Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Incentive to Choose a Good-Looking Spouse

In response to my latest offering on the ways in which love enlarges your soul (and mental capacity), the Monk's oldest sister asks the intelligent question, "Do you think any of this shared connection contributes to similar features as we age? Son to father, and husband to wife?" So glad you asked, Jo Jo.

“In a landmark study on the appearance of married couples, Robert Zajonc, a psychologist at Stanford University, and his colleagues asked twelve married couples to send two sets of individual portraits of themselves, one set taken in their first year of marriage (newlywed photos) and the other after twenty-five years of marriage (old-timer photos). The researchers put the newly-wed photos together in one pool and the old-timer photos in another, and recruited nearly eighty participants to guess which men and women were married and looked alike. It turned out that matching the newlywed couples was impossible—the raters were no more accurate than they’d be by dumb chance (the couples were all the same race, ethnicity, economic class, and approximate age). But when matching the old-timer photos, raters were shockingly spot-on. That’s because couples look more like each other one their silver wedding anniversaries than they do as newlyweds.

“Zajonc and his colleagues drew on emotional difference theory to explain what happens: in short, people who empathize with each other mimic each other’s facial expressions. Mimicry is an unconscious and involuntary process. When you mimic another person’s facial expressions, you subjectively feel that emotion or mood. Over time, with use, facial muscles either grow or atrophy, just like your biceps or calves. When facial expressions are repeated and habitual, like a ready smile or a constant grimace, they permanently etch a ‘look’ into [292] the face. Furrowed brows, puckered lips, stress lines, laugh lines, crow’s-feet, and lines between the eyes or around the mouth happen over the decades, just as running water contours rock.

“The happier the marriage, the more spouses grow to resemble each other. Zajonc surveyed the twelve couples in the study, asking them questions about their satisfaction in the relationship and the incidence of very happy or tragic experiences they had together over the decades. He found that the more they shared attitudes, the greater their mutual resemblance. That’s because they’d been laughing and crying and worrying together for so many years.” (Pincott DGRPB 291-92)

I don't have an MRI machine lying around, so I can't tell you whether or not the neuron networks that develop and make you smarter and increasingly connected to your partner when you're in love are the same as the ones that prompt you to mimic the facial expressions of those around you (mimicry or "mirroring" is something I recall reading more about in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, but baby Monk's asleep in my office, so I can't confirm that recollection) but it wouldn't surprise me. I certainly believe that this process by which we grow to resemble those we love is an inevitable part of perfection.

Men and women are different, and they look different when they are first married. This is by divine design; as Elder David A. Bednar writes, "The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation. [. . .] For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. [. . .] The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other" (Ensign 6/06, 83-84). Part of the process of complementing and perfecting that occurs in marriage involves willingly forsaking some of these differences and becoming "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24), something that Zajonc suggests we should think of more literally.

Hopefully this merging of visual identities will leave me a better looking man without dragging Mrs. Monk down too much. Thanks, as always, for the question!


Jenny said...

I'm picturing my feature's on Roger's head.

Jo Jo said...

I can't tell you what it did for me to see you call me the Monk's oldest sister asking an intelligent question. ME?