Psychologists who study romantic relationships often rely on research models that look at couples as two individuals. Yet most long-term partners agree that their actions as part of a couple may be quite different from their actions as single people, says social psychologist Jeffry A. Simpson, PhD, incoming editor of APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes.
"Often, when you put two people together, what happens is an emerging property of these two specific people," says Simpson, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota.
Yet new methodological advances, such as neuroimaging, now permit psychologists to get a more complete picture of why people in close relationships behave the way they do by, for example, examining changes in people's hormone levels and physiological responses. Relationship researchers are also using group data-analysis processes to examine the perceptions of both members of a relationship as well as how they actually interact with each other.
"These new techniques have allowed everyone in the field to truly study relationships, as opposed to individuals in relationships," he says.
Promoting the advantages of these types of innovations is a key goal for Simpson, who served as the journal's associate editor for nearly six years. In his own research, he's using new data-analysis methods to tease apart specific partner effects during a couple's transition to parenthood and has discovered some interesting applied implications, including the ability to predict who's vulnerable to depression or a sharp decline in marriage satisfaction as a result of becoming a new parent. That type of insight can be used to curtail problems before they occur, he says.
In addition to a deeper focus on behavior studies, Simpson plans to encourage more succinct articles that do not overwhelm readers with unnecessary details, he says.
"Not only would shorter articles be more widely read and have greater impact, they would also permit more papers to be published in the journal each year," he says.