Lobo Spotlight: Brian Soller
Professor Brian Soller has concluded that not all teen romances lead to happy endings.
In his recent sociological study, Soller found that the discrepancy between ideal romantic relationships and real romantic relationships puts some female teens at higher risk for depression, he said.
“I found that, among girls, those who didn’t follow their ideal romantic relationships were more at risk for severe depression, more at risk for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts,” he said. “But I also found that among boys there wasn’t an association between whether they followed their ideal relationships or not.”
About 17 percent of surveyed girls involved in relationships experienced severe depression, 16 percent had suicidal thoughts and 7 percent attempted suicide, whereas boys ranked between 8 percent and 9 percent in each of those categories, according to the study.
The data was collected from a nationwide study funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina in 1995, Soller said.
“The data has been available for a long time; it’s been used to publish thousands of articles,” he said. “The trick is trying to find a topic that’s still interesting that no one has published yet.”
In the first stage of the study, researchers asked subjects about their ideal romantic relationships. In the next stage, researchers asked subjects whether they were involved in romantic relationships and whether they had experienced depressive symptoms or suicidal thoughts.
Girls may be more at risk for depression because they tend to be socialized to build their identities around relationships, Soller said.
“For girls, these early romances are a lot more integral to the way they see themselves and their self-concepts,” he said. “If (their) ideal doesn’t match (their) actual relationship, then that’s going to be especially harmful to (their) mental health, compared to boys.”
One way to decrease the risk of depression could be to socialize girls to focus more on activities outside of social relationships, Soller said.
“We may not necessarily need to decrease relationship inauthenticity, but decrease the significance of the relationship,” he said.
“Relationship inauthenticity” is a term used by sociologists to describe the discrepancy between ideal and real relationships.
Another way to decrease these risks may be to make girls feel that they can pursue the romantic relationships they want to have, Soller said. This is important because early relationships tend to match ones later in life, he said.
“One thing you can do to lessen the experiences with relationship inauthenticity (is) potentially (to) encourage girls to be more assertive in relationships,” he said.
Soller’s study, “Caught in a Bad Romance: Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Mental Health,” was written as his dissertation and was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior’s March edition.