to see an in-depth Bill Nye The Science Guy episode on human reproduction and early development and see how many people will be convinced that human life isn’t truly magnificent. Even Bill Nye can’t ruin that one.

The Arrogance of Justice

A 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden became famous after hostages empathized with the robbers and turned on the police. The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was soon coined to describe the psychological phenomenon where hostages bond with their captors. Few will argue that hostages under this type of duress genuinely sympathize with their captors and would defend them if given the freedom to choose and the time to clearly consider the facts. During the robbery the hostages were manipulated victims, ignorant, and in need of intervention. You could say the Swedish police had an “obligation” to rescue them. Consider now the 18th century Jesuit missions in South America that purposely set out to prosthelytize native tribes who where surely living in plenary freedom and in harmony with nature. The Jesuits would claim that the natives were ignorant and in need of salvation – a similar argument to the case for rescuing the Swedish hostages. I suspect most of the time people will side against whomever they dislike the most – the Swedish police or the Jesuits – but less extreme and contrasting scenarios are quite common and siding with reason is harder than we might imagine. Was the Jesuit intervention in South America justified or was it an arrogant expression of presumed cultural superiority? More generally, is cross-cultural intervention more or less objectionable than cross-cultural abstention? I contend that cross-cultural intervention is not only justified but indeed morally necessary.
What grounds could possibly support a claim as bold as one that suggests that keeping to oneself is more objectionable than obtruding in cases where aid is not only unsought but rejected? At the heart of this question is the distinction between liberty-rights and claim-rights. A liberty-right can be thought of as permission to act without the interference of someone else while a claim-right suggests an outside duty toward the right-holder. Liberty-rights might be easier to define, exemplify, and defend – few might argue against your right to live as a hermit – but the same rights can often be affirmed as claim-rights – hermits may also need assurance that a safe place to “hermitize” exists. In the case of the Stockholm hostages, they were rescued by the exercise of their claim-right to freedom, personal security, or some other life related right that the Swedish government guaranteed. The Jesuits would probably argue that the natives were catechized through an exercise of their claim-right to enter the Kingdom of God. As absurd as that claim may sound to many of us, we contribute in a similar manner today through public schooling for the rearing of our children, a claim-right to education. To cite a more extreme example, how absurd would it be for a new mother to only respect a newborn’s liberty-right to her milk and not their claim-right? “If he wants my milk I won’t stop him from climbing on my lap and helping himself; if he doesn’t, well he can just lie there in his crib and starve.” The common denominator in all these scenarios is the ignorance or defenseless nature of the right-holders but we have established that there is an arguable claim-right to knowledge, truth, enlightenment, or nurture and consequently a duty to guarantee it by those who can.
The question now becomes “how do we know who is defenseless, enslaved, or ignorant and who is independent, free, and enlightened?” To take another real-life example, there are probably as many overweight people who claim they are “free to eat whatever they want and are happy accepting themselves and their bodies as they are” as there are formerly overweight people who assert that they “never knew they could feel so good and that they used to be slaves to their cravings.” Who should we believe? Eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant presents an approach to freedom that might help us answer this question. According to Kant, “to act freely is not to choose the best means to a given end; it is to choose the end itself, for its own sake” (Sandel, 109). A drug addict for example, is not exercising freedom when he or she takes drugs – the drug addict is a slave to the vice. This view of freedom is important since it will help us determine the ultimate good in any situation and dictate the most appropriate moral choices. Suppose the Swedish police officers decided to help the hostages only because they knew they would get a pay bonus if the rescue mission were successful. According to Kant, they would not be acting freely. Again suppose the Jesuits chose to spread their mission through South America strictly because they sought power and political influence. They would not be acting freely either. Only when we are free can we make the proper moral choices, insubordinate to any passion or inclination. Kant then intelligently applies our free and untethered understanding of what is good in itself to determine a general moral maxim that applies to everyone. That rule known as the “categorical imperative” is to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (Kant, 31). In other – poorer – words behave the way you would like everyone else to behave. The real life consequences of accepting this imperative may be difficult – unless you want others to lie, don’t lie, ever, under any circumstance. Supposing the Swedish police officers would want someone to rescue them under similar situations, they must attempt to rescue others if they are to act morally. In turn, if a Jesuit truly believes there actually is some type of Heaven or Kingdom of God and would want someone else to help him enter it, then he is morally obligated to do the same for others. This applies to Muslims, Buddhists, communists, and Satanists alike. Intervention then seems morally necessary for those in a position to intervene.
A common objection to the position that claim-rights exist and that others are morally obligated to uphold them is that across cultural lines and between different groups moral principles vary. This position is known as moral relativism and exists in several flavors. I will explore some of those views in no particular order of absurdity or plausibility. One type of moral relativism claims that each group, culture, or society dictates rules and that any particular action is right or wrong only within that group. For example, bullfighting has been practiced in Spain for centuries as an artistic expression of their culture and tradition. A moral relativist might claim that for a Spaniard, within Spain, it is acceptable to practice bullfighting but it might be unethical for a Spaniard to try to practice bullfighting outside Spain. A fundamental problem with this type of moral relativism “surround[s] the identification of a society” (Williams, 21). Spaniards have colonized much of the Americas and defining Spanish cultural borders has become difficult; furthermore, within Spain today there is a generational gap that expresses repudiation toward bullfighting. Societal lines are blurry and therefore too unreliable to define moral barriers. Another type of moral relativism – meta-ethical relativism – suggests that two people might both reason logically toward completely different conclusions and that although these two conclusions may be entirely at odds with each other they may both be correct. A comforting thought indeed if one is to advocate a class of unexamined diplomacy where very little is at stake but difficult to prove or even exemplify. A debate between two religions about what is the ultimate good might fall into that category. The more general point however is that beyond the value of a mere anthropological observation, moral relativism seems to presume a neutral ground so as not to make any judgment in favor of or against cultural values of any kind. Let us apply moral relativism in the following scenario:

