Exploring virtual romance

Psychology students write editorials about a very different Valentine's Day

February 11, 2021

Romance can be part of the college social experience, and it has looked very different this year. Social distancing and a lack of public social events have been challenging worldwide, but especially on college campuses that are used to large social outings like sporting events and concerts. Adolescents and young adults have experienced disproportionally worse mental health outcomes since the beginning of COVID-19.

All is not bleak romantically, however, as dating apps have been skyrocketing in popularity, with the Match Group reporting that across its 45 apps, such as Match, Hinge and Tinder, use has increased by 30% since March 2020. A very different Valentine's Day. Composite photo courtesy of images from Unsplash. Download Full Image

Thao Ha is an expert on relationships and transitions within the adolescent and young adult life cycle, and director of the Heart Lab at Arizona State University. Ha is a recent recipient of the rising star award from the Association for Psychological Science for promising young faculty in the field of psychology and the Young Scientist Award from the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development. She has been conducting innovative research on the development of adolescent romantic relationships and the impact of social media on dating.

This spring, she is also teaching the Navigating Romantic Relationships course for undergraduate students and the Romantic Relationships in Development course for graduate students and has been creating new and exciting ways for her class to understand the material.

“I was searching for new ways to engage students in the course materials,” said Ha. “So I decided that it would be fun to have students compete to write a featured op-ed for ASU on the subject of Valentine’s Day. Students would learn how to communicate research to a broad audience and would enjoy the rewarding aspect of being featured, something that is not a typical outcome of a course assignment.”

Students worked in groups to formulate topics that related to the material in Ha’s course, and ranged from setting expectations for first-time intimacy, to the long term mental and cognitive impacts of long-distance relationships in a pandemic, to effective tips for managing a COVID-19-safe Valentine’s Day celebration. At the final stage of the assignment, the students presented their material virtually, and winners were voted upon by their peers.

“I was so pleased at how students showed extensive creativity and energy in these virtual presentations of their op-eds. There was music, funny GIFs, poetry and much more. They were also very supportive of their fellow students' presentation, providing constructive feedback for some final improvements,” Ha said.

Undergraduate student winners Anisha Mehra, Emma Cain, Jasmin Ray, Trinity Strecker and Nisi Jara-Aguirre presented a visual presentation called “Love Me Tinder,” depicting the intricacies of finding love on dating apps and the motivations behind behaviors on the apps. One of the key points they emphasized was that while men and women approach Tinder differently, almost half of the users are looking for long-term matches, rather than just the short term.

“We found it to be astounding how the power dynamic really shifts back to women in the world of online dating. For every 100 matches that men receive, women receive 600, effectively allowing women to be far more selective,” said Strecker, a junior psychology major who plans on pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology.

While dating apps were considered taboo a decade prior, they are now almost ubiquitous with how students engage and interact with potential partners in the modern age.

“Almost everyone uses these apps and we just thought this was a fun topic to discuss the motivations surrounding Tinder,” said Jara-Aguirre, a senior psychology and biology double major.

Read “Love me Tinder.”

Graduate students Erika Pages and Carley Vornlocher presented an op-ed titled “Are They Really the One?”, detailing pair-bonding and finding true love, and the mechanisms behind long-term mate selection.

Pages and Vornlocher are graduate students in the social psychology PhD program and conduct research as members of the SPLAT lab with Associate Professor Lani Shiota. Pages’ research interests stem around the role that humor plays in mental health and close relationships, and Vornlocher hopes to conduct research on positive psychology and emotion regulation. 

“We wanted to think about who has been successfully dating during the pandemic and what qualities are in those relationships,” Pages said. “What was surprising is that we found that believing in soul mates is bad for relationships because when things inherently go wrong, relationships then fail.”

Instead, Pages and Vornlocher suggest that the research encourages more of a growth mentality as a precursor to a more successful relationship. 

“Even though there are these archetypes of relationships, we should be more understanding of how loving relationships are really a process and not an immediate thing we achieve,” Vornlocher said.

