Science

Asst. Prof. Emre Selçuk

I am from METU; I grew up here. After graduating from Business Administration Department of METU, I got my PhD from Cornell University. I was back in METU in 2013. On the other side of the stage, I have a longer background as a student; on this side, this is my fourth year. I am doing research about relationships, looking at the closest relations in our lives. I am analyzing how we build and maintain a relationship with the people who have brought us up since birth; our mother, our father, or whoever is raising us, then when we are an adult, with our spouse or partner, and its impacts of our daily lives, our happiness and physical health.

According to the results of the sleep study in intimate relations, which address the issues wondered since the beginning of humanity from a psychological perspective; when people think that their spouse understand them, value their ideas and share their problems, their quality of sleep increases, the sleep is less interrupted and even if it is interrupted, it is quicker for them to fall asleep again. This is because an understanding and responsive spouse decreases the level of anxiety.

One of the coordinators of this study, Dr. Emre Selçuk from the Psychology Department gave information about the projects published in the journal titled Social Psychological and Personality Science and in the newspapers Independent, Daily Mail and Telegraph and his other areas of study:

In our analyses that draw attention of Independent and various international popular media, there is nothing new in a way. It seems that there are teachings about relationships when we look at the oldest manuscripts of mankind. In our project which is carried out in cooperation with several universities, we used data with a large sample (about 700 people aged between 35 and 86) living in continental America. The answer to the question "How our spouses help us sleep better?", which is our research topic, is really interesting: The primary condition to have a quality sleep is not to feel any element of danger or anxiety. The first factor that ensures this is the people closest to us who influence our anxiety and stress levels. In today's world, we are all stressed out; daily challenges and the problems in our country are hard to overcome on our own. When we try to cope with all these troubles, it has a cost: the body wears off. However, if we have someone who can support us and have a shoulder for us, that cost decreases. This issue, which attracted foreign media's attention, was essentially only one of the topics we examined in series analyses.

Stating that they also analyzed the impact of intimate relations on the death risk; a part of the participants passed away over the years in the data they analyzed; therefore, they could observe whether having a responsive partner or spouse in a relationship would affect the death risk, Dr. Selçuk continued: "If you do not think that the person closest to you is responsive to you, in other words, if you do not think that he/she understands, appreciates you, and shares your troubles, your death risk increases. If your partner or spouse is a responsive one, that is quite the opposite."

In another analysis of this study, Dr. Selçuk stated that they examined whether the way the secretion system of the cortisol hormone, one of the basic hormones that help overcome stress in our body, works affects the responsiveness of spouses, and added: "Cortisol hormone is high when we wake up in the morning. Feeling suddenly awake in the morning is about the increase in the cortisol hormone. It reduces gradually during the day and reaches a very low level before bedtime. This is a healthy routine; so, it will start high in the morning reducing during the day and coming to a minimum level. If it is low in the morning and not decreasing during the day and follows a horizontal progress, this brings the depression risk along with it. This is also risky for the defense system. If you consider your spouse to be responsive, the cortisol system works in 10 years in this way; high in the morning and goes down towards the evening. If you are with an unresponsive person, it starts so low over time and it does not get down so rapidly. Well, these are long-term effects. If you have a problem with your spouse one night whom you think usually responsive, this would not have long-term effects but if you are in a relationship with someone whom you think he/she has become unresponsive over time, this might have an adverse effect on your sleep routine; you would feel down more frequently, and have a decreased appetite and more depressive emotions."

Stating that psychologists have argued until recently that the biological systems sampled in this cortisol system have an inherent substructure, this takes form to some extent in early life and carries on in the same way throughout life, Dr. Selçuk highlighted that one of the most important contributions of this study is that it shows for the first time there might some long-term effects on spouses as well:"So, you may come from an unfortunate background, have issues in your family, there might be a war or a drought in your city and the mechanisms of coping with stress and biological mechanisms may not have been developed at the optimal level. According to our first findings; there is a possibility that this system will be formed again when you meet responsive people in the future and when you come into contact with those who understand you; we showed this for the first time in this study." Emre Selçuk said: "The studies in the previous years were more focused on finding an answer to the question "How the spouses or intimate relations provide such benefits to people, and what are the underlying reasons?".

In another study on this matter; we set off to search out “Can we develop a small technique to help people overcome their negative memories using their relationships?”. We all remember bad memories from the past in our daily lives; it is not possible to escape from them as this is what being a human takes. The front part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex allows us to make terrific plans, and gives us a great problem solving ability, but it has a curse, too; it is always reminiscent of the past, and we all remember the bad things without exception in daily life. It is normal for these bad memories to come to our mind, but it is dangerous to keep them in our minds for a long time; so if bad memories keep your mind busy for too long, it increases your risk against psychological distress. We want the people coming to our laboratories to remember their bad memories of the past and to live them again. Of course, this makes them feel bad, and they feel down. Then, in one group, we show their spouse’s photos for 90 seconds, and in the other group, they look at someone else’s photo. Those who look at the photos of their spouses are feeling good much more quickly; while those who look at someone else’s photo are getting rid of the distress caused by their bad memory much later. ” Mr. Selçuk pointed out that the studies in recent years generally have been on the effects of such relations and he has been giving a lecture called Human Bonding which directly has come out of these research subjects:“We start with the birth of a man, how he builds up his first relationship, then he starts seeing people around him when he enters early adulthood, he falls in love and establishes a relationship, families also approve that, and they get married, create an emotional bond and start to make use of these benefits. Then, one of the partners does wrong, he/she cheats on the other one and they split up, etc. We address all these series in a period. In my applied social psychology class, we are focused on the question ‘What does psychology tell us to be healthier, happier, better in daily life and more useful to other people? . Since the human mind is not very capable of making major changes, we are looking for answers to the questions “What can we do in daily life for being a happy, healthy and good person, and to make right decisions with tiny changes?”. Moreover, as I use a lot of numerical techniques in my research, I give my master and doctoral students two of the statistical analysis techniques courses. We discuss advanced analysis techniques with them” he said. Mr. Selçuk emphasized that they made and presented a podcast called “The Nutty Prince” with Melih Kavukcu, a graduate of ODTU Business Administration Department, and they intended to give a little “pill” information people could apply in daily life for a healthier and happier life and they intended to make an assessment often laughing and having fun about the events and situations they often observe in their daily life from a psychological point of view.