  1.   Society A holds that it is morally appropriate to judge other societies.
  2.   Society B holds that it is NOT morally appropriate to judge other societies.
  3.   Moral relativist C holds that is NOT appropriate to judge other societies.
  4.   C effectively sides with B and therefore is not neutral.

There is an obvious contradiction within the tenets of moral relativism, namely lack of universality that renders it unenforceable. The Swedish police may have indeed been acting according to societal norms rather than a carefully reasoned ethical precept but that does not disqualify the validity of their actions. The same applies to the Jesuits. Ethical decisions may rarely be reduced to one defining decision. They are more often a morass of steps – or missteps – that invite cross-cultural conflict.
The implications that cross-cultural intervention is not only justified but indeed morally necessary are dangerous. The applied intervention itself however is answerable to the same logic and moral demands as those that prescribed the decision to intervene. In other words, it would probably be morally questionable for the Swedish police to turn around and kidnap relatives of the robbers and hold them hostages in order to negotiate the hostage’s release. It would also be morally questionable for the Jesuits to employ terror tactics in order to teach the natives about the Kingdom of God. The proposition that one should intervene is not a license to blindly enforce a point of view at any cost. Rather it is first and foremost a summons to reason. The moral conviction that leads to intervention must not be one made in haste or it risks failing the test of Kant’s categorical imperative or any other normative philosophical concept. In fact, moral relativism itself may serve as a useful tool in the examination of any moral conviction. After all it seems even moral relativist seek justice in their attempt to respect multiple points of view. Only after a thorough and repeated audit of the moral convictions that lead to some type of “cross-cultural aid”, should the type of intervention be considered. “Intervention” in its modern use is a loaded word and often invokes military imagery. Let us put that imagery aside and consider a novel approach to intervention. Intervention fails the practical test of advancing justice if it does not observe a cause of “increasing [our] ability to see the similarities between ourselves and people very unlike us” (Rorty, 129). There are generally sensible people on all sides of any debate and no matter the degree of conviction that one side may have; it is impossible, in practical terms, to effectively advance that conviction if a prudent effort to truly convince and not merely impose oneself on the other side is not made. Intervention then is reduced to peaceful sharing of ideas.

Sandel, Michael J. “What Matters Is the Motive / Immanuel Kant.” Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 103-39. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “Section II: Transition from Popular Moral Philosophy to Metaphysics of Morals.” Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Mary J. Gregor. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1998. 18-43. Print.

Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen. “Interlude: Relativism.” Morality: An Introduction to Ethics. New York: Cambridge UP, 1993. 20-24. Print.

Epistemology of Human Rights: Gewirth’s Argument

It is probably safe to say that in one way or another; most of us agree that each of us is entitled to some basic rights. Even worst of enemies acknowledge each other’s right to disagree! This awareness however begs the questions “why do we believe we possess rights” or better, “how do we know we possess rights?” The epistemology of human rights deals with the latter question and perhaps one of the best efforts to answer it can be attributed to American scholar Alan Gewirth (1912-2004). Gewirth claims that we can derive a conclusive defense of rights through logical deductions based on the nature of action. Action in this case refers quite simply to any purposeful human action: walking, speaking, dating, voting. He maintains that “implicit in action…are certain evaluative and deontic judgements…about goods and rights made by agents” (Gewirth, 12). In his paper “The Epistemology of Human Rights”, Gewirth skillfully outlines the logic behind what he coined the “Principle of Generic Consistency”, a principle not dissimilar to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and which asserts that each of us should “[a]ct in accord with the generic rights of your recipients as well as yourself” (Gewirth, 17). Ultimately, Gewirth’s logic requires not just a proof by contradiction – which in itself may be troubling – but also the use of polysemous terminology. I humbly submit that Gewirth’s logic is incomplete if not flawed.

