Students investigate the psychology of relationships

Undergrads in ASU's Navigating Romantic Relationships course write op-eds on the psychology of relationships

February 11, 2022

Each February, Valentine’s Day shines the spotlight back on relationships and the search for love.

Chocolates, roses and stuffed animals are displayed at grocery stores and couples begin planning expensive romantic dinners. Google searches for date ideas increase by 400%, and according to a National Retail Foundation survey, the average American couple plans to spend almost $200 on each other. ASU Assistant Professor Thao Ha stands at the front of a classroom. Thao Ha, an assistant professor and expert on relationships and transitions within the adolescent and young adult life cycle, teaches the PSY 498 Navigating Romantic Relationships course at ASU. Ha is also the director of the Heart Lab at ASU, where she conducts research on the development of adolescent romantic relationships. Download Full Image

Additionally, for the second straight year, undergraduate psychology students in the PSY 498 Navigating Romantic Relationships course presented op-eds about the psychology of relationships.

The course is taught by Thao Ha, an assistant professor and expert on relationships and transitions within the adolescent and young adult life cycle. Ha is also the director of the Heart (Healthy Experiences Across Relationships and Transitions) Lab at Arizona State University, where she conducts research on the development of adolescent romantic relationships. She investigates how partner choices, relationship dynamics and break-ups among heterosexual and sexual minority youth affect their emotional and behavioral adjustment over time.

Recently, Ha’s research was published in Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, where she used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity in both members of a romantic couple when they assessed their own romantic compatibility.

Students in her class worked in groups to conduct research on topics related to the course material and presented on topics such as the benefits and risks of intimate friendships, reducing the fear of long-distance relationships, how predictive zodiac signs are of compatibility, and how to have an effective Valentine’s date based on evolutionary psychology research.

Following the presentations, students voted on the presentations and selected their favorites.

Students Shardul Shetye, Daniel Grumbine and Anya Pressendo received the most votes, and their op-ed, “Keeping the Benefits and the Friendship Separate,” was published on the Department of Psychology website. Their presentation focused on the struggle many college students face between pursuing casual intimate relationships or simply maintaining platonic friendships.

Shetye, Grumbine and Pressendo focused on Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, which suggests that a relationship is composed of passion, intimacy and commitment. They theorized that casual intimate relationships feature a lack of commitment, and friendships feature a lack of intimacy, so when they are combined, it inevitably leads to a relationship failure.

“I thought this topic was particularly interesting given how often this seems to occur in emerging adulthood. It seems one of the big fears surrounding it is that adding sex will ruin a friendship. I wanted to see what the field of relationship psychology had to say about these relationships, as well as if there was any advice I could give people our age that are either in one of these types of relationships or considering involving themselves in one,” Grumbine said.

Grumbine is currently an undergraduate research assistant in the Culture, Adaptation, Religion, Morality, and Anthropomorphism lab with psychology Professor Adam Cohen. His research interest focuses on evolutionary, cultural and moral psychology.

“One of the interesting findings were the results that approximately 30% of all 'friends with benefits' (FWB) relationships end in a complete separation. They don't continue being intimate, nor being friends, which is a staggeringly high risk just for momentary action,” Grumbine said. “Additionally, only approximately 10% of FWB relationships ended in an actual intimate partner relationship, which I thought was much lower than I expected.”

The second-place article, "Our Fates Are in the Stars," was written by student Leena Darwish and explored the role that zodiac signs play in predicting relationship success. Darwish was interested in the concept of internal versus external locus of control. Her op-ed further explores destiny beliefs, or the concept that potential partners are “meant for each other” or not.

Darwish selected her topic because, while she and her friends often joke about zodiac sign stereotypes, other people take zodiac signs seriously, and she was curious about how that impacted their relationships.

“People who have beliefs in an external locus of control may not believe their own behaviors and efforts impact the outcome of the relationship, and alternatively, spouses with a higher internal locus of control believed that their willpower to create change would result in actual change,” Darwish said.

The final article that was voted on, “Heart to Heart: Synching Up with Your Partner," was written by students Jacob Moyer and Cami Swaine. The pair explored the physiological phenomenon of coregulation, or the synchronization of physiological behaviors, such as heart beats and breathing.

When couples experienced arousal or stress, their heart rates and respiration synchronized unconsciously, and similarly were correlated when discussing positive and negative aspects of their relationships.

“Valentine’s Day comes with a lot of pressure to express love. For those of us with partners, it might make us overthink the ways we show our partners love. However, research on physiological coregulation shows us that when we’re with our special person, we have no choice but to literally follow our heart,” said Moyer, who is currently planning on applying to a clinical PhD program.  

