Bucknell research: attractiveness, financial status, jealousy
March 28, 2005
By Stevie Eveland '07
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Kim Fowler, a senior psychology major at Bucknell University, enjoyed her Social Psychology class so much that she decided to learn more by conducting a summer research project with psychology professor Joel Wade, who taught the class. Their proposal, a study on jealously, was funded as part of the Bucknell Undergraduate Summer Research Program.
Not only did Fowler learn about the subject, but Wade, who had never conducted research on jealousy, was able to expand his research interests.
Fowler's study focused on examining the effects of attractiveness and financial status in cases of sexual versus emotional infidelity and how that affected levels of jealousy. She began by researching the topic and past research that had been done, which showed that women typically feel more jealous toward emotional infidelity rather than sexual infidelity.
Separate research also has shown that women are usually jealous of more attractive women. Additionally, women are judged more on attractiveness and men more on financial status when it comes to finding a mate. Therefore, Fowler and Wade decided to look at emotional and sexual infidelity and to vary the attractiveness of the female interloper and the status of the male interloper.
Fowler created two surveys, one for men and one for women, based on four hypothetical situations that covered all of the factors. For example, one hypothetical situation for men was where his partner had sexual relations with a man of higher financial status. The instructions for the surveys were to decide how the situations would make the participant feel by circling a number 1 through 7, with 1 being the least upset and 7 being the most upset. Both men and women had the same instructions and compared emotional versus sexual infidelity. The difference was that for men it only focused on financial status and for women it only focused on attractiveness.
After surveying 87 participants, Fowler did a statistical analysis. "I found the largest level of jealousy was when a woman's partner committed sexual infidelity with an attractive woman, which differed from what I had hypothesized," she says. "I thought it would have been emotional infidelity that would have bothered women the most." A woman's partner committing emotional infidelity with an unattractive woman was the least upsetting and caused the least amount of jealousy.
For men, the most upsetting situation was a partner committing sexual infidelity with a man of higher financial status, which is what Fowler predicted. The least upsetting for men was a partner committing emotional infidelity with a man of high financial status.
Over the summer Fowler and Wade developed a collaborative relationship. Says Wade, "The fact that I had more training and more knowledge allowed me to serve as a mentor, but I tried to treat Kim as though she were one of my colleagues."
During the project, Fowler enjoyed a fair amount of independence, but Wade would work with her to tweak things, for example, by reviewing the survey and helping her with the statistical analysis and writing the paper.
Wade has had at least 10 summer research students during his time at Bucknell. He considers Bucknell undergraduate students to be equivalent to first-year or second-year graduate students in doctorate programs in their ability to carry out research and be responsible. The research on jealously that Wade and Fowler completed has been submitted to a scholarly journal for consideration for publication.
Wade believes the research program is a valuable experience. "There is always evidence of growth in the students during the project," says Wade. "Over the summer, the student becomes an expert in the area of his or her research."
Fowler says research is a good experience. "I learned skills that will be applicable in other situations," she says. "One of my main goals was to learn how to do a research project independently, and now I feel more confident that if I were to conduct research in the future I would be able to do it."
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