Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Our Brains Keep Us From Straying

In the pursuit of happily-ever-after, the odds seem to be stacked against us.

Men and women reap huge benefits when they stick around with a good partner -- staying happier and healthier, living longer and passing along more genes. But the sticking-around part is a challenge. We don't get long-term relationship payoffs right away. And until then -- between the once-upon-a-time and the happily-ever-after -- plenty of temptations can beckon.

Not that it's wrong to shop around before settling down. But there always will be enticing alternative mates -- whether heart-grabbing or merely eye-catching. So researchers wonder: With so many attractive alternatives, how do humans manage to maintain relationships at all?

The brain appears to have some tricks up its neural sleeve. A new line of research is exploring how automatic psychological mechanisms kick into action when the eye starts to wander, helping resist temptation and strengthening the relationship -- even without us being aware of it.

Here's a sample from some recently published experiments (all on heterosexual men and women in committed monogamous relationships) that show how our brain keeps us connected to -- and, yes, even happy with -- the old ball and chain.

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