Let us examine Gewirth’s logic as he presents it. Gewirth numbers his postulates for convenience and begins with (1) “I do X for end or purpose E” (Gewirth, 14) and follows with (2) “E is good” (Gewirth, 15). These two statements simply assert that actions that are purposeful are intended to achieve a good. Good in this context refers to a restricted understanding of good in that it speaks only of the agent’s desired outcome. It follows that (3) “My freedom and well-being are a necessary good” (Gewirth, 15) if I am to achieve my purpose E. These deductions are valid and require little explanation. If I am to execute any action, I need to have the freedom to do it, otherwise I can’t do it! Therefore, (4) “I must have freedom and well-being” (Gewirth, 15). So far the logic makes sense: I cannot act if I do not have the freedom and well-being to do so. I must have it. The big jump that Gewirth takes is from postulate four to five, “I have rights to freedom and well-being” (Gewirth, 15). The first thought that may come to anyone’s mind is that of an adolescent demanding his right to go out on Saturday night simply because he must go out. Gewirth addresses the potential mistrust of his statement by analyzing the result of its denial. He claims that if you reject postulate four you should observe the following path (6) “[a]ll other persons ought at least to refrain from removing or interfering with my freedom and well-being” (Gewirth, 15). Gewirth anticipates the denial of postulate six and follows with requisite (7) “[i]t is not the case that all other persons ought to at least refrain from removing or interfering with my freedom and well-being” (Gewirth, 15). This statement will confuse a reader who is not in a philosophical mindset. The word to observe is “ought”, a uniquely English word that qualifies an agent’s moral action. Postulate seven may be reworded as “not everyone needs to refrain from…” or “there are situations when others might have the right to interfere with…”. The next postulate is a subtle step from the previous one, “[o]ther persons may…remove or interfere with my freedom and well-being” (Gewirth, 16).  Next, Gewirth proposes a contradictory postulate (9) “I may not…have freedom and well-being” (Gewirth, 16). Because nine contradicts four, we must reject nine and it follows that (10) “I have rights to freedom and well-being because I am a prospective purposive agent” (Gewirth, 16).

A way of reading Gewirth’s claims is that we have rights to freedom and well-being because we need them in order to act and denying that we have these rights is contradictory. To clarify the reasoning, let us examine an imaginary dialogue between two fictitious characters. For fun, let us call one of them Gewirth and the other Glaucon.

GEWIRTH.      We act in order to achieve an objective. Do you agree?
GLAUCON.      Sure, that makes sense.
GEWIRTH.      We can deem these objectives to be “good”.
GLAUCON.      Well, that may be a stretch. What do you mean by “good”?
GEWIRTH.      I don’t mean a “moral good” and I don’t mean that it is good for everyone. What I mean is that assuming the action was not accidental we can presume that some value judgment was made before committing that action and it is what he or she “wanted” and it is good in that sense.
GLAUCON.      Fine.
GEWIRTH.       Good. Now, in order for anyone to achieve that good, or at the very least, to attempt to execute any action, that person must have the freedom and well-being to do so.
GLAUCON.       Yes. In order to achieve the objective, they must have freedom and well being. Sounds pretty straightforward but can you give me an example?
GEWIRTH.       Sure. Think of an African man living in early nineteenth century Brazil. If one fine day he decides pack up his things and move to Canada, he will need more than a ticket. He will need the freedom and the well being to leave and board the next boat out of Brazil. He has that right.
GLAUCON.       Not so fast. Chances are he is a slave and someone paid good money for him. I think his master would not like that very much.
GEWIRTH.       Well, his master may not like it at all but he should at the very least not interfere with the man’s freedom and well-being.
GLAUCON.       There’s no chance of that. He belongs to his master.
GEWIRTH.       So you are saying that his master may interfere with his right to leave?
GLAUCON.       Yes. The slave is his property and therefore the slave may not leave.
GEWRITH.      But you said earlier, and I quote, “Yes. In order to achieve the objective they must have the freedom and well being.” You have contradicted yourself.

The dialogue may seem silly to the modern reader but it is an attempt to place Gewirth’s logical deductions in an understandable context.  Gewirth continues his logic to demonstrate five more steps before reaching his “Principle of Generic Consistency” but let us cut to the chase and explore the problems of proof by contradiction and polysemous terminology.

