Alumni Speaker Series: Benjamin Karney '76-'80
This past March Dr. Benjamin Karney ’76-’80 returned to
campus to speak with our Human Development students. Ben is a Professor
of Social Psychology at UCLA and an adjunct behavioral scientist at the
RAND Corporation. His speciality is interpersonal relationships. Ben
explained to our students that for the past 25 years he’s been studying
the science of love.
My job is to study, think about, and write about how people fall in love, and how people
stay in love.
Ben described that all relationships (romantic or otherwise) rely on interdependence, and that the nature of the relationship depends on both the length of the interdependence and the diversity of the interactions experienced.
You have a relationship of interdependence with your dentist! But there’s not a lot of diversity of interactions with him or her. You sit in the chair and spit, and the dentist pokes around in there, and maybe adjusts your braces.
Ben enlightened the students with a scientific approach to love. He covered concepts such as the Reward Theory of Attraction:
We’re attracted to people that we expect are able to provide us with rewards, like compliments, being friendly, telling us funny jokes, etc.
Ben also expanded our students’ vocabulary of love, explaining that limerence is the feeling of obsession that you get when you are romantically attracted to someone. They learned that there is indeed a scientific name for that sensation of butterflies in your stomach!
Ben went on to describe in-depth scientific research studies that have expanded our knowledge of how we relate to one another. Our students were interested to find out that interpersonal relationships (like friendship and love) are studied and researched like any other form of science.
It is sometimes hard to communicate with people who like you what it is that you really want from them. That’s a worthwhile thing to keep in mind. Those are challenging situations that are probably worth talking more about.
It was easy for the students to see how passionate Ben is about his area of study, and how the findings of his and his colleagues have wider implications in society:
Being a Professor is a great job because you get to pick a topic that you care about, and then you can spend the rest of your life studying that topic- which is kind of awesome. Every poem, every pop song, and every movie is about what I study: which is us.
Dr. Benjamin Karney Ph.D. is Professor of Social Psychology at UCLA, and an adjunct behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. Ben is an expert on interpersonal relationships, especially marriage, and has done extensive research on how relationship processes and interactions are constrained or enhanced by the contexts in which they take place. Currently this includes research on marriages in the military, funded by the Department of Defense, and marriages in low-income populations, funded by the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Before returning to Los Angeles, he served as a tenured member of the faculty of the psychology department at the University of Florida, where his research examined change and stability in early marriage, focusing on the processes through which initially satisfying marriages either remain satisfying or deteriorate over time. He has been the director and principle investigator of the Florida Project on Newlywed Marriage and Adult Development (FPNMAD), a series of longitudinal studies of the first years of marriage, and in 2003, he conducted the baseline survey of marriage and families for the state of Florida as part of their initiative to strengthen families. He is also an expert consultant for the Strengthening Healthy Marriage project, an 8-year national experimental study of marital interventions for low-income populations, sponsored by the Administration on Children and Families. He has twice been the recipient of the National Council on Family Relation’s Reuben Hill Research and Theory Award for outstanding contributions to family science. Ben has co-authored several books in his area of expertise, including his latest: "Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together," currently available on Amazon.com. You can also check out some of his lectures and videos about couples talking about their health on his YouTube channel.