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Does keeping up with the Joneses include filing for divorce?

We hope the answer to the question is, "Of course not." Truth be told, though, we really don't know.

If you think of the families in your neighborhood, have you noticed a wave of divorces? Maybe it's the same cosmic force responsible for all of the women we work with being pregnant at the same time. We know of more than one Twin Cities workplace where someone has said, "There must be something in the water!" Ha ha.

We do know -- or, research tells us -- that we are influenced by what people around us do. According to a University of Exeter study, people are more and more often ignoring their own instincts to go along with what the neighbors do. Hey, it works in the animal kingdom, so maybe it should work in human society, too.

Not always, the study's lead author says. Following others has its place. It isn't surprising that we buy laundry detergent based on what our parents used. We copy others when we join churches and choose restaurants, when we recycle or get dressed for work. It is a natural phenomenon.

It has its limits, though. A time comes when we must evaluate the choices in front of us and make our own decisions, decisions that are rooted in our personal beliefs. That is, the author implies, what makes us different from other species.

The researchers didn't just rely on anecdotal evidence. They looked at how social information has been used over time using a model of decision-making in a dynamic environment. The results showed that individuals rely too heavily on social information, and it looks as if we make up our own minds less and less often.

This is all moderately interesting, you're thinking, but where does divorce fit in?

As the study explains it, this over-reliance on social information translates into a reluctance to accept change and to adapt to changed circumstances. The study's title says it all: "Social information use and the evolution of unresponsiveness in collective systems."

If we are reluctant to accept change, how can our personal relationships evolve, much less flourish? If we cannot adapt to change, how can our marriages survive economic ups and downs, life changes and all the other stressors that lead couples to divorce?

Source: Science Daily, " Are we programmed to make bad decisions?" Dec. 16, 2014

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