Gewirth is careful to employ contradictory opposition rather than contrary opposition in his argument but it may be the case that unknown scenarios render his argument incorrect. Contradictory opposition is an “absolute opposition between an affirmation and a negation, an opposition which has no intermediate or middle” (Spangler, 40). An example of a contradictory opposition is the relationship between the statements “my rights are limitless” and “my rights are not limitless”. A contrary opposition is one between two extremes. An example of a contrary opposition is the relation between the statements “my rights are limitless” and “my rights are limited”. Through contradictory opposition, Gewirth constructs a logically valid defense but by pursuing his proof via negativa it is not fully convincing. In the case of the statement “my rights are not limitless”, there is room for scenarios such as “my rights are limited” or even “my rights do not exist”. Take the example of slavery in the imaginary dialog. Might there be situations where slavery is admissible? It may be a travesty to suggest that in today’s day and age but consider the controversy surrounding the question of torture. What if the entire future of mankind depended on defusing a time bomb whose location one stubborn terrorist refuses to reveal? By transferring the onus to a negation, we are left wondering whether there may be exemptions or alternative scenarios.

Another objection to Gewirth’s argument is one that centers on the meaning of the word “must”. Gewirth states that he “must have freedom” (Gewirth, 15) because freedoms are “necessary goods” (Gewirth, 15). Harvard Professor Mathias Risse observes that there is an ambiguity in the use of the word “must” which disqualifies the argument. According to Risse, the word “must” may convey one of two meanings: “I cannot help but value” (Risse) or “I can make demands” (Risse). Gewirth may have used the double meaning of the term to forward his case. To see how the use of this term creates a semantic difficulty, let us examine translations of Gewirth into other languages. A paraphrase of Gewirth’s fourth postulate was translated into French as “l’agent doit envisager ses conditions génériques comme des biens necessaries” (Beyleveld). “Must” was translated as doit – the third person present tense of the verb devoir. Interestingly, the English word “duty” is derived from French and possesses the same etymological roots as devoir. Gewirth clearly takes advantage of the relation between “duty” and “right” to suggest the moral requirement of freedom and well-being. The word “must”, however is a convenient segue between “ought to” or “should” and the more necessitative “are required to”.

As a defense of human rights, Gewirth’s “Principle of Generic Consistency” is a strong moral device and valid for anyone willing to make a small leap of faith. As a definitive proof of the existence of human rights however, the argument contains two hairline cracks that render it unusable. Anyone following Gewirth and the Kantian spirit might pursue adding a few steps between postulates four and five and introducing more precise language. The proof by contradiction however, is the cornerstone of this approach and – in my opinion – not as compelling as direct proofs.

Gewirth, Alan. “The Epistemology of Human Rights.” 1985. Human Rights. Ed. Ellen Frankel. Paul, Jeffrey Pall, and Fred D. Miller Jr. Oxford Engl: Basil Blackwell for the Social Philosophy and Policy Center Bowling Green State University, 1984. 1-24. Pdf.

Spangler, Mary Michael., and Pierre Conway. Logic: An Aristotelian Approach. Lanham, MD: University of America, 1986. Print.

Risse, Mathias. “Objecting Kant & Gewirth’s Atttempted Derivation of Rights.” Human Rights: A Philosophical Introduction, Lecture 12. Massachusetts, Cambridge. 5 Mar. 2012. Lecture.

Beyleveld, Deryck, and Roger Bronsword. “Les Implications De La Théorie Du Droit Naturel En Sociologie Du Droit.” Les Implications De La Théorie Du Droit Naturel En Sociologie Du Droit. Trans. Francois Michaut. Réseau Européen Droit & Société, 1989. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <>.

Perry’s Argument

In order to discuss human rights in any meaningful way it is vital that the very premise that humans are entitled to such rights be defensible in a rational and universal manner.  One defense of this universality of human rights is the claim that human life is “sacred”, that we are all members of the human family in a way that transcends religion or any personal and subjective creed.  This “sacredness” bestows humans with an “inherent dignity” and guarantees them basic rights.  Indeed this very language is used in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself.  The use of this language did not go unnoticed to American scholar Michael J. Perry.  Perry claims that the idea that every human being is ‘sacred’ and therefore entitled to basic rights is – to use his own words – ineliminably religious and cannot be successfully defended through strictly secular arguments.  Perry’s argument is not so much that human rights are God-given but that the defense of human rights by means of the argument that they are sacred – in a nonreligious way – is flawed.  Perry, in his book “Legal Rights – Historical and Philosophical Perspectives,” goes about demonstrating his claim mainly through an ontological approach to the definition of terms such sacred, inherent dignity, religious, and non-religious.