Projects conducted with PhD students

Emre Selçuk noted that the projects they carried out with the PhD students were ninety percent on relationships and pointed out that they looked through in a joint project with Bilkent University together with one of his PhD students in METU, a graduate student in Bilkent and his colleague from Bilkent and his wife Asst. Prof. Gül Günaydın how adults establish relationships with each other and added: “By bringing together two people who do not know each other in a room with a camera, we carefully encode the behaviors they exhibit at the phase when they recognize each other. Thus, we aim to show how two people who do not know each other become friends or lovers, what processes are involved.

One of the projects that two students, one of whom is a Ph.D. and a graduate student, are interested but have not started yet is how the dwelling mobility affects relationships. In a very important part of human history, we have a role that we learned from our parents or through apprenticeship in an environment in which we are born and grow up. We maintain our life playing the role attributed to us. There is an incredible mobility in the last 50 years; people are constantly shifting and perhaps trying to choose their own spouses by engaging in one of the most ambitious ‘projects’ of human history. What might be the effect of this mobility on relationships? This mobility may increase the significance of romantic relationships because the relationship with the mother and the father continues in an environment of low mobility; there are childhood friends from the past. In a society where your mobility is so high, the people who act together for a while are much more important to each other; because all the roles shared by the sibling, the mother, the father, the friend who has been known since childhood are attributed to a single person. Our students discuss what consequences may arise if that single person cannot overcome this burden. Another student of mine wonders how child raising would be like in this mobility; as the child should be encouraged to stand out and be prominent when needed in the model for raising a child based on the expectations of such a mobile community. He/she analyses how the expectations from a child in a mobile society are transferred and the manner that families raise their children are shaped.

The project that we will start with our PhD students in the future and which is at the planning stage now intends to answer the question ‘Is responsiveness of spouses being transferred from generation to generation?' . So; if I am a responsive partner, will my child grow up to be a responsive spouse? What makes us think that is some studies with rats: There are two kinds of rat mothers; A mother model that licks her children quite often, takes good care of them, protects them in such a way that they can warm up and provides a comfortable environment to them; and a kind of mother who never licks or licks little her children and does not care about them much. If the mother is good, licks quite often and provides a nice environment to her child, that rat’s corticosterone hormone-the rat version of our cortisol hormone-becomes optimal. That rat becomes less reactive to stress, calm, and a good mother. Those who fall into the hands of bad mothers also turn into bad mothers when they grow up. This could have two explanations: Either genetics or the behaviors of the mother leads to it. To test this, they take the children born from good mothers and give them to bad mothers, while they take the ones born from bad ones and give them to good ones, and those who start unlucky are good when given to good mothers. So, environmental factors seem more effective. Therefore; we will try to answer the question “If I am responsive to my wife and if my wife is responsive to me, can we make better parents against our children and make them responsive individuals as well?” in a study to be conducted with parents.

Years ago, we conducted a small study with mother and child pairs in Turkey, which led the way for such studies; we observed the behavior of the mother in her daily life against her child and obtained our first findings from this study: If the mother perceives her husband as unresponsive; she becomes more unresponsive to her child during the day, when the child has a problem, she realizes it much later, she has more difficulty in intervening in the problem, the interventions are usually in the form of trial and error, and the child is less likely to be satisfied from that intervention. If the mother perceives her husband as responsive; these are less likely to happen. We want to look through whether this child acts more responsively when he/she is a grown up, for example in his/her relations with friends.

In the light of the intersection of different disciplines, specifically in our cortisol hormone study, I personally think that the disciplines should intersect at two main planes so that people could lead a healthier and happier life through the solution of the problems they encounter in their lives. First, in the horizontal plane; anthropology, sociology, psychology, and even behavioral economics could work together. In addition, we need to make the vertical level that scientists call among themselves the analysis level a common and interdisciplinary one that examines, for example, the biological, psychological and social factors of behavior together. We also need to make the theoretical substructure interdisciplinary. If you are looking at something very complicated, such as human behavior, it is not possible for a single person to do them. Many people from different backgrounds and different experiences have to work together. For example, the group that collects the data of our studies where we look at the effects of responsiveness perception about spouses is a large consortium of researchers from numerous institutions, including Carol Ryff from the University of Wisconsin and David Almeida from the Pennsylvania State. Unfortunately, I think that we have some challenges in reaching this interdisciplinary and cohesive structure; we are having difficulty in going out of our own neighborhood. It is a problem we have to overcome in both METU and all universities in the world.