Psychological Research and Its Impact on Society


Most contemporary psychologists argue that psychology has had a relatively long past but a brief history. The entire history of science is characterized by numerous reflections on psychological questions. However, the continuity of investigations in psychology has always been interrupted. A significant development in the field of psychology has occurred over the recent times (Friedan, 2003). Psychology is interested in mental processes with continuous attempts to understand the already existing mental facts. The facts of consciousness are not material data which one may claim to have discovered like a rare mineral which can be seen like an unfamiliar phenomenon in nature (Klemm, 2008). This is because before the mental facts are analyzed from a scientific point of view they have already had numerous influences on the social life. Moreover, scientific investigations demand some degree of emotional detachment for it to be successful. However, feelings and emotions in psychology are themselves the objects of investigation, the most central questions of psychology are intimately related to the important interests of our common life. Psychological research is deeply interwoven with the deepest interests, hopes, and passions of man and always subject to influence of feelings and emotions. This fact has seen psychology develop historically in a unique trend following more or less unique approaches.

This research paper will focus on the family; and how the relationship between men and women has changed over time, as well as we will focus on marriage and divorce. It will discuss the role of socio-economic status between men and women, their level of education, how gender roles are defined and change over time, as well as how psychology constructs children. Psychological research is greatly influenced by the society while on the other hand psychological research impact society in a number of ways.

The Family: The Relationship between Men and Women

In the past, looking for a marriage partner was not associated with love. However, this conception of the institution of marriage has been changed significantly over time. Throughout the history of Western civilization, wealth, power, and survival techniques were the core determining factors in marriage and delicate emotions and sentiments were completely detached (Coontz, 2005). During the medieval period in Europe, every member of the society played a central role in determining who could wed or not. One’s status in the society was not considered when it came to matters of marriage; the lord of the manor, as well as the members of lower class in the village equally decided who should get married and with whom. No one could claim that he or she was in love with the intended partner. Love was regarded as a rather silly and weak reason for a marriage partner.

Moreover, adultery, as well as friendship was most often considered to be more passionate compared with marriage throughout the Enlightenment and Victorian periods (Coontz, 2005). Over the centuries, the reasons given for getting married have changed significantly with love and related emotions being the most cited. Psychologists today are perplexed by the fact that most people marry because of love for one another, yet the rate of divorce has been on the rise over the recent past. In fact, divorce has seemingly been the reward for any couple that has love as the number one reason for their union. It is possible to trace how the family in relation to marriage has changed from the ancient to the modern times.

The Renaissance Period

The perception of marriage and the question of love in this period differ significantly from the present age. As pointed out earlier, political power and money were superior to emotions in the olden days and shaped the institution of marriage. In ancient Greece, love was considered a manly affair and not a factor in marriage (Wisner-Hanks & Wiesner, 2010). Marriage was determined mainly by inheritance struggles and tensions rather than emotions. During this period, a woman would be forced to marry her closest relative if her father died with no male heirs to inherit the family wealth. Such a woman would even be forced to divorce her husband for the sake of continuity in the family.

In ancient Rome, marriage was regarded as a means of strengthening family bonds, especially among the powerful members of the society (Klemm, 2008). A husband could divorce his wife, marry her off to a wealthier family, and remarry the same wife after the demise of the other husband. Divorce was used as a strategy for strengthening ties between families. Polygamy was common in the 6th century in Europe. The 12th century in Europe was characterized by marriages which were arranged long before the husband and wife-to-be met. This was common among members of the upper-class who did not believe that love could be compatible with marriage (Coontz, 2005). In fact, they believed that marriage could only thrive in adultery. During the 14th century, marriage in Europe had changed with the lords determining who could marry who among the unmarried tenants and those wished to remarry after the demise of their spouses. Peasants, on the other hand, were required to pay a fee before choosing a marriage partner. By the 16th century, love had not been considered a factor for getting married to someone. Any man who regarded their union in marriage as being a result of love was considered dull and weak.

17th Century-Victorian Era

By this period, marriage had become a family affair but intimate and passionate feelings could still be obtained from family members and friends as opposed to partners. Towards the end of the 17th century, couples in Virginia were not supposed to have passionate love for each other as it would degrade the authority of the husband (Friedan, 2003). Endearing nicknames were strongly prohibited among wives and husbands even by church ministers. It was not until the 18th century that love started to gain ground and formed a basis for marriage in Europe. However, the money factor had not yet been forgotten, especially in England and women were encouraged to prioritize the wealth status of the spouse regardless of whether they were in love or not (Coontz, 2005).