Michael J. Perry

A conversation about human rights, religion, and reason will often end up in a debate about the “meaning of life.”  It is an inescapable existential confrontation that many of us encounter regardless of our declared stance on religion.  Questions surrounding the meaning of life may be as basic as “where do we come from”, or “why are we here”, or “is this life all that there is?”  The inevitable crossroads of this search are two simple possible answers: a religious path and a non-religious one.  The religious path encapsulates a “trust that the world is finally meaningful, meaningful in a way hospitable to our deepest yearnings” (Sarat, 212).  Regardless of which religion, it is a belief in meaning.  This is not a redefinition of the term nor a distortion of its meaning.  The very word “religion” derives from the Latin verb religare, which means to bind together again that which was once bound but has since been torn or broken” (Sarat, 212).  Whether this reconnection is with “God” or with an impersonal cosmological origin, the result is the possibility of making sense of life.  Suddenly, consolation to suffering is possible.  Reconciliation becomes possible.  A sense of happiness, itself, is possible.  Lastly, morality becomes possible, “[i]ndeed, in one or another version the [moral] conviction is embedded in more than one religious cosmology” (Sarat, 215).  Now that we have described and examined “religion” and the religious approach, let us examine the non-religious approach.

If religion is a connection with meaning, would it not follow that non-religion is the absence of such a connection? The fundamentals of the non-religious approach may be best summarized by its – perhaps accidental – proponents: Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Clarence Darrow, and Jürgen Habermas.  Perry, addressing the existence of morality in a Godless universe, quotes German philosopher and nihilist Nietzsche in saying “Naivete: as if morality could survive when the God who sanctions it is missing” (Sarat, 230).  In another passage, Perry quotes Glenn Tinder:
Nietzsche shows that we cannot … give up the Christian God – and the transcendence given other names in other faiths – and go on as before.  We must give up Christian morality too.  (Sarat, 229)
Nietzsche is not alone in this vision.  American attorney and scholar Clarence Darrow, who famously debated Christian author and thinker G.K Chesterton on the topic of religion argued, as an atheist, the nothingness of life.  Again, Perry quotes another author who describes Darrow’s meaning – or lack of meaning – in life as a “ship on the sea, tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship headed for no port and no harbor, with no rudder, no compass, no pilot; simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves” (Sarat, 231).  Indeed, if this is how atheists themselves describe life, then there seems to be a consensus about what the secular vision professes: a world with no meaning, no purpose, and no objective morality.
Now that religious and non-religious have been properly defined, it is time to address the question of “sacredness” and “inherent dignity.”  If we say that humans have inherent dignity, we are saying that they are born with it, that they did not acquire it by their own merit, and that they cannot be stripped of it.  We say that human beings possess this “intrinsically”.  Perry further argues then that a human being’s intrinsic value assumes that humans are the object of value and therefore some “one” or some “entity” values them in non-ambivalent way.  In Perry’s own words, “[t]o say that something has intrinsic value is to say, not that something has value even if it has no value for anyone … but that something has value for someone (or something) not merely as a means to an end but as an end in itself” (Sarat, 235).  The final part of his quote is important because it distinguishes between “intrinsic” and “instrumental” value and this distinction is central to Perry’s position.  The argument that the intrinsic value of man is sufficient to consider him “sacred” or possessing “inherent dignity” is flawed in Perry’s view.  Consider a world with only a single person.  Could this person possess intrinsic value and therefore be considered sacred and bearer of “inherent dignity” if he were alone in the world?  To whom would he be valuable?  To himself?  This would be a “subjective” evaluation and not an “objective” evaluation.  Semantically it is impossible.  In Perry’s view, the missing link is “God” and religion.  Only through religion would it be possible to reconcile this definition.  Furthermore, only as “beloved child[ren] of God” (Sarat, 235) can we make any sense of the call to “act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” and the claim that we are “all members of the human family” that we read in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In a sense, however, this entire question about “objectivity” in the terms used seems to have taken a somewhat circular turn. After all, these definitions might resonate with anyone who remembers Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God. This eleventh century philosopher claimed – in a nutshell – that because we can conceive the concept of God, He must exist. In choosing to define “intrinsic value” as something that must be necessarily the “target” of someone else’s or something else’s value, Perry creates his own need for a “God” and therefore religion.  Many of us would simply define “intrinsic value” as something that is ascribed even if no one attributes it.  If we do not all agree on this definition, then we arrive at a stalemate in the debate.  Moreover, could we not say that even Nietzsche’s attempt to explain the world is a search for meaning and therefore a religion in itself? Arguably, by Perry’s definition, it could since in this case “no meaning” is the ultimate meaning. Finally, the question posed earlier – “would it not follow that non-religion is the absence of such a connection” – contains a logical fallacy: the absence of something does not necessarily prove the existence of something else.
Now, none of this “God talk”, as Perry calls it, precludes an attempt at an intelligent and credible non-religious definition of sacred.  One such attempt by American scholar Ronald Dworkin is exemplified in Perry’s text.  Dworkin claims that “every human being is sacred is not, for me, a religious tenet; [that] it is a secular but deep philosophical belief” (Sarat, 232).  How does Dworkin define “sacred”? Perry quotes Dworkin directly in saying that a singly human life “commands respect and protection” not because the “process that produces[s] new lives from old ones” is awe-inspiring and evokes “our wonder” (Sarat, 237).   Now certainly most of us probably agree with the statement that life is indeed awe-inspiring, but this statement is inescapably subjective and insufficient to be considered a universal tenet.  After all, slavery – in it’s countless historical examples – is an ultimate example of how this tenet fails.  In the end, what is awe-inspiring to one person may not be awe-inspiring to another.

