SDS NYC Recap: The Science of Love with Marisa Cohen


By Ashley Salamanca

As a married person, I wasn’t sure that I had anything to learn from Marisa Cohen at her “Science of Love” workshop…but I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Just before the holidays, Six Degrees Society NYC gathered at the dreamy Lunya “bedroom” in SoHo to hear from Marisa Cohen, Associate Professor of Psychology at St. Francis College and Director of the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab, a research lab that examines the science of relationships (of all kinds).

Our group ranged in everything from age to industry to love status, but the one thing we all shared was our eagerness to learn about the science-backed rationales for why and how we form interpersonal relationships with others – and also how we ruin them. Marisa delivered a ton of complex research in a way that was easy (and fun!) to understand. It was clear to see how her findings could be applied in real life to ensure successful relationship building – whether it be with a potential mate, friend, or even employer.

Closeness is Key

Marisa walked us through several studies that statistically proved people naturally like others who are physically close to them. This is called propinquity, and while Marisa doesn’t recommend stalking potential mates, she does verify that finding a way to be in their general vicinity could boost your chances of them liking you back.

Furthermore, according to research, familiarity and similarity also play important roles in fostering affection. Basically, we like people who we’ve seen before – in fact, generally speaking, the more we see someone, the more we like them. Bonus points if they also are similar to us, and I don’t just mean sharing common interests.

Have you ever noticed when people date for a while, they sometimes start to look like each other? Well, according to Marisa, this isn’t a fluke. We actually like people who LOOK similar to ourselves – I guess we all have a bit of a narcissistic streak!

Who Needs Butterflies When You Give Me The Whole Damn Zoo?

One of the most interesting studies Marisa spoke about was The Capilano Suspension Bridge study, which centers on the transference of emotion. The study demonstrates how people can naturally confuse physical signals from their body (such as sweating, butterflies, racing heart) for love or affection. This why Marisa suggests planning a more active first date (think: ice skating, a hike, and amusement park) as opposed to something more static (like dinner and a movie – unless it’s a heart-pounding thriller or horror flick!)

Did I Do That?

Lastly, Marisa walked us through “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” theory, which addresses the self-sabotaging behaviors we engage in that most likely spoil relationships.

The four most common behaviors are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling (detaching). I think we all can admit to being guilty of exhibiting one or more of these behaviors from time to time, but not to worry, Marisa also gave us tips to combat each:

  • Combat Criticism: Use “I” language (“I feel X, when you do Y and Z”)
  • Combat Defensiveness: Be accountable and own your part
  • Combat Contempt: Use “I” language again
  • Combat Stonewalling: Take a 20 minute “timeout” to digest your emotions

When in doubt, you can also use humor, validation and affection (as appropriate) to help diffuse tense situations with a partner, friend, or colleague.

For more amazing, backed-by-science tips on finding a mate and maintaining long-lasting relationships, pick up a copy of Marisa’s book From First Kiss to Forever: A Scientific Approach to Love.


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