In a relationship, bodily threats are downplayed. When you extend beyond your skin.
Cuddling with a partner, it's sometimes hard to tell where one body ends and another begins. Now research suggests that just being in a relationship leads people to feel less confined by the perimeters of their own flesh.
Matthew Hutson is a freelance writer for Science. He covers artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things. He has a bachelor’s degree in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and a master’s degree in science writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his thesis explored AI and creativity. Matt has written for Wired, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker online, and elsewhere. He is a former news editor for Psychology Today and is the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking, about the psychology of superstition and religion. He lives in New York City.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
In studies by Christopher Burris and John Rempel at St. Jerome's University in Ontario, Canada, singles felt more strongly than others that they were "limited by existing in a physical body." Singles with high sensitivity to bodily threat—people uncomfortable with things like getting a tattoo or receiving an organ transplant—are less likely to donate blood or to become aroused by sloppy sex involving bodily fluids than are other singles. But high-sensitivity people in relationships didn't respond similarly; they seem to be able to suppress negative reactions to what might otherwise disgust or threaten them.
Subliminally invoking a sense of unity with a partner also makes people more impervious to bodily threats. According to Burris, "When the self is conceptualized as 'us' rather than 'me,' the bodily aspect of the self-boundary decreases in importance." You extend beyond your skin, and what happens to your mortal body matters less.
Thinking about an intimate connection might even provide a swell in bravery before, say, riding a rollercoaster or going into surgery, Burris suggests. Tandem skydiving, anyone?