Read “Are They Really the One?”

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Turning stumbling blocks into steppingstones

ASU communication school expands its audience while reinventing the performance

February 11, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person gatherings indefinitely, it became clear to the faculty at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication that it would require both creativity and imagination to find a way to bring its performances to an audience.

Showing a passionate commitment to solving this challenge, the school shifted its perspective to see possibilities instead of obstacles. Download Full Image

Many public performances took place at the school’s creative black box theater, The Empty Space, located on the Tempe campus. For decades, students and faculty have written, performed and directed creative scholarship in this public venue.

“Our Performance Studies program views performance as a fundamental part of the way human beings communicate,” said Jennifer Linde, artistic director of The Empty Space. “Nothing can recreate live performance.  Performance puts the body front and center as a key to unlocking self, identity and the power of communication.”

The challenge, said Linde, was to take the “publicness” of the work in The Empty Space and continue to create the joy of live performance remotely. 

Accepting the challenge was a group of faculty and students from the Hugh Downs School who came together to create “Pathways of Recovery,” a virtual live performance followed by facilitated participation in Storyscope story circles. Audience members may choose to join the discussion to share their own stories about themes revealed in the performance.

Register for “Pathways,” which will be performed at 5 p.m. MST, Saturday, Feb. 13. 

“Rather than focus on the restraints, we chose to see this as an opportunity, as any good innovator will do,” said Professor Linda Lederman, on whose writings about alcoholism and recovery the performance is based.

“In many ways, this new format better lends itself to collaboration,” Lederman said. “We are also able to reach a wider audience. The live performance will also be recorded, accessible to anyone with the technology. Through this new performance project, I have been given the opportunity to further advance and gain exposure to my work's commitment to destigmatizing alcoholism and recovery.”

The 40-minute performance will portray the lived experiences of four characters who have been in recovery from alcoholism, many of them for a long time. The stories are based on discussions Lederman gathered over the years.

“Linda’s manuscript is a creative nonfiction based on actual interactions she had with people and fictionalized into stories of recovery,” Linde said.

Former Hugh Downs School student Molly Bishop was brought on board to write an adaptation of Lederman’s manuscript. The cast is comprised of former students and graduate colleagues of Linde’s. Current Hugh Downs School doctoral students have assisted with the production and Storyscope facilitation.

Linde has noticed, however, that virtual performances do have their restrictions when it comes to staging.   

A Zoom rehearsal for "Pathways" with Jennifer Linde at the top middle and Linda Lederman in the middle of the second row.

“It’s been tough because the scenes are very different. One takes place at a recovery meeting and another at a coffee shop. At other times, the characters are talking together after a meeting, but in the virtual setting, they are in separate places,” Linde said.

The virtual performance marks the launch of The Recovery Communication Project (TRCP), an outgrowth of the research and work of Lederman, who studied both how college students drink (college drinking), and the separate but related issue of recovery from the disease of alcoholism. “Pathways” is part of Lederman’s most recent work of people of all ages who are in recovery, and the impact of storytelling and personal narratives on their recovery.

Before joining the faculty at ASU in 2006, Lederman was a professor of communication at Rutgers University for more than 25 years, a member of the faculty of the Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies and founding director of the Rutgers Center for Communication and Health Issues, one of the first research groups in the nation to study the role of communication in alcohol use and abuse. 

She is nationally recognized for her use-inspired research on alcohol-abuse prevention, alcoholism and collegiate recovery, which has been funded by grants from federal agencies totaling more than $8 million. Her 14 published books include “Changing the Culture of College Drinking” and “Voices of Recovery from the Campus,” a collection of stories from people who began their recovery while undergraduate students.

Lederman hopes that performances like “Pathways of Recovery” will add to the voices of recovery — creating a new wave of understanding that alcoholism is a disease, not a disgrace. 

“Through open and honest communication with others who understand addiction, recovery can happen, recovery does happen, and recovering alcoholics lead happy and fulfilled lives, free from the bondage of addiction,” Lederman said.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication