New Study Touches on the Importance of Affection to our Health and Wellbeing
A gentle touch of reassurance.
These seemingly mundane gestures of affection were sorely missed during the pandemic and make it easy to understand just how difficult it is to live without public displays of affection.
A recent paper by Trent Psychology professor, Dr. Karen Blair, focuses on exactly this topic: what is the role of affection in fostering healthy relationships and individuals? More specifically, how do affection experiences differ for those in same-sex and gender-diverse relationships compared to individuals in mixed-sex relationships?
“I think we often overlook the importance of the small things in our lives that actually play a really big role in our general well-being and happiness. Affection is one of those things,” says Professor Blair. “Children who do not receive enough affection suffer greatly and have developmental challenges. Adults who do not receive enough affection report being less happy and even less healthy. Romantic relationships are one of our most constant and important sources of day-to-day affection throughout our adult lives. Anything that disrupts our access to that affection can therefore have negative consequences for our mental and physical health.”
Prof. Blair’s research on affection, which is key to our health and wellbeing, contributes to the existing body of knowledge by exploring the differences between the public affection sharing experiences of LGBTQ2S+ and heterosexual/cisgender couples to better identify potential pathways through which those health disparities emerge. Future research will look at how people cope with these experiences and seek to identify the coping mechanisms that offer the best mental and physical health protection.
Embracing post-graduate research
Prof. Blair started her Public Displays of Affection research program as a CIHR post-doctoral fellow and took the innovative approach of using crowdfunding to supplement her research funding. She raised over US$8,400 which allowed her to run a study exploring how people respond to same-sex public displays of affection. In fact, Trent Ph.D. student, Bre O’Handley (Catharine Parr Traill College) used some of the data gathered through this study in her honours thesis, which inspired her to pursue post-graduate studies with Prof. Blair.
“Crowdfunding was an unconventional way to fund my research, but it was successful,” shares Prof. Blair. “It really motivated me to follow through because I felt personally indebted to each and every person who gave something to the campaign. While I personally knew many of the funders, some of whom were research colleagues, many were complete strangers who just felt touched by the research topic and wanted to help.”
“The data used in the current paper forms part of a larger study on public displays of affection, and students continue to work with different datasets collected through the study,” explains Prof. Blair. “For example, Hella Watkins used the open-ended responses from participants for her honours thesis this past year and is presenting her work at the Canadian Psychological Association’s annual conference in June.”
A touchpoint for open information sharing
Prof. Blair is a strong advocate for research accessibility, which is why her latest paper was published as an open-access article in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. This was made possible through an open access agreement between the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, of which Trent is a member, and the SAGE publishing house. Prof. Blair and her students also frequently share their findings through mainstream media outlets such as Psychology Today and the Globe and Mail.
By sharing their research findings with a broader audience, Prof. Blair and her students hope to offer a glimpse into the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ Canadians.
“Perhaps the experience of the pandemic will help people to better understand our research in this area, because essentially it is very much about that same thing – wanting to be able to reach out and physically touch a loved one, hold their hand, hug them, but not being able to,” shares Prof. Blair. “I hope that as more people outside of the LGBTQ2S+ community come to learn about this topic, they might find small ways to help solve this issue. Maybe they’ll smile kindly the next time they see a same-sex couple sharing affection. They don’t need to overdo it and go congratulate them, but a smile might go a long way towards reducing any potential vigilance that the couple may be experiencing.”
Posted on July 7, 2022