Sample 1: Durability of relationships

The following sample extended essay does not have an official grade.  It is an essay that was submitted for the former curriculum which has been heavily rewritten by me in order to demonstrate some of the key components of the extended essay assessment criteria.

Attached you will find a copy of the EE with annotations.  Assessment of the essay can be found at the bottom of this page.

Annotated copy


While in the previous centuries society and social status may have been enough to determine the durability or even the occurrence of a romantic relationship, today relationships are based more commonly on personal preference and partnership harmony on much deeper, microscopic levels. A marriage today may not last as long as one a century ago, where the act of divorce would have imposed shame on the family name (Doyle). Though in some cultures the ideals remain and separation from a spouse is frowned upon, divorce is becoming more and more common and societies all over the world are becoming increasingly liberal (Chen et al.). Many psychologists have spent their lives investigating the very source of a successful relationship and the predictors of relationship failure. The research question explored in this paper is: to what extent is it possible to predict the durability of a marriage?

Much psychological research done on predicting marital dissolution has been based on the theory of attribution, having to do with the ‘processes and effects of Attribution in married couples’ (as cited in Manusov & Spitzberg p.78). Studies carried out by Fincham & Bradbury (1992) suggested that ‘distressed’ spouses create attributions to negative instances with their partner that stress their impact, while the opposite was found on non-distressed spouses (as cited in Manusov & Spitzberg p.79). Flora & Segrin (2001) also pursued research on attribution as a factor impacting marriage and dissolution as well as Holtzworth-Munroe & Jacobson (1985) who explored ‘relationship enhancing’ as a type of attribution (as cited in Manusov & Spitzberg p.79).

The manifestation of our feelings is what makes us the social beings that we are, and part of what allows us to maintain successful relationships. Studies show that the higher the level of empathy one has the more likely he or she will be able to hold a relationship for longer (Pileggi). Most reasons for ‘breaking up’ are most of the time to do with feelings and emotions – rage, hatred, anger, angst, nerve, love for someone else, boredom, these are all states of mind that lead us to stray from those we may have loved. The way in which a couple copes with these uprisings of emotions and feelings may be quite successful at aiding in the determination of relationship success or failure in the long run. The ways in which psychologists identify these traits vary broadly. Gable & Pennebaker (2010) are among the many psychologists that argue that speaking styles may very well determine the compatibility of a couple (as cited in Association for Psychological Science). Surprisingly, their research suggests that the smallest undetectable features of the manner in which a couple speaks to one another may determine whether or not they will last. Though the research is still in its nascence, this may be a key factor in establishing the predicting factors of a successful relationship.

Social penetration theory, which states that over the course of a relationship communication styles and depth evolve from relatively simplistic, non-intimate levels to broader, deeper sentimental ones, assumes to determine the course of a relationship as well as its dissolution (Gottman). Gottman, a leading psychologist in research on marital dissolution and success investigated social penetration theory and the ways in which it can predict marriage failure (Gottman). Gottman focused on the use of micro-expression as a predictive factor to the outcome of a relationship. He found that signs of contempt, identifiable by micro-expressions of the mouth, are the most reliable indicator of marriage failure. The reason for this, he believes, is that it is a measure of whether or not a couple has established respect – consequentially respect is a required aspect of a functioning and lasting relationship. The mouth and eyes contain the facial coding to detecting true emotions and are thus a prediction of marital outcome.

Ultimately, though psychology is not considered a quantitative science, some psychologists conclude that a mathematical formula is potentially all that is needed to predict the success of a relationship. Though it is only correct 94% of the time, Gottman pulled all of his psychological studies together to deduce a mathematical formula that would determine whether or not a relationship would last (Goleman 219). Dawes did the same in creating the Dawes Formula, for which he decided that the ratio of quarrels to happy moments in a relationship were enough to determine the long-term outcomes of a couple (Goleman 230).

