Associate Professor of Psychology Benjamin Le
Benjamin Le’s New Website and Book Help Answer Relationship Questions
Are long-distance relationships rewarding? Do opposites really attract? Does sexual chemistry matter? Such questions about former, current or potential romantic relationships are of interest to almost everyone. But where to find the answers? For years people have turned to the pages of glossy women’s magazines that purported to offer pop-psychology solutions, but now the scientists who have made careers out of studying those very questions are offering their own resource.
Associate Professor of Psychology Benjamin Le is part of a team of researchers who recently created a website, scienceofrelationships.com, to help people better understand their amorous entanglements by making the latest research in the field understandable for a general audience. The site, which launched in February, was an outgrowth of a book by Le and his colleagues, also titled The Science of Relationships (Kendall Hunt Publishing), that was released at the end of August and features contributions from 13 different experts in the field.
“A book is only as strong as the expertise of its authors,” says Le, “and the best way to write a really great volume on any topic—though for us, it’s relationships—is rather than have one person be an expert on everything, get five or 10 or 12 contributors and have everybody write about the topics they are experts on.”
The Science of Relationships (the book) is comprised of 40 common questions about relationships—from “Is there such a thing as soulmates?” to “Why do people stay in abusive relationships?”—and brief answers authored by some of the leading minds in the field of relationship science, including Le, who is not just one of the book’s authors, but is also one of its four editors.
With so many contributors, the book’s creation and eventual publication was a long process. (Though it was written in roughly six months, it has been more than four years in the making.) During the book’s editing process, its creators started to think about the logistics of creating a Volume Two, which would address new relationship questions as well as update answers in the original volume as new research became available, but they quickly realized the fastest way to reach the largest audience would be not another printed book.
“We realized that maybe books are passé,” says Le. “So the way to approach it is not to put out another book, but instead focus on the web where information can come out quickly and be revised based on the latest science. That way it can be responsive to readers questions and comments very quickly. “
The site has tackled everything from reader questions about their own love lives to looking at relationship research through a pop culture lens—recent post topics include attachment styles in the Harry Potter series, the romantic sacrifices of the characters in Twilight and the relationships on the television show Jersey Shore.
“The number one thing is to get rid of the jargon and try and write for your grandma,” says Le of the site’s mission to appeal to a general audience. “Try and pull out the scientific nuts and bolts and tell a story that’s still true to the science, but also make it accessible for somebody with no background in the field at all…That’s why the site focuses on pop culture. We try to highlight things that people can grab onto, hopefully, like examples from books and movies and so on, to understand the concepts we’re talking about.”
The site has more than 20 contributors, all of whom are academics in the fields of relationship science, and is managed by Le and two colleagues, Monmouth College Associate Professor Gary Lewandowski and University of Texas at Austin Associate Professor Timothy Loving (who answers the too-good-to-be-true “Ask Dr. Loving” column).
“It’s really fun,” says Le. “It’s just a totally different way of thinking about research and feeling like you actually have made a difference. I can tell how many people have cited a particular experimental piece of mine—maybe it’s five people, maybe it’s 100 people—but the readership is quite limited. It’s thrilling that on the website we can track the hits each day, and you can see if a particular article catches fire and somebody reposts it, and you can watch the readership spike. One of our recent articles was read by 15,000 people in one day.”