Study: Are Platonic Heterosexual Relationships Really That Platonic?
A recent study reflects that men view their female friends differently than women view their male friends – but by a pretty insignificant margin.
A recent study in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science reveals that heterosexual men and women may view opposite-sex friends differently from one another. In particular, men in the study were more likely than women to report being attracted to their opposite-sex friends – but not by much.
Researchers’ interest in the subject was grounded in opposite-sex friendships being, by and large, a natural anomaly. Professor April Bleske-Rechek, the leading psychologist behind the study, said in an interview with PsyPost:
In graduate school, my advisor (David Buss) and I began studying friendship with an evolutionary lens, and hence we began to consider the ways in which our evolved mating strategies might impinge on our experiences with opposite-sex friends.
We did that because, defined as a voluntary, non-reproductive alliance between non-genetically related members of the opposite sex, these relationships — at least among young adults — seem to be a bit of an evolutionary novelty.
From an evolutionary biologist’s point of view, non-sexual relationships between members of the opposite sex might seem downright bizarre.
The study’s methodology consisted in approaching opposite-sex pairs of adults on a college campus, asking them to participate in a study about dyads, and separating them to answer some questions on a clipboard. According to the article, very few pairs declined to participate. Once separated, the participants answered questions about their relationship status and the extent to which each subject was attracted to the other.
The hypothesis that young men look at their female friends differently than young women view their male friends was confirmed by the results. Men reported higher mean and maximum levels of attraction to their female friends than vice-versa. However, the differences were small. Prior studies into similar topics had results showing men having much higher relative rates of attraction. The researchers wrote:
In short, we failed to replicate the significant sex difference documented in previous studies (Bleske-Rechek and Buss 2001; Bleske-Rechek et al. 2012; Kaplan and Keys 1997). The sex difference we observed was small in magnitude, rather than moderate to strong, and not statistically significant.
Having expected to find a greater difference, the researchers suggest that one explanation for the subtle difference may be that they approached the friends while they were with each other (despite the fact that they physically separated to answer the questions). They describe:
We speculated that our sampling method was an explanatory factor. That is, we had not asked people to tell us about a friend of theirs but instead approached friends in their “natural habitat.” Are the members of the opposite sex with whom young adults pass their time in an everyday context different from the members of the opposite sex that they visualize when researchers ask about their friends?
Other questions remain as well. Are first-person reports about such friendships reliable? To what extent are the results culturally specific? What, if anything, can be learned about romantic relationships? Was there an evolutionary advantage to non-romantic heterosexual, opposite-sex friendships?
Nevertheless, one thing, according to Professor Bleske-Rechek, remains clear: there is a real difference. She describes in her interview:
The current set of studies, taken as an aggregate, supports my general hypothesis that young adult heterosexual men and women, on average, have somewhat different mental definitions (or characterizations) of “opposite-sex friend.” When men and women think of an opposite-sex friend, men are more likely than women to think of a friend to whom they are attracted.
A seemingly simple question about the nature of human friendships reveals great complexity and eludes straightforward answers.
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Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
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The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
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