This paper will argue that the durability of a relationship may be predicted, with restrictions, and that relationship failure is more easily predicted than relationship success.

Review of literature

Many approaches have been taken by psychologists to study the predicting factors of marriage dissolution. Between 1997 and 2000, Chen and her colleagues at the New York Psychiatric Institute conducted a study using 200 participants where participants with an average age of 29 were asked to write out a detailed narrative of their passage into adulthood and the levels of conflicts they experienced every month with their partners from the age of 17 to 27 (Chen et al.). They were interviewed and from this, the researchers investigated the predictors of conflict in romantic relationships. The models they created showed that between ages 19 and 25 the levels of conflict increased and then from that point went down ever so slightly (Chen et al.). They concluded that many factors were associated with marital conflict and dissolution. A variety of variables play a role in determining one’s approach to resolving conflict in relationships, including having divorced parents, low social status, being an only child, having previously been divorced, actually being married, and having kids, were seen in men and women (Chen et al.). Due to the variability and multi-correlation of the results among couples, the researchers concluded that no concrete factor such as conflict during the transition into adulthood may predict marital success or failure, but that many factors interact to indicate signs of the durability of a marriage (Chen et al.). Isolation of variables would be required to distinguish individual influencing factors that could be used for prediction. Due to the fact that so many factors were involved and the researchers did not proceed to isolate them, the study lacks design value. Moreover, the study is retrospective which causes problems with the reliability of the collected data. Retrospective studies rely on the participants’ memories and have no physical record of the actuality of the past – causing a great deal of uncertainty in responses as participants’ memories are skewed and emotional impacts may have altered future perception. Furthermore, as is a problem with much research of this intention, the study was conducted on a sample with a restrictive age group, 17 to 27, making the results generalizable only for relationships among young people (Chen et al.).

According to Fiske (2004), “in common with other close relationships, romantic relationships involve interdependence, strong feelings, committed intent and overlapping self-concept. But unique to romantic relationships are passion and exclusive commitment” (as cited in Smith & Mackie p. 429). Though couples seem to need some compatible traits in order to stay in a relationship, in most societies marriage brings on a new aspect of coping: living together. Studies have been conducted on temperamental compatibility in marriage in the sense of how each expects to organize his or her lifestyle. This may seem mundane but the extent to which the durability of a marriage depends on the similarities of overall life organization and attitude is inevitable. To study this, different psychologists such as Wolinsky as well as Burgess have investigated thousands of couples and divorcees, bringing their field so much closer to determining how living standards may be used as a predictor of either failure or success (Burgess). One of the studies conducted by Burgess (1938) in order to test these predictive factors involved a sample in which engaged couples were to be assessed on their ability to adjust to the idea of engagement. The researchers used a network sample; they asked college students from psychology classes to distribute surveys to people who they knew were engaged. The survey asked questions such as what they like to do in their free time, if the couple does things together, ‘confide in one another’, how often they show their affection for one another and much more with relation to future plans, financial security and planning. They were also asked whether or not they had ever thought about cancelling the engagement (Burgess). They then gave their contact so that they would be interviewed again 3 - 4 years later to see if they had eventually married or if the engagement had been called off, and also to ‘measure their marital adjustment’. Burgess concluded that two significant predictors could be “temperamental compatibility and consensus upon life organization” (Burgess p.78). Were the partners to be conflicted in these areas their marriage or engagement could be predicted a failure (Burgess).  One limitation of this study is that there is a question of whether or not the fact that they were interviewed about their relationship and how they were conducting themselves may have affected their decision-making and their actions during that period of time. A limitation of a networking sample is that it distances the researchers from the participants, making it difficult to spot confounding variables that will thereby be unaccounted for. However, one strength is that through a networking sample the researchers obtained participants and information they may have otherwise never found.

A strong indication of marital success is social compatibility. One theory of how to test this form of compatibility is through conversation and examining the manner in which we speak to one another (Harvard Medical School). A study of 47 heterosexual couples in their thirties was conducted with an aim of finding whether or not it is possible to predict a marriage’s success just by listening to a conversation between both partners (Harvard Medical School). They had each couple talk for about 10 minutes about a subject that they disagreed on. Students of around age 20 were asked to observe a video recording of the couple’s disagreement and evaluate the nature of the conversation as well as each partner every half a minute. The average of the ratings of 5-6 ‘observers’ was compared with what the couple reported to be the quality of their marriage and their ‘reports’ on whether or not they were satisfied, based on an interview where they were asked a set of questions (Harvard Medical School). The researchers attempted to predict whether or not they would still be together five years from then, and then checked back in with them five years later. They realized that the happier couples included a man that showed greater empathy, less hostility and more distress. This shows that a man’s willingness to show his weak side and to be vulnerable to emotion is good for a marriage. However, this is correlational research and although it may be said that couples with sensitive and caring men are more likely to have a successful, durable relationship, this could not be used as a systematic prediction of relationship outcome.

In 2006 Gable published the results of a study where she and her team videotaped adult couples in a laboratory while they took turns discussing positive and negative events. After each conversation, the man and woman of each pair were asked to rate how ‘understood’ or ‘cared for’ they felt by their partner throughout their interaction. At the same time, the researchers rated their activeness and engagement throughout the conversations – as shown by listening, questioning, positive comments etc. They rated as ‘low’ passive comments such as “that’s nice honey” (as cited in Goleman p 219). The couples also individually graded themselves on their commitment and satisfaction in the relationship. The researchers found that the supportive responses to happy statements had higher ratings than the sympathetic responses to the bad news. The results indicated that the way in which partners respond to good news might be a stronger predictor of a healthy relationship than their response to bad occurrences (as cited in Goleman p 220). Gable says that the reason for this is perhaps that dealing with a problem or unsettling situation does not make a couple feel happy, even though it is important for the relationship (Pileggi). The ratio of good instances to bad instances, therefore, can predict the success of a relationship or marriage as a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative events is necessary for a happy relationship (as cited in Goleman p 220). Due to the setup of the experiment, one may argue that there is a possibility of demand characteristics affecting the validity of the results because the couples knew they were being videotaped. The participants may have been inclined to act in a better manner that the way that they usually would in their own home or feel ashamed of how they treat their spouse. On the contrary, however, the strength of this study is that the couple was free to talk about whatever they felt were positive or negative events in their minds, which allowed for free and realistic conversation, making it an ecologically valid activity, despite the artificiality of the setting.

A new study published in Psychological Science finds that people who speak in similar styles are more compatible. Pennebaker & Ireland of the University of Texas at Austin conducted the studies in 2010. The aim was to show that by deciphering speaking and writing styles a researcher may predict the compatibility of a couple and the potential success of a relationship. They focused on words they called ‘function words’ which are the words that we use consistently such as ‘a, the, him, it, be, anything’ – these are not necessarily verbs or nouns (as cited in Association for Psychological Science). The way in which we use these words is unique and to the naked ear cannot be differentiated but technology can score writing and speaking styles and notice significant differences between individuals. The researchers examined whether these styles of speech and writing that couples ‘adopt’ during a conversation would predict future dating and relationships (Association for Psychological Science). The researchers organized short speed-dating sessions with pairs of college students where they recorded their conversations, which through text analysis showed significant differences in language synchrony. The pairs whose language styles matched most closely were four times as likely to want future contact than pairs with out-of-sync speaking styles (Association for Psychological Science). The same was done with online chatting and recently formed couples and they found that close to 80 percent of couples whose writing styles matched were still dating 3 months later (Association for Psychological Science). This study shows means by which relationship durability or success could be predicted. However, the limitations of this study are that it does not show results for relationships lasting longer than 5 months, it does not predict whether or not they will last up until marriage or even if their plausible marriage will be successful.