Sarat, Austin, and Thomas R.  Kearns.  “Is the Idea of Human Rights Ineliminably Religious.” 1996.  Legal Rights: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 1997.  204-52.  Print.

Timeline of Human Rights Personalities

FAB LAB A Fabricated Revolution?

According to Neil Gershenfeld, ‘Fab Labs’ are to Personal Fabricators what Mainframes are to Personal Computers. If you’ve never heard of Neil Gershenfeld or Fab Labs you are not alone. The Professor and his concept are only famous within a specific circle of interest. That circle widened a little bit to include me a few months ago when Neil Gershenfeld, who is the director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, came to proselytize a small group of students to his vision of the future. You may however have heard of personal fabricators, even if only in Star Trek. These PFs, as I will refer to them, would be compact machines capable of producing anything, including other machines. Just as Mainframes were “expensive machines with limited markets, used by skilled operators working in specialized rooms to perform repetitive industrial tasks” so are fabricators in their current format (Gershenfeld 3). It follows then that these will evolve into devices with analogous accessibility as personal computers today. Is this probable and even possible? The benefits of pursuing the popularization of PFs are plentiful but I would argue that they are diametrically different to Neil’s master plan.
To understand how Fab Labs came about, it is worthwhile to examine the evangelizing spiel Gershenfeld himself preaches on a frequent basis. A quick search on the Internet for Neil Gershenfeld will return many video records of Neil delivering his vision, ipsis verbis, to many different groups in many different settings, often repeating the same witty drolleries with surprising enthusiasm. The idea for a laboratory where anyone could walk in only with an idea and walk out with a functional solution in their hands has its roots, in this case, in Neil’s early frustration of being too smart for ‘shop class’. Working with your hands has been traditionally relegated to the blue collar. This separation undoubtedly stifles invention and creativity. Neil eventually righted this wrong when he became a professor at MIT with sufficient respect and authority to create a class appropriately called “How To Make (almost) Anything”. The purpose of the class was to introduce students to machines that make things, i.e. laser and plasma cutters, milling machines, and injection molders. The results of the first semester were products intended to meet the wants of their creators, exclusively. This experience lead to thought that ordinary people who did not have access to the multi-million dollar machine shops at MIT, might produce some truly revolutionary creations if they too had access to these machines. And so Fab Lab was born, a small scale workshop with tools usually associated with mass production available to ordinary people for fabrication of proto-personal devices. This description is more of a deduction than an official definition of the project. At a question and answer session with Neil a student asked what type of guidance and instruction are fab lab ‘users’ receive. Neil’s response was an immediate ‘the users themselves’, frustrating anyone trying to get a clear picture of the day-to-day operation of a fab lab. This answer exemplifies the fanatical zeal Gershenfeld has for the success of Fab Lab as a tool for ‘personal discovery’ and his efforts to distance his project from the notion of a machine shop. It is obvious someone is providing guidance. It would be illegal to allow children, for example, to operate dangerous machinery without any kind of instruction. Neil was correct in that Fab Lab is a valuable channel for personal realization. The results of Fab Labs as a creative instrument are indeed remarkable and emblematic of it’s efforts to enable ordinary people to turn their ideas into tangible things.
Fab Labs have been set up in several locations around the world and have produced amazing inventions. There are currently Fab Labs in Norway, Costa Rica, India, Ghana, South Africa, and Boston. Each of these labs operate using slightly different rules and approaches. To better understand Fab Labs, let us look at some of the results from these different locations.
Lyngen Alps, Norway
An interesting project that came out of this Lab where a herder by the name of Haakon Karlsen developed, with the help of a team, a short-range radio coupled with a GPS receiver that could be used by sheep to track their position. The obvious limitation was precisely the ‘short-range’ that defeated the purpose of distance monitoring of the animals. The solution was a network of repeaters fabricated with inexpensive, off-the-shelf radios to relay the signal. The placement of these transceivers helped negotiate the twists and turns of the Lyngen Alps and organically extended a network that serviced multiple users.

