Journal Club: The investment model in asexual relationships

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“A test of the investment model among asexual individuals: The moderating role of attachment orientation” by Brozowski et al. (2022).
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.912978/full (publicly accessible)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at asexualagenda@gmail.com for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.


Summary
This is a quantitative study of aces in partnered relationships that tested the investment model of relationships (which says that relationship commitment can be predicted from satisfaction, investment, and quality of alternatives), as well as its relationship to attachment orientation (anxious, avoidant, and insecure attachment styles). They found results that were generally similar to non-asexual populations.

The main results
– It’s not very surprising that the investment model holds for aces, since it’s already known to apply in many settings, including friendships and medical settings.
– There were a few unexpected results. For example, anxiety is usually unrelated to satisfaction and negatively related to commitment, but here they found it was positively related to both. We speculated that the relationship might go in the other direction, with aces in committed relationships being more anxious. This paper frames attachment style as a property of the individual, but it could also be a property of the relationship.
– Satisfaction, investment, quality of alternatives account for 62% of variance in commitment, and attachment style only added 5%. So attachment style was statisitically significant but the effect size was small.

Methodology
– We liked that they recruited from a variety of websites and not just AVEN.
– We were wondering if the measures used are even valid for aces, since sometimes there can be questions that presume a normative sexual relationship. They seem to be valid so far as we can tell.
– The methodology section is not consistent about whether the participants self-identified as “asexual” or “asexual spectrum”. Even if the authors use “asexual” to refer to the asexual spectrum, participants won’t necessarily do the same. There was no question that asked where people were on the asexual spectrum
– They used the Asexual Identification Scale (AIS) to validate their sample. We’ve criticized the AIS in the past. The AIS is not valid when applied to demi/grays. The fact that “nearly all” participants were past the threshold might indicate that their sample doesn’t have many demi/grays (see p. 65 of 2017/2018 Ace Community Survey Report). The intended purpose of the AIS is to find potentially asexual people among those who may not be familiar with the concept, whereas this survey looked at people who already identified with it.

Romantic orientation
– It was interesting that 6.3% of their sample was aromantic, since this sample only included aces in romantic relationships.
– There were 30% who said “other”, with 50% of those simply writing in “asexual”, and another 12.7% saying “demisexual”. This implies about 18% not reporting romantic orientation identities, which is nice to see.
– A rate of 18% is higher than in community surveys, where it hovers around 3-9%. Of course, this sample is different because it’s specifically aces in relationships.
– People writing in demisexual for romantic orientation could be a consequence of them not asking where people were on the asexual spectrum.
– The paper has a line saying it’s “perhaps an unfair assumption” that asexuals are less likely to pursue romantic relationships. That doesn’t seem unfair, and calling it unfair is a bit demeaning to aromantics.

Definitions
– In the paper they use “asexual” to refer to the asexual spectrum. “Asexual spectrum” or “ace” would be a better choice.
– They give an incorrect definition of demisexual–correctly sourced to Carrigan 2011. At best this is out of date, and scholars should find another source.

Future directions
– They didn’t have any data on partners, e.g. whether their partners were ace.
– It would be interesting to see how ace compared to non-aces on each of the three factors (satisfaction, investment, and quality of alternatives)–instead of just looking at their correlation with commitment. However, it may be difficult to find an appropriate comparison group, since it will vary by age, relationship status, and many other factors.
– It would be interesting to see a mixed methods approach that asked why people answered the way they did. For example, heteroromantic aces reported slightly lower quality of alternatives, and it would be interesting to know why.

Mainstream coverage
– We saw about 15-20 instances on Google Alerts of articles discussing this paper. Most of these had identical text, but there were at least three distinct articles in MSUToday, The State News, and The Conversation.
– We were curious why this particular article got so much attention. It seems like mainstream media just loves hearing about asexual relationships (but happily single people not so much). The authors also seem to be fairly media savvy.
– There were a few things we didn’t like about the articles. For instance, in the MSU article, an author frames normal relationships as a condition for destigmatization.
– The articles don’t seem to describe the actual content of the paper. For instance, an author says asexual relationships are “just as satisfied and common” as non-asexual relationships, and that wasn’t addressed. The study is touted as showing the diversity of the community, but that wasn’t a focus of the study.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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