Friday, May 1, 2009

Choosing the Right Mate

It is always good to find scientific evidence that proves something you already knew. Recently, Brent Roberts, a University of Illinois psychologist, demonstrated that you can improve your health and well being by choosing a more conscientious mate. Link here.

The research adds a new dimension to studies that show that an individual's conscientiousness will improve his well being. It shows that we are directly affected by the conscientiousness of the person we choose as a mate.

This means that when you are choosing a mate you should give more emphasis to conscientiousness. It also says that if you fall in love with someone who lacks this quality, you should limit your attachment to that person.

All other things being equal, character should be allowed to trump passion.

I am assuming that Roberts (and whoever else does this kind of research) chose the term "conscientious" because it feels more ethically neutral than the term I prefer: character.

According to Roberts, a conscientious person is more organized and responsible, more reliable and trustworthy, more disciplined, and more in control of moods and impulses.

Obviously, he is describing a person of good character.

The opposite of conscientious is neurotic. Roberts describes neurotics as moody and inconstant, anxious and worried.

But where Robers described conscientiousness in terms of good habits, he defined neurosis in terms of inconstant emotions.

Perhaps he felt a need to cover up the fact that neurotics tend to indulge bad behavior, and that they do not want to hear about it. Neurotics are unusually resistant to seeing their behavior as contributing to their moodiness. And they become unhappy when they are told that they can solve their emotional problems by improving their character.

Why does this make neurotics unhappy? First, because it makes them responsible for their moods, and second, because it empowers them to do something to stabilize their mood, and third, because it tells them that insight is not going to set them free.

And yet, we should all know that systematic bad behavior will undermine relationship harmony and produce the kinds of emotional vicissitudes that characterize neurosis.

Roberts is intrigued by a gender disparity in his research results. Even a though a man's well being will be compromised by having a neurotic wife, no matter how good her character, he discovered that a woman's well being will not be compromised by having a husband who has good character with a bit of neurosis thrown in.

This is a peculiar result, especially if you consider character and neurosis to be opposites. Roberts finds it all rather strange too.

When asked about whether a woman should prefer a conscientious man with some neurosis over a conscientious man without much neurosis, he responds: I wouldn't recommend it.

The problem here lies in the way the concepts are defined. By making conscientiousness a function of behavior and neurosis a function of mood, Roberts can find good people who are moody. It would be far more difficult to discover good people who are irresponsible, unreliable, and undisciplined.

A neurotic is not simply a conscientious person with a bad mood. After all, everyone has a right to an occasional bad mood.

Someone who never has a bad mood is likely to be emotionally stunted. And thus not the most conscientious person either.

Besides, I have never seen a woman who thrived after mating a man who is moody and inconstant, who is irresponsible and unreliable. We do not need science to know that such qualities are destructive of everyone's well being.

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