An important accomplishment was achieved in a Fab Lab in India that reflects the breadth of possibilities Fab Labs offer. A common practice in India among unscrupulous dairy farmers is to dilute milk with water, or worse, bad milk to increase volume. A sensor was developed using a microprocessor that measures a charge rate of milk when a voltage is applied to electrodes placed in a sample of milk. Essentially a device that measures the quality of milk was developed and perfected to help distributors and ultimately consumers.
Boston, USA
The “South End Technology Center” houses the only US based Fab Lab and arguably most clearly exemplifies the social mission that Fab Labs have served. The format at this Fab Lab is that of a class proper where students learn to operate the machines. Students have produced items ranging from a security system that takes a picture of any approaching person to custom game-console controllers. One significant accomplishment has been the transformation of recycled materials into sellable goods that empower inner-city students with an earning potential.
In Ghana, a Fab Lab was able to inexpensively and effectively convert sunlight into usable energy. A contraption was fabricated that creates steam by boiling water using a parabolic reflector. This steam then was used to turn a turbine. One of the things that make this project unique is the turbine. Because the RPM attainable with the steam generated is fairly low, a Tesla turbine was used to maximize efficiency. Tesla turbines are an old design, rarely used today, where closely and precisely spaced discs very economically ‘capture’ the energy generated by the steam.
South Africa
In Soshanguve, South Africa users have assembled batteries from scrap zinc, carbon manganese dioxide and various plastics. In another application a user made a self-directing vacuum cleaner. With heavy governmental funding, the Fab Labs in South Africa have fulfilled an important role in spreading technology to a whole generation by creating centers that put up the Labs.

These centers, and any new Fab Lab, will necessarily obey certain ‘inventory’ principles and standards. All Fab Labs contain basic equipment that perform three basic tasks: subtraction, addition, and formation. Interestingly, the Internet is speckled with web sites and user groups supporting and promoting the creation of fabbers. According to, “a fabber (short for ‘digital fabricator’) is a ‘factory in a box’ that makes things automatically from digital data”. Furthermore, “fabbers generate three-dimensional, solid objects you can hold in your hands, submit to testing, or assemble into working mechanisms.” The emergence of these fabbers is a testament to Gershenfelds prediction that these machines will shrink and become more accessible. The tools used to perform the three basic tasks that Fabbers and Fab Labs perform will evolve and perhaps fuse into hybrid variations but the functions will remain. Today, subtraction is performed by computer controlled cutting tools like laser, plasma, and water jet cutters as well as milling machines. The basic idea of subtractive processes is to remove everything that is not the desired ‘thing’ from a block of material. Additive processes today use tools such as vacuum formers and injection molders. There are currently commercially available machines that used additive and subtractive technologies and are marketed as ‘fabbers’ intended to meet the rapid prototyping needs. One example is a machine sold by a company called Soligen that essentially prints a three-dimensional object using a technique called ‘drop on powder deposition’. Like this machine, there are dozens that were designed specifically as fabbers and not to service any large-scale production need. The third process is the formative process. Just like swordsmith will fold and hammer away at a piece of hot steel to achieve a desired shape, formative tools neither add nor subtract material. Tools of this type would be presses of various types.
All the evidence so far seems to indicate that PFs are on their way to becoming a reality. There is a demand for personal fabrication and the cost of producing machines that fabricate is dropping. Both these forces, the supply and demand, however, have barriers that may steer the future of PFs in a direction and at a rate that perhaps are not expected. Professor Gershenfeld makes a specific reference to the killer apps as the success cornerstones of the personal computer and that a similar catalyst will define the survival and success of PFs. PCs had killer apps with names like Visicalc and WordStar, jobs that they performed that most everybody already did, and more importantly, a viable economic distribution channel and reward that made them commercial successes. This is perhaps where Gershenfeld’s analogy is not perfect. According to Gershenfeld, the killer app of PFs is fulfilling individual desires. There isn’t and will unlikely ever exist, a machine that can fulfill any individual desire. We don’t think much about this, but PCs evolved into something we sit in front of. People used to stand in front of mainframes. The current PC, with a mouse, graphical user interface and LCD inherited its format from an evolutionary process that included killer apps as defining influences. Much the same way, PFs will become machines that we have no business even imagining. Any prediction will most probably be laughable in a few years.

