Living Together, Part 2: Who Needs the "Piece of Paper" Anyway?

Living together has become a more common phenomenon over the past 40 years. While only about half a million people in the U.S. reported living together in 1970, over 4 million people report living together today. Living together has become a very commonplace experience for many people.

Often couples talk about how living together is a good way to transition into marriage. In fact, some see it as a kind of trial marriage. Others reduce the differences between living together and marriage to a “piece of paper”. Given the social and financial pressures brought to bear on couples who get married, it is perhaps not surprising that the differences between these arrangements are seen as trivial to some. However, research has consistently shown that marriage and co-habitation differ in multiple and significant ways.

Don't talk about race: Children and categorization

In most areas, children’s problem-solving skills improve with age as their cognitive abilities develop. A study published in the September 2008 issue of Developmental Psychology examined children’s tendency to acknowledge or avoid race when solving problems.

Children were divided into groups by age: 8 to 9 year-olds and 10-11 year olds. The task that they were asked to perform was similar to the game “Guess Who?” The examiner chose a person’s picture from a group of 40, and the child asked yes/no questions until he or she could identify the person who had been chosen; the goal was to identify the picture by asking as few questions as possible. The pictures varied in 4 ways: background colour, gender, weight, and race. The researchers found that, when race was a factor, the younger children outperformed their older peers.

The study concluded that, when children’s understanding of race and social norms is beginning to develop, they tend to completely avoid acknowledging race. This may be related to the notion that categorizing people according to their skin colour may lead them to appear prejudiced. The authors theorized that 10 years of age may be a critical period in children’s development, when their understanding of social and moral norms begins to affect their behaviour – even when it comes at a cost to themselves.

You can read more here.

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Reducing the Long-Term Impact of Traumatic Events

PTSD results from traumatic events such as being raped and beaten, witnessing or experiencing serious injury or death in war, or feeling your life was threatened during a car accident.

In younger kids, the re-experiencing of the event may be a different phenomenon. That is, upsetting dreams about the event may quickly change to thoughts or nightmares about monsters or other anxiety provoking thoughts and experiences. In addition, unlike adults who tend to re-live the trauma through flashbacks, kids tend to re-live it through make believe (e.g., a child may smash his toy cars together after a car accident). Given that they cannot rely on their verbal explanatory or cognitive skills to the same extent as adults, children are also more likely to turn their psychological stress into physical symptoms such as tummy and headaches.

Anatomy of Loneliness, Part 1 (Episode 120)

Loneliness by Dr. John Cacioppo
Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection“, about what happens when people feel isolated, including:

  • the importance of loneliness as a signal to our social selves
  • the physical effects that make chronic loneliness as dangerous as smoking,
  • the effects of “time out”,
  • how we can still feel lonely even with hundreds of Facebook friends.
Listen here:

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Dr. John Cacioppo

Dr. John Cacioppo

Dr. John Cacioppo is the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor at The University of Chicago, the Director of the University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, and the Director of the Arete Initiative of the Office of the Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago. He has won numerous awards for his work.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only, and are not intended to replace professional or medical advice. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.