Carnegie Mellon University
Below we answer some common questions that people ask about relationships research.

Relationships researchers seek to understand relationship dynamics and the causes and consequences of these dynamics. They do this scientifically using a variety of research methods including experimental studies, longitudinal studies that follow relationships over time, questionnaires/ surveys, observational studies, daily diaries, and archival research.  Relationship scientists strongly believe in testing a hypothesis using two or more methods, measurement techniques, and/ or participant populations to arrive at an accurate picture of relationship dynamics.

Relationships are important to a study because:

a)    Most human behavior takes place in context of relationships with others
b)    Relationships affect all areas of human activity
c)    Relationships exert a powerful impact on our psychological and physical health
d)    Who we are tends to be shaped by our relationships with others

Thus, a science of human behavior and development that neglects the influence of an individual’s relationships with others is bound to be inaccurate or incomplete. Our past and present relationships influence our current behavior in other relationships and in many non-relationship contexts as well

It’s important to study relationships scientifically because many of the things we think we know based on our personal experiences can be misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete.  That’s because there is a big difference between general knowledge and scientific knowledge.

General knowledge is based on people’s personal experiences and hunches about  how things work, but it can often be distorted because:

(a) we each have a restricted set of experiences

(b) those experiences are limited by a small number of partners with whom we’ve interacted

(c) people’s understanding of relationships is often colored by what they want to believe or need to believe and by other biases in information processing and memory

(d) personal experience provides a biased sample of information because it’s based on limited observations.

In order to fully and accurately understand how relationships influence the human condition, we must study them scientifically. Scientific knowledge refers to knowledge based on findings from empirical research. This involves systematic observation using scientific methods that provide a reasonable degree of objectivity, reliability, & validity. This approach adheres to the rules of scientific inquiry (allowing replication, use of alternative procedures, examination of various age groups and cultures, etc.).
The studies conducted in this lab examine how relationships help people address life challenges and function to their full potential. Participants in our studies typically visit the lab with relationship partners to complete questionnaires and participate in a variety of activities together. These activities are similar to what we do in our everyday lives. We sometimes have relationship partners complete diaries (on iPods) at home for a series of days, mail surveys to participants, and follow relationships over long periods of time to see how they develop.