Gottman (2000) conducted a study in which he compared the behaviour and interaction of married couples that were happy with those that were troubled. He found that most of the time, those who showed positive exchanges in interaction were those who were happiest. They would listen, smile, nod, acknowledge each other when the other was speaking and most importantly they made eye contact. Their tone of voice was also soft and caring (Hatfield & Rapson 113). Distressed couples often demonstrated escalating patterns of aggression and showed almost no sympathy for the other person. The problem was, as soon as one partner would begin to act in this way, a spark would ignite and render a never-ending argument (Hatfield & Rapson113). Although this certainly reflected the present-case emotional state of the couple, judging the way in which the couples spoke to each other was not a predictor of whether or not their marriage or relationship would last. Couples who were happy may have been in the early stages of their relationships and further along the road, certain events cause a partner to change perspective or perhaps lose temper. In the cases where couples are not used to fighting, an elevated temper of one may provoke the same in the other (as cited in Goleman p 200). The participants could have been biased due to expectancy effect, which may have simply given what the researchers were expecting from happy couples, not necessarily indicating they were indeed happy.

Gottman also developed a mathematical model to predict which marriages will last. The equation was said to be 94% accurate at predicting the marriage that will result in divorce (as cited in Goleman 219). It is a system of scoring that adds and subtracts points for different verbal and facial expressions. There are 20 different categories and a successful marriage is defined as one that lasts at least four years (as cited in Goleman p 230). Gottman conducted a longitudinal study over the span of 10 years, which included 700 couples using this mathematical equation and predicted the couples with the most plausible opportunity for a long-lasting marriage. Gottman states that while math is not the only solution to fixing a problematic marriage, his tactics show that with the information given by the final score from the equation, the couple is able to adjust and work on their marriage as well as their communication (Burgess). There are several limitations to using a mathematical equation to predict the durability of an emotional tie between two people. First of all, you cannot calculate unpredictable emotions, events; and secondly, people get married for a variety of reasons, which means that the same criteria will not necessarily fit everyone’s situation. However, by the analysis of common and repeated micro-expressive properties in an individual, this mathematical equation may be on track for most couples. The Dawes formula is ‘the frequency of love-making minus the frequency of quarrels’ (Fisher 179). However, based on Gottman’s findings on micro-expressions and the reliability of these at predicting marriage failure – Dawes’ predictions may correlate with Gottman’s, suggesting that with matching micro-expressive characteristics, the frequency of love-making would be by default higher than the frequency of quarrelsthus this equation could be used to predict the compatibility of a couple’s micro-expressions and furthermore their marital compatibility.


Most psychological studies conducted with an aim of finding a way to predict relationship durability and partnership compatibility suggest that no unintentional emotional outbreak can be predicted at the raw base of a relationship. Gottman has focused on the impact of positive and negative exchanges on the compatibility of a couple, and thus the length of a relationship (as cited in Goleman 219). Other studies on compatibility came up with similar findings to those of Gottman, including Pennebaker & Ireland who found that the level of social compatibility could tell whether a couple would last and used speaking styles as a way of determining this factor (Association for Psychological Science). Overall, many studies examine whether or not a couple will last, but none were able to determine or predict the length of the relationships considered. While few researchers, including Burgess, suggest that factors influencing the length of a relationship arise prior or externally to the relationship and have nothing to do with the couple’s interaction but with the individual backgrounds of each person, stronger support arises in the argument that determining the duration lies deeply within the interaction and that the microscopic signals exchanged by the couple are those that help psychologists predict future dissolutions (Weinberger et al.). Moreover, there are several factors to consider. The studies were often based solely on self-reported data. In addition, the studies failed to acknowledge that marriages may hold together for other situational factors, not simply love and happiness – whether it is because of family obligations, financial instability, or religion.

When dealing with love and relationships, gathering samples is not a difficult thing to do; the world is full of people in love. However, trouble comes with the risks of having to rely on the participants to be in charge of most of the data. In many of the mentioned studies examining the predicting factors for relationship durability, surveys and questionnaires are used as a mean of getting information from the couples. This introduces the issue of demand characteristics in the participants, conforming in a way that they believe may aid the research but not giving valid information. Furthermore, demand characteristics are plausible occurrences in situations where the couple has consented to be videotaped as they are aware that the process of their conversations are being tracked, and are therefore able to control what they make available for the researchers to work with.

Lastly, of all of the studies that mentioned an age group for the participants or couples involved included couples no younger than 17 and no older than 35, which restricts the findings to these age groups, making them a minimally relevant to the overall population. The studies were also limited to western culture and while many psychological researchers partake in studies on the developing world, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, Gable argues that more rules are set within the traditional values of collectivistic societies and fewer divorces occur there than allowed in western or more individualistic societies, giving route to fewer apparent psychologically related conflicts in India, for example, than in the United States today (Fisher p 314). Because of this, the findings of those studies are applicable to only a small portion of the dating or married population. For example, Gupta & Singh (1982) carried out a study on married couples in India that found that couples under an arranged marriage were about just as content and in love as those who chose their partners (as cited in Moghaddam, Taylor, & Wright, p 102-103). Similarly, a study was conducted by Yelsma & Athappilly (1988) on arranged marriages comparing couples in India and couples matched in the same way in the United States and the Indian matches reported overall higher satisfaction than the Americans (as cited in Wilson & McLaughlin p 93). The same was investigated by Xiaohe & Whyte (1990) in a study looking at the levels of satisfaction in arranged marriages versus choice marriage in China. The results supported that arranged marriages resulted in overall greater satisfaction than choice marriage (Xiaohe & Whyte p 709). This, therefore, shows that the same conclusions cannot be made about all cultures.


In conclusion, evidence supported by combining results to multiple psychological studies suggests that, to a certain extent, relationship durability can be predicted, by the use of mathematical formulas and tests of social compatibility through micro-expressions, considering the regular behavioral patterns and adaption of talking styles in a partnership can predict whether or not a couple will last longer than five months together. Prediction can either suggest that the couple will at least be willing to attempt a relationship, in which case it is less indicative of a divorce or eventual break-up, or it can predict with some accuracy the dissolution within 5 months of the relationship.  Psychological observations and experiments suggest that relationship failure or dissolution is much more easily predicted than long-lasting love.

The terms of this paper accepted a broad definition of a ‘successful’ relationship. Failure, however, is more easily defined as the point at which the partnership ceases to have an emotional attachment or connection to one another, something that is not always indicated by divorce or separation as other factors may be driving the couple together such as finances or societal norms. A successful relationship, therefore, in correspondence to the definition of failure could be considered the lasting of an emotional connection and ‘happiness’ within a relationship, although the term happiness is itself relatively subjective. Further research and possible determination of the predictive factors could potentially allow us to make wiser choices marital conflict resolution by determining earlier on in the relationship whether or not it is going to work and potentially give us a chance to save the relationship.

Works cited

Association for Psychological Science. "The language of young love: The ways couples talk can predict relationship success." ScienceDaily, 25 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <>.

Burgess, Ernest W. 1939, "Predictive factors in the success or failure of marriage." Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. EBSCO, 2002. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <>.

Chen, Henian, et al. "Predicting conflict within romantic relationships during the transition to adulthood." Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. EBSCO, 2006. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <>.

Doyle, Rodger. "The Honeymoon Is Over." Scientific American Mind Mar. 2006: p. 34. PDF file.

Fisher, Helen E. The Anatomy Of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce. New York City: W.W. Norton, 1992. Print.

Goleman, Daniel. Social Intelligence. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006. Print.

Gottman, John Mordechai. A Theory of Marital Dissolution and Stability. American Psychological Association, 1993. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.

Harvard Medical School. "Predicting Successful Marriages." Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. EBSCO, June 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <>.