Swaine is currently a research assistant in pyschology Professor M. Foster Olive’s Neuroscience of Addiction Lab, and is interested in working with addictive disorders from either a clinical or research perspective in the future.

“We also thought it would be cool to tie our topic into Valentine’s Day, because the concept itself is very sweet and romantic,” Swaine said.

“Just like last year, the students were so creative and supportive of each other while exploring the research and receiving constructive feedback,” Ha said. “Learning to communicate complicated research broadly in the form of an op-ed is just one of many creative and exciting ways we can use to help our students understand the material better.”

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Ironing out the details of steel microstructures

National Science Foundation CAREER Award project to strengthen knowledge of steel manufacturing

February 11, 2022

Steel has been the backbone of infrastructure and industry for more than 150 years. From construction to power generation to the automotive industry, steel’s use in almost every aspect of our lives worldwide is only increasing.

“Although steels have been used and studied for many generations, understanding how different processing conditions specifically impact steel microstructure (how the material components are arranged) is somewhat limited. This is particularly the case in commercial steels, where complex chemical compositions make it difficult to understand what is occurring at the atomic level,” says Kumar Ankit, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. ASU Assistant Professor Kumar Ankit holds a steel ball bearing. Arizona State University Assistant Professor Kumar Ankit holds a steel ball bearing. Steel processing methods to create objects such as ball bearings affect the material's microstructure and properties, but the mechanisms behind these changes are not well understood. In a National Science Foundation CAREER Award-funded research project, Ankit is leading the first integration of computational, experimental and characterization techniques to add new knowledge of steel microstructures to his field and optimize the future of steel manufacturing. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Ankit is conducting heating and cooling experiments, and using computer simulations and 4D imaging, to investigate the relationship between how steel is made and the resulting microstructures in multicomponent steels. His innovative efforts have earned a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award, which offers $560,000 to support five years of research.

The award, which is given to early career faculty members who are potential leaders in research and education in their fields, emphasizes the importance of this work to the steelmaking industry.

“Establishing these relationships will enable microstructure-level control in the manufacturing of steel components to obtain desired mechanical properties, which is currently a missing piece of knowledge in steelmaking,” Ankit says.

In its most basic composition, steel is iron with up to 2% added carbon to increase its hardness. Different types of steel have their elements arranged in varying structures at the atomic level depending on the manufacturing process and which additional elements have been added.

Manufacturing methods have changed over the decades, with the most recent pioneering research in steel metallurgy occurring in the 1980s. At that time, however, advanced modeling tools and characterization techniques, such as those used in Ankit’s Laboratory for 4D Interface Control and Engineering, had not yet been invented.

“The lack of reliable modeling approaches and in situ imaging techniques in that era often led to fundamental gaps in our understanding of the microstructural evolution mechanisms in the processing of steel,” Ankit says, noting this is especially the case when steels include elements in addition to iron and carbon.

Kumar Ankit

Assistant Professor Kumar Ankit

Ankit is interested in studying what happens in the processing of steels with a “pearlitic,” or layered, microstructure. These steels are hard and strong, which makes them useful for railroads, drawbridge support cables and cutting tools — applications where strength is critical. For other applications in which steel needs to be softened and formed into complex shapes, such as ball bearings, the necessary processing conditions can impact the steel microstructure and change its properties.

Ankit’s research team will investigate pearlitic steel models composed of three or four elements (iron, carbon and silicon or manganese) through heating and cooling experiments that will examine how the steels behave at 2D, 3D and 4D levels, with the fourth dimension being time. The team will integrate computational modeling techniques as well as microscopy, spectroscopy and diffraction characterization to better understand how these processes affect the microstructure.

The reaction that forms pearlitic microstructures is also present in other alloys beyond steel, so Ankit says the modeling-experiment-characterization framework developed in this project will be applicable in analyzing other metallic materials.

“For the first time, computational, experimental and 4D characterization approaches will be integrated to systematically investigate processing-microstructure correlations,” Ankit says. “My CAREER Award proposal will bring forward the knowledge of these correlations and lead to unprecedented process control that is currently missing in the production of steel components. Sophisticated experiments coupled with modeling are very attractive, and the feedback between the two will be immediate, which is exciting for materials science.”

Ankit is also an advocate for bringing more students into materials science and engineering programs, which he views as critical to the future of many industries. To help increase enrollment in the program at ASU, he is developing new, tailored outreach approaches driven by the needs of different communities, including high school students and first-year undergraduate students from populations underrepresented in engineering, as well as providing research opportunities and active-learning curriculum updates.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering