Objectivity and Helping: The Gottman Example

As we learned in this lesson, applied and social change research encompass intent; these types of research are not entirely objective (PSU, n.d.).  In other words, these types of research are targeted towards improving a particular issue, and often developing an intervention for the issue at hand.  Thus, the researchers engaged in this cannot be fully objective. as they have an agenda in their studies.  While applied and social change research has the ability to improve a social issue, social issues can be aided in other ways.  One example of this is the work of John Gottman regarding relationship and marriage satisfaction (Cole, 2017).

John Gottman began investigating the wellbeing of marriages and relationships because, funny enough, he found relationships to be a mystery (The Gottman Institute, n.d.).  He cites that he had difficulty with relationships. and began his research to discover the components that actually go into a healthy, satisfactory relationship.  He studied couples for many years, noting behaviors linked to divorce, and others linked to marriage satisfaction.  He did this by setting up various spaces to get couples to interact as naturally as possible even though they were being observed.  He even set up a fake bed and breakfast, where he hoped couples would feel relaxed enough to behave the way they do in their everyday life.  In his research, he studied heart rate, stress hormones, eye moments, and other indicators of interest and emotion.  He also tracked couples over time to see how their relationships fared.

Although Gottman did not make any clear discoveries in his initial years of studying couples, this eventually changed (The Gottman Institute, n.d.).  He linked particular ways of interacting with a partner as connected to marriage satisfaction, and he was even able to predict divorce 94% of the time.  Some behaviors he found to be particularly important in marriage health included turning towards (responding attentively when one’s partner is attempting to connect with them in some way, even if it is very basic) and creating love maps with one’s partner (done by asking deep, open-ended questions about one’s partner’s dreams, goals, ambitions, etc.).  He found these heavily connected to the success of marriages, and that if these were not primarily present, divorce or an unhappy marriage was likely to ensue.

Following his discoveries about relationships, Gottman established an institute where he held workshops for couples, as well as wrote several books (The Gottman Institute, n.d.).  He used his decades of research to inform the interventions and activities he suggested for couples. Instead of simply letting the information he learned during his studies be, he used this information to help others.

This example is important because it showcases how there are other ways of conducting research that produce a beneficial result.  While Gottman could have approached this issue with intent (i.e. “I need to figure out why people get divorced so I can help them”) he was open to whatever he learned (The Gottman Institute, n.d.).  Further, he did not rush the process and conducted a variety of studies for many years before establishing any firm conclusions.  Thus, in my opinion, this is a better way of conducting research, as the objectivity was present during the research, but the ultimate findings were used to help others.





Applied Social Psychology (PSYCH 424). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008549/modules

Cole, C. (2017). A clinical response to “the natural principles of love”. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 9(1), 39-44. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1111/jftr.12178

TheGottmanInstitute. (n.d.). The Gottman Institute. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnT1R08f7FHLab3nB4f0AGQ.

1 comment

  1. The mindset that Gottman had going into his research and the result that came from it is very fitting, given that a common phrase to describe love is that it can only be found when it’s not being searched for. I wholeheartedly agree that the objective method of research which was conducted by Gottman is superior. By accepting that the results of his research may not be at all what he expected and may not even be of any use, he was able to produce accurate results and without bias. Had he approached his research with the intent you described, it’s possible that he could have stopped his research before producing conclusive, helpful results. Or even worse, he could have displayed the results in such a way that they fit his expectations when, in reality, they supported the opposite conclusion.

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