In a few years the Fabbers and Fab Labs will most certainly look a little different. They will still be recognizable in the sense that the there will be automated process fabricating things. Returning to the mainframe analogy, one aspect that contributes favorably to the analogy is the ability to distribute master plans between users. Someone can easily ‘package’ his idea into a digital document that can be shared with other users that have access to PFs. The ability to distribute these documents is what will carve the evolutionary path of PFs. Fabricators will need to operate on a common denominator that will limit their ability to fulfill any desire. They will indeed take much the same path as the PC did in that some type of ‘open source’ projects will surface, consolidating solutions for groups of people. Even the strict separation of hardware and software may not have been foreseen in the early days of mainframes. In the same way, PFs may suffer further sub classifications that we cannot conceive of today. It is helpful to remember also that mainframes still exist and are profitable in a flourish market even today.
Another element that disrupts the mainframe analogy is materials. The materials that are used by Fab Labs and Fabbers are as diverse as the machines themselves. In order to popularize PFs, new elements will need to be created, materials that are easier to manipulate and distribute. Materials may be considered the software of PFs and the emergence of new materials will dictate the direction PFs will take. The discovery of these materials will also define the time it will take to progress from what Fab Labs look like today to what PFs will look like whenever they come to fruition. Comparatively, PCs evolved very quickly. After all, the steps between thinking and doing are quicker and fewer when it comes to programming than it would ever be with personal fabrication. Methodologies and conventions helped PCs, software, and consequently killer apps take shape in an organized and modular way. Object oriented programming for example made it very easy applications to take a distributed development. It is difficult to imagine what the PF equivalent would be since materials and concepts can be so diverse.
Besides materials and other limitations, PFs will face challenges PCs never had. One of these challenges is more of a regulatory nature. In his book FAB, Gershenfeld describes a personal transportation project created by an MIT student. Using laser cutters and polycarbonate plastic, Saul Griffith created a bicycle that assembles with the addition of a few off the shelf parts, like wheels and tires. Conceivably, a PF will be able to fabricate the entire bicycle. Saul can email his bicycle to any friend and they can make a bicycle too. The potential problems with this and any similar project on a larger scale are that of quality and safety. The equivalent problem with the PC counter part is that of application bugs. They are common and many times get fixed but they are not life threatening. A miscalculated bolt can send a user veering off at high speeds on a poorly designed or constructed personal transportation device that came out of an out of tune PF.
Fab Labs are however, and important predecessor to PFs but perhaps more importantly, they currently serve as an equalizing element in the distribution of knowledge. The knowledge is not only concerned with the technologies available at the facilitaties. Learning how to operate machinery is the least of the tasks Fab Labs around the world accomplish. Fab Labs inspire new ideas and solutions. Most areas where Fab Labs were established were in dire need of resources of an intellectual nature, that is, the ability to create solutions and develop more opportunities. Because these labs for the most part rely on state funding or significant private investments, they are usually partnered into larger facilities that provide further community services. In many cases, the real objective is to help people help themselves from an early age. So many of the stories described in the book Fab and in articles that circulate on the Internet are about pre-teens who have tackled and mastered problems that would present a serious challenge to even a highly educated professional or academic. In most cases, it seems these children have understood just enough about each of the necessary element that will make a machine work. But Fab Labs is not about children; it is about making things, things that people (individuals) want. It is also about laying the tracks for the development of the technologies that will make PFs a reality.

In many respects, much of what Fab Lab represents is an effort to bridge a gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. This divide leads us to the final aspect of the analogy, one not explicitly made by Gershenfeld but relevant nevertheless. Much talk was made in the 1990’s about the digital divide and the implications of such an even distribution of resources. The coming digital divide is one of a material nature, where some will have access to personal fabrication while others will not. Fab Labs is preemptively addressing this gap by targeting areas where the need is greater. This almost seems unfair as access to the tools and resources available at Fab Labs is beyond the reach of most people living in first world countries, case and point is the overwhelming response Gershenfeld’s “How To Make (almost) Anything” had. This response is/was symptomatic of the sterile upbringing that ‘haves’ receive vis-à-vis the do-it-yourself culture that surrounds them.
However imperfect the analogy between the advancement of personal computation and the advancement of personal fabrication is, the underlying impact that Fab Labs is having on the future of PFs is undeniable. In summary, Fab Labs are an important predecessor to PFs. PFs may turn out to be almost unrecognizable to a time traveler leaving the present day to visit the far future. The basic principles of subtraction and addition will nevertheless define them and owe their nature to today’s pioneers at the many Fab Labs around the world. Gershenfeld conspicuously left out dates from his book on Fab Labs. Newer editions will certainly be out, transforming it into more of a blog than an ‘old testament’ of personal fabrication. Finally,it is important to recognize Fab Labs as a social equalizer in education and opportunity. The innovations, discoveries, inventions, gadgets, and personal fulfillment that they enable are the legacy that will endure.

Gershenfeld, N. (2005). Fab: the coming revolution on your desktop – from personal computers to personal fabrication. New York: Basic Books
Mikhak, B., Lyon, C., Gorton, T., Gershenfeld, N., McEnnis, C., Taylor, J.. Fab Lab: An Alternate Model Of Ict For Development. Retrieved December 29, 2006, from,
What is a Fabber? An Introduction to the 21st Century. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from,
Hanes, S.. (2006, September 27). ‘Fab labs’ deliver high-tech tools. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from,
Associated Press. (2005, November 6). Imagine, Make It Real in Fab Lab. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from,,1282,69495,00.html
Bellis, M.. WordStar – The First Word Processor. January 5, 2007, from,