By mid of the 18th century, the perception of the society towards women as the lustier sex had changed and was then regarded as being chaste and pure. The dress code during weddings had changed to virginal white replacing the jeweled gown of the olden days (Suleiman, 2004). Consequently, the rate of married men having sex with prostitutes increased significantly during this period. They considered their wives as being too virtuous. In the United States, the 19th century was characterized by a shift of events taking place after the wedding ceremony. In the past, the newly wedded couple would pay a visit to those who could not make it to their ceremony. However, by mid 19th century, couples started going on honeymoons where they would spend some time together as they embarked on their new married life. Honeymoons were however not restricted to two but the brides were allowed to bring with them their girlfriends.

The 20th Century to Modern Times

This era saw a complete turnaround in the way marriage was considered in the society. People were then starting to adore married couples with love being the most important unifying factor in marriage (Friedan, 2003). Intimate relationship was no longer a family or friends’ affair but encompassed only two people, wife and husband. The first decades of the 20th century in America saw the emergence of new ways of searching for a marriage partner. The post World War I period marked the beginning of Saturday night where potential couples dated in restaurants, bars, and cars detached from their respective families. It was during this time that the society started embracing sex despite criticisms from the conservative members of the society (Wisner-Hanks & Wiesner, 2010). The critics warned that marriage as an institution was on its downward trend.

By mid 20th century, the American society perceived married life as compulsory for every adult. Anyone with a family of his or her own was highly respected in the society and to remain single was regarded as being “immoral,” “sickly” or even “neurotic.” The trend witnessed at the dawn of the 20th century started changing in the 1970s with the emergence of independent women professionals, as well as the drastic change in societal values and rules (Friedan, 2003). Marriage was no longer seen as mandatory and love was an insufficient reason for getting married. Couples started facing challenges in their marriage and no effort was made to reconcile paving way for a wave of increasing divorce rates. Movements advocating for the recognition of the role played by women in the society emerged posing even more threats to the stability of most marriages.

In the modern age, marriage has slightly changed from what transpired from the 1970s to the late 20th century. Love plays a central role in any marriage and living together is regarded as the true expression of emotional feelings towards one another (Coontz, 2005). This, however, is not only limited to heterosexual relationships but also among the gays and lesbians. In most countries of the world, same sex partners are demanding for their right to get married and this has seen the entrenchment of such rights in the constitution. Formal marriages have been on the decline with the society encouraging its members to live together while they find out if they can make a good wife and husband (Friedan, 2003). Psychologists have argued that the use of the ever changing day to day interactions to judge the degree of love may lead to a misconception of the concept of love. Many couples confuse love for a stress-free relationship and married life. Currently, even with the fall of formal marriages, many single individuals and those in some sort of relationship still uphold fantasies of a perfect wedding ceremony some day (Lydon, 2008).

Over the past centuries, psychologists have tried to offer explanations of why people think and behave the way they do, especially in relation to marriage and divorce. Most of their arguments have been provocative and deeply controlled by their own emotional feelings. Critics have posited that their proclamations are designed to appeal to people rather than stating scientific facts (Friedan, 2003). Proponents of evolutionary psychology argue that the mental processes in human beings are influenced by the dire need for survival and reproduction (Klemm, 2008). Psychological researchers have been conducting various studies in order to investigate the nature of marriages and the reasons why some are stable while others are not. The findings have been seen as subjective to nature in most cases. However, the findings have contributed to shaping people’s opinions and perceptions as far as relationship between men and women were concerned.

Education and Marriage

During the World War II period, there was an increased gender specialization. The relationship between the level of education and marriage was not among women. The women who had pursued education to college level were less likely to be already married and the probability of their ever getting married was quite low as well (Berna, 2011). A decline in specialization saw a change in this trend to a more positive relationship for women. Gender specialization was very low by the dawn of the 21st century and the relationship between education and marriage for women turned positive. Women who had acquired some college education were most likely to be currently married. The main reason cited by psychologists is that these women more likely to remain in the married life or remarry in case of divorce or death of the husband (Coontz, 2005). In terms of race, this positive trend was more likely among black women compared to the white women. Most studies have argued that the relationship between education and marriage is significantly influenced by the context of gender roles ascribed by the society (Berna, 2011).

Gender Roles and the Family

For a long time, the society has influenced and defined what the responsibilities of men and women should be. The term gender role has been used to refer to those duties defining who a man and a woman are from a social perspective (Suleiman, 2004). Hence it is a social construct. Many studies have revealed that these gender roles vary from society to another, from culture to culture, social status, age, as well as over different historical periods. The change in gender roles can be traced several years back especially in the United States of America.

