The State of the Art of Scientific Research on Polyamoury

by Ritalin1 min read9th Sep 201318 comments


Personal Blog

The idea of polyamoury is one that interests me. However, while such books as The Ethical Slut have done a good job of providing me with tools to understand and possibly handle the challenges and rewards involved, I found them unsatisfying in that they were largely based on anecdotal evidence, with a very strong selection bias. Before making the jump of attempting to live that way, one would need to know precisely the state of the art of scientific, rigourous, credible research on the topic; it is a tedious job to seek out and compile everything, but I believe it is a job worth doing. 

I'll be initiating an ongoing process of data compilation, and will publish my findings on this thread as I discover and summarize them. Any help is greatly appreciated, as this promises to be long and tedious. I might especially need help extracting meaningful information from the masses of data; I am not a good statistician yet, far from it.

To Be Expanded...


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[-][anonymous]7y 8

This dissertation blog focuses on the author's doctoral work on polyamory, including lots of reference lists (scroll down to see reference list for post).

Thank you very much, Dany, much obliged. Now I'll need to go through that huge reference pool and sort the useful from the useless... (Not sarcasm, I mean all of this in earnest).

In every word structure, there are points where its intent is decided; the longer the sentence is, the more such points there are. This was close to utilizing almost every such point for sarcasm, I'm not even sure if I could make that more sarcastic without taking it to parody levels.

Well, I suppose I need to learn to improve my writing skills, then. I expressed thankfulness at the help, and weariness in the face of all the effort it will take to capitalize on it. Then again, I have always had trouble understanding sarcasm, such as why people would choose it over more direct forms.

The trick is that gratitude and weariness are contradictory, which falls under the umbrella of what sarcasm provides; a way of expressing gratitude in such a way that weariness shows. The reaction of annoyance/unpleasant surprise this causes on part of the receiver of sarcasm is anticipated by the speaker, and is considered a way of wounding them, which is why sarcasm can be used in arguments.

While both your intention and the conventional intention are both valid, the conventional intention is triggered, as the basic structure of expressing the spirit of one emotion with the letter of another is more commonly used, and thus more frequently recognized as such.

What sort of information are you looking to find?

I can't help but think that this is an instance where science doesn't really have enough to contribute at the moment, and personal real-world experience would be much more valuable. If you like the ideas of polyamory, then give it a shot -- it's not like you're making a permanent and inflexible choice to Forever Go Poly.

I can't help but think that this is an instance where science doesn't really have enough to contribute at the moment, and personal real-world experience would be much more valuable. If you like the ideas of polyamory, then give it a shot -- it's not like you're making a permanent and inflexible choice to Forever Go Poly.

While this might apply to the local demographic, you may be downplaying the possible risks for other groups. For instance, according to Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women by Jay Teachman, "women who have more than one intimate premarital relationship have an increased risk of marital dissolution". So, it may be less of a case of try both and see what works for you and more of try one and the other will become more difficult.

In any case, this is mostly speculation. As you say, there is very little data I am aware of that is directly relevant to the issue.

They are quite excellent, thank you very much.

Belongs in Open Thread, I think.

Some relevant research is cited here.

I believe Poly should be a top-discussion topic; we've got a disproportionate amount of poly people here, so it's relevant to us, and the scarcity of scientific data makes it a rationality challenge to compile information on it and elaborate strategies on what to do.

I think it will be difficult to find good research about Polyamory, since only a very small percentage of people are living the poly lifestyle. In a previous comment I estimated the frequency as something like 1/3500 in the SF Bay area and likely much lower elsewhere. Here is an interesting BBC News article about a polyamorous group.

Polyamory has a long history (under various names) as a lifestyle component of certain ideologies. Polyamory and utopian socialism have often been found together, from the early Christian Adamites, to the Radical Swedenborgians, to the counterculture hippies in the 60s/70s. These groups have tended to flame out after a certain period of time. I do think that polyamory may be sustainable for a certain niche of the population that is mentally unusual in some way (probably autism-spectrum.)

Why autism spectrum?

That's just a hunch I've developed while looking into polyamorous people on dating sites. Older poly people seem to be more counter-culture types, but many of the younger ones were folks I would associate with the nerd/geek/autism-spectrum mind cluster.

This is unlikely; if we're going for the idea of autism being correlated with nerdiness, we must also go with the idea of autism being correlated with poor social skills, and polyamoury is a whole other kind of social network. Also, very few nerdy people I've met were autism spectrum.

From Gwern's notes:

Polyamory and Asperger Syndrome

Anapol 2010 featured an interesting section on Asperger's syndrome anecdotally correlating with polyamory - which LW has often been accused of being host to; as this is the only print discussion I know of, I will take the liberty of quoting the entire thing:

Asperger syndrome has been relatively recently recognized as a neurobiological disorder somewhat related to autism but characterized by deficiencies in social skills, difficulties with transitions, and difficulties reading body language and other nonverbal cues. Often there is also acute sensitivity to sounds, sights, tastes, and smells and exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. These people are known both for their eccentricity and for their creativity. Einstein, for example, has often been mentioned as a likely Asperger’s candidate. Because of the legendary inability of people with Asperger’s to navigate social situations and function well in intimate relationships, I wouldn’t have expected to find them gravitating toward polyamory, which, as we have seen, thrives on emotional intelligence and excellent communication skills. Nevertheless, serendipity has brought this connection to my attention. Within the space of one day, I discovered that three different people who I’d been interviewing for this book either had been diagnosed with Asperger’s or had a poly lover with Asperger’s. Considering that Asperger’s is thought to be rather rare, I found that significant. When I started reflecting on people I had known, including some of my own partners, I began to notice a common pattern. I began to suspect that a significant minority of people choosing polyamory have Asperger’s traits if not the full-blown syndrome.

I asked one of my interviewees who identified himself as having Asperger’s how he would account for polyamory and Asperger’s being such unlikely bedfellows. His opinion, based on his own life experience, was that Asperger’s leads to a technical and strategic way of consciously thinking that is applied to relationships as well as other areas of life. Okay, I thought, so polyamory is more strategic? Perhaps it could be, but only for those of very high intelligence.

Tanya, who suspected that her partner Jerry had Asperger’s, directed me to Dr. Amy Marsh, a sex therapist specializing in working with Asperger syndrome (or Aspies as they are affectionately nicknamed). She told me that she had studied Aspies and sexuality for her doctoral research and found that a number were involved in polyamorous relationships. Why? She guessed that “Aspies gravitate toward intimate situations where there are rules, mutual agreements, parameters, defined roles, and ways to manage their own limited capacities for emotional engagement but still enjoy intimacy (mostly on their terms). . . . My sense is that Aspies will be among those who approach these things in a more formal way than others.” She mentioned polyamory as one of several other intimate structures that have this kind of appeal.

This explanation seems to be in line with the strategic thinking concept, but I have another hypothesis. Because Aspies are fairly clueless about social norms and prone to misread or overlook negative reactions to social deviations, they are less likely to be bound by mononormative relationship expectations and more willing to experiment with out of the box arrangements. They don’t automatically reject polyamory as socially incorrect as some might do. Instead, they take an unbiased, objective look and decide it may meet their needs. And then they’re not bothered by social ostracism because they either don’t notice or are used to it because of their other odd behaviors. Additionally, polyamory may make intimate relationships more manageable for them if their partners can meet their own needs for empathy and emotional closeness, which the Aspie may find bewildering elsewhere.

To clarify, the two ideas (correlation with nerdiness and correlation with social skills) are both equally poor, there's no reason to use one and not the other.