MU Professor Studies the Science of Relationships

Dr. Gary Lewandowski, Chair of the Psychology Department, in collaboration with Professor Benjamin Le of Harvard College and Professor Timothy Loving of University of Texas, surveyed 1,000 adults in the US about their thoughts on relationships and Valentine’s Day.

Data was collected from 49 states, excluding Alaska, through a voluntary, online questionnaire. The survey was the first to be conducted and sponsored by, a website created by Lewandowski, Le and Loving.

The study found that “70 percent of those surveyed indicated both couple members should plan Valentine’s Day festivities. If only one partner does the planning, it is the guy’s responsibility.” Along with that, “The top three gifts women want for Valentine’s Day are jewelry (35 percent), flowers (24 percent), or a heartfelt card/gift (10 percent). Men want sex (44 percent), thoughtful card (9 percent), and ‘other’ (14 percent). And nobody wants a gag gift or a pet.”

One of the most interesting findings, according to Lewandowski, involved how financial spending on a significant other contributed to love. He said that people who are in love spend less money on one another. “Often in our culture we substitute money and material things for love and affection…. when people are in love they feel less of a need to spend money,” Lewandowski said.

Susan Elwood, a junior communication major, has been in a long distance relationship for four years. Elwood agrees that love, particularly relating to Valentine’s Day, is not about money. “I definitely don’t necessarily think it’s important to spend a lot of money on each other on Valentine’s Day to make it special. This is the first time since high school that we’ll actually spend the day together and, although I’m excited, it’s not because it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s because of him.”

Lewandowski and his team worked on this study in conjunction with “Relationship Science Month,” which dedicates February to exploring love, relationships, and, of course, Valentine’s Day. “As a scientist studying relationships, I’m naturally curious about everything and anything relationship related,” Lewandowski said. “Valentine’s Day is like our Super Bowl, so it seemed natural to ask people what they thought about the holiday.”

“All three of us [the website creators] are relationship researchers/professors who had become increasingly frustrated with the quality of information that was available about relationships,” Lewandowski said. “Relationships are super important, but people who wanted to learn how to improve their relationship, or find a good one, didn’t have any science-based information. Since it didn’t exist, we decided to do it ourselves.” is based in Austin, Texas. The site has had nearly 3 million visitors in its three years of running. The researchers plan on doing more surveys relating to weddings and marriage in the near future.

According to their website, each article presented is based in the ever-growing scientific literature on relationships. The site states, “We take research findings from the fields of psychology, family studies, sociology, communication, evolutionary biology, and others, and put them in a format that you can use. We publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals and are frequently sought out by the media and popular press sources to share our expertise.”

Le states that relationships are the cause for many of the most high and low points in an individual’s life. “Understanding why some relationships go well, and why some go badly, and how individuals can better the chances of success in their relationship, can really impact people’s well-being,” Le said. “If people are aware of the basic workings of relationships it can help them make better choices in their relationships.”

Elwood said, “I think our relationship is so great because it started on a foundation of friendship. Since we were already such great friends I knew he was someone I could be myself around and trust. He makes me feel proud to be with him, and is incredibly close with my family, which is one of the most important things to me.”