The Development of Gender Roles

During the 18th and 19th centuries, gender roles had not yet developed as a topic of interest in America. The American society at this particular time frame was largely an agricultural community and the industrial period started emerging during the second half of 1800’s (Friedan, 2003). The grown up male was expected to be the bread winner by all means and most of them earned their incomes from their own farms or from wages of their labor. Many of them were craftsmen, merchants, while others were government employees. The males also provided security to all members of the family and the society at large. They were expected to be strong with high degree of independence and self-reliance. Furthermore, the male was not expected to be found around the homestead, but he was supposed to be in the fields and look for a good market of farm produce.

The female, on the other hand, was assigned the responsibility to bear and to take good care of children. She was also expected to run the household but with the strict supervision of the husband (Klemm, 2008). When there was little to be done in the house, she would be required to join the husband in the fields. Some of the household chores included cooking, meals, general cleaning, preparing farm produce ready for sale, and meeting all the needs of the husband, as well as those of the children.

The society ensured that children learnt their roles very early in life. Psychologists argue that children learn most of the things from their environment through gender stereotyping. Boys learn how to cultivate the farms preparing to perform their responsibilities as grown ups (Friedan, 2003). The school was also a very important socializing agent and children learnt about what was expected of them in future. Boys were prepared for further studies to develop their careers. The girls were also taught their expected roles as adult females. They learnt household chores and were given basic education. Unlike in the case of the boys, no effort was made to prepare the girls for higher education until 1837 (Coontz, 2005). This limited the identification and advancement in career and they ended up as being housewives and mothers.

During this period, feminism was enacted and those who subscribed to and advocated for their ideas were regarded as sinful individuals with unfeminine characteristics championing the work of the devil. They were accused of behaving like men and most of them were already married and with children (Friedan, 2003). These group of women received condemnation not only from the church and men, but also from their fellow women who did not subscribe to their teachings. The most important call made by these women was for equality in accessing education and career progression for both men and women (Friedan, 2003). Women were not allowed to vote during this period and the feminists demanded this as a right. They were also against slavery which was rampant during this particular period. As a result of their quest, slaves got freedom in 1865. By the end of 19th century, most high schools, as well as colleges started educate women.

Industrialization had taken root in North America by mid 19th and the first decades of the 20th century and its trace in the society had been felt (Lydon, 2008). This period saw an increase in the rate of movement of people as a result of the transcontinental railroad. Businesses thrived and gender roles also changed significantly. Having received better education, the males engaged in new and well paying careers and could move freely around the country in search for better opportunities. The roles they had learnt at home and at school made men to be aggressive and assertive in then emerging competitive world (Klemm, 2008). The government, legal as well as medical agencies, were all dominated by men. The roles of women recorded slight changes compared to those of men with their major roles remaining to be household chores and care giving. For those who worked in factories, they received meager pay and were preferred by most employees. The unmarried and the widowed were the ones who provided the majority of female labor force. Gender roles continued to change and by 1917, some degree of equality between men and women had been reached including political equality.

The gender roles did experience drastic changes during the 20th century apart from the fact women had moved into the formerly masculine responsibilities. The Great Depression in the 1930s forced many men to assume duties at home which initially ‘belonged’ to women. On the other, the feminist movement continued with their quest for total equality. As it has been already mentioned, the feminist movement became more powerful in the 1960s and the 1970s (Wood & Sheehy, 2006). During this period females ventured into careers that were initially a reserve for men and the women started gaining some degree of financial stability like the men. They pursued careers in medicine, politics, law, armed forces, and so on. It is evident in the modern times that gender roles have changed with men taking on roles that were initially meant for their female counterparts. This may be largely attributed to the persistence of the feminist movements whose efforts have influenced even the psychological researchers who are constantly at pains to explain why these drastic changes have and continue to occur.

Effects on the Family

The changing gender roles have undoubtedly influenced the family both directly and indirectly. For most Americans, the nuclear family is an ideal one made up of father as the head assisted by the mother and then the children (Friedan, 2003). In the olden days, most Americans lived with their parents and grandparents. During this period, families were relatively close together due to poor means of transport and communication. With advancement in transport network, members of the family became more mobile as they looked for greener pastures elsewhere. Some lived alone as they were not married.

By the mid of the 20th century, the world, especially in the developed countries, witnessed significant improvements in the means of communication and transport. The divorce rate in America, however, has been on a steady increase since the 20th century (Coontz, 2005). Many studies now show that one of every three marriages in America will eventually end up in divorce resulting into an increased number of single-parents with over 90% being headed by women (Lydon, 2008).

The deterioration of the family has been blamed by many on the feminist movements while others argue the family has not been destroyed but has taken different forms over the centuries. Changes in gender roles have been associated with economic changes over time with both men and women assuming various duties in the workforce. It may be argued that the society has played a major role in influencing the mental orientation of the males and females in the society, as well as what they perceive as their roles (Spade & Ballantine, 2011).

The changes witnessed in the society over time have also affected the emotions of the family. The modern advancements in communication and transportation network, the feminist movement, and the economy have occasioned all these changes in the society (Wood & Sheehy, 2006). Women have been fighting for a long time to be successful in the outside world just as their male counterparts. This struggle for equality has caused emotional conflicts among the males and females. Women have felt that their potentialities have been undermined while the domineering men feel that their rightful position in the society is threatened (Lydon, 2008). Although some men still have issues with women executives, most people have used to them. Despite venturing into the initially male-dominated careers, many females still feel that they are not “proper” women if they do not have families. This thinking has been influenced by psychological research findings. Many books have been written to explain the sense of guilt felt by women who feel that they have failed in their natural responsibilities. Lack of role models for some females in the career world had forced them to assume manly responsibilities. However, they have had their emotions confused.

While women have fought for equality with men, men have found themselves assuming the roles which were initially reserved only for the females. Also, men have had to accommodate their women counterparts in the various places of work. The men felt that their roles should remain intact and some were forced to deny their wives the opportunity of joining the work force (Wood & Sheehy, 2006). For many men whose wives had entered the labor force, they still felt that all the household chores belonged to women, and this caused a lot of emotional tension in the family, especially after work. In this conflicting perception of gender roles that marital problems emerged explaining the increase in divorce rate over time.

How Psychology and Society Construct Children

In the olden days, families were considered to be the basic socio-economic units and were patriarchal and extended in nature. The family structure ensured that social protocols were adhered to, and the social status and responsibilities were also determined by this structure (Spade & Ballantine, 2011). The presence of the extended family was for the common good of all the members in terms of security, access to resources, authority, inheritance and general welfare. Rigid societal norms were used to promote cohesiveness in the family since actions of one member of the family were interpreted in the light of the entire family (Wood & Sheehy, 2006). This necessitated the indoctrination of children into learning their gender roles as expected by the society at large. Hence, it was possible to divide children by their gender roles at a very early age of their life (Suleiman, 2004).

Psychologists argue that exposing children to a given environment would force them to learn from it. Therefore, the roles of the children are inculcated by training them through real life experiences. The boys will watch and learn from the fathers and other men, while girls learn their responsibilities from their mothers and related role models in the society (Klemm, 2008). What the elder members of the society were doing was to provide an environment that would help inculcate the desired values and norms in the boys and girls (Wood & Sheehy, 2006).

The society has introduced new ways of regarding and treating children in the family and the larger community. Legal rights of the child have been entrenched in the constitution, especially concerning education and employment. In the quest to ensure that all children access quality education, the American governs introduced the “No Child Left behind Act” at the beginning of the 21st century (Ram, 2005). With the government assuming the role of educating the children, it determines the content of the curriculum which is in line with national goals. The school and society will always play a central role in inculcating societal values in children and they may either be used to develop or ruin the future of the children.


This research paper has focused mainly on the family; how the relationship between men and women has changed over time and on marriage and divorce issues. It has emerged that throughout the history of Western civilization, wealth, power, as well as survival techniques were the most significant determining factors in marriage and delicate emotions, and sentiments were completely detached. However, marriage in the modern age has slightly changed from what transpired from the 1970s to the late 20th century with love now playing a central role in any marriage and living together is regarded as the true expression of emotional feelings towards one another. The paper has also highlighted the role of socio-economic status of men and women, the impact of their level of education on marriage, especially among women, how gender roles are defined and change over time, and how psychology construct children. As mentioned, research in psychology is deeply intertwined with the deepest interests, hopes, emotions and passions of man and always subject to influence of feelings and emotions. The paper has demonstrated, therefore, that psychological research is greatly influenced by the society while, on the other hand, psychological research impacts society in a number of ways, especially in marriage and divorce.


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Klemm, O. (2008). A history of psychology. Michigan, MI: Forgotten Books

Lydon, A. L. (2008). If-then contingencies and the differential effects of the availability of an attractive alternative on relationship maintenance for men and women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (1)

Ram, S. (2005). Psychology and child growth. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons Spade, J. Z. & Ballantine, J. H. (2011). Schools and society: a sociological approach to education. New jersey, NJ: Pine Forge Press

Suleiman, R. (2004). Contemporary psychological research on social dilemmas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wisner-Hanks, M. E. & Wiesner, M. E. (2010). Gender in history: global perspectives (2nd ed). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell

Wood, C. & Sheehy, K. (2006). Developmental psychology in action. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons

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