Hatfield, Elaine and Richard L. Rapson. Love, Sex and Intimacy: Their Psychology, Biology, and History. New York: HarperCollins CollegePublishers, 1993. Print.

Manusov, Valerie, and Brian Spitzberg. " Attribution Theory: Chapter 3." Sage Feb. 2008 Web. 29 Apr. 2012. PDF file.

Moghaddam, Fathali M; Taylor, Donald M and Stephen C. Wright. (1995). Social Psychology in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: W H Freeman & Co. Print.

Pileggi, Suzann. "The Happy Couple." Scientific American Mind Jan. 2010: p. 35-39. PDF file.

Smith, Elliot R. and Diane M Mackie. Social Psychology: p 427-448. Kendallville, IN Taylor and Francis, 2000. PDF file.

Weinberger, Mark I., et al. "Intimacy in young adulthood as a predictor of divorce in midlife." Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. EBSCO, 2008. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <>.

Wilson, Glenn; Chris Mclaughlin. The Science of Love. London: SE1 OJH Fusion Press, 22 Feb. 2001. Print

Xiaohe, Xu; and Martin K. Whyte (1990). Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Aug. 1990), p. 709-722. PDF file.


Reflection 1

I am very interested in the question of predicting the end of a relationship after watching a video in psychology class about “thin slicing.”  The idea was that by looking at a very minimal amount of information, in this case, microexpressions like contempt and disgust, Gottman claimed he could predict with a high level of accuracy if a relationships would last.  I come from a family that is “in tact”, but I have a lot of friends that are in families that have fallen apart. It makes me wonder if there are early warning signs that predict an end of the relationship or whether even a good relationship can end because of situational factors. I am also in HL math, so the idea of applying mathematical models to this area of psychology really intrigues me.  It seems to me that these two things do not go together, but if it were possible, it would be good to prevent bad marriages from happening. 162 words

Reflection 2

In reading through the research, I have found it rather difficult.  The mathematical models are surprisingly complex and the research on their use has often been above my reading comprehension.  I have been looking more at the different variables that may affect the health of a relationship, but I am finding it hard to focus the paper.  I have moved away from “thin slicing” as the only argument and now I am curious about communication styles.  I realize that I have so far only focused on Western relationships – so I need to find more information on collectivistic societies.  Otherwise, my paper will be biased. 104 words

Reflection 3

I am proud of my essay as I think that it shows that I have been able to critically evaluate research and come up with a conclusion. I think that if I were going to do it again, I would start earlier as I found it difficult to meet the deadlines. I would also try to write a better outline with more detail so that I had a better chance of writing a stronger essay. The paper concludes that predicting the failure of relationships is easier than predicting the success of a relationship.  I think if I were going to do it again, I would focus more on failure and define my terms a bit more precisely. 117 words

Total word count: 383 words


A.  Focus and method

The research question is clearly stated and appropriate.  The introduction clearly focuses the essay, explaining how the argument will be made. However, some of the key ideas that are outlined in the introduction are not addressed in the essay (for example, attribution styles). The importance of the question is addressed in the conclusions.  This would be better served in the introduction.

The focus of the essay is not always clear - and sometimes drifts from one type of variable to the next without clear transitions or rationale. There is a good range of sources chosen to support the essay.  4 marks

B. Knowledge and understanding

The selection of sources is clearly relevant and appropriate to the research question. Studies are generally well described and explained.  Although the use of terminology is mostly accurate, there are some problems with terminology where it is not used effectively. Language sometimes impairs comprehension.  4 marks.

C. Critical thinking

The majority of the research is appropriate and its application is clearly relevant to the research question. The analysis of the research presented is good, but often could be more developed. The discussion is good and takes a holistic approach to the question, but this could have also been more focused and developed.  Conclusions are appropriate. 8 marks.

D. Presentation

The structure of the essay clearly is appropriate in terms of the expected conventions for the topic, the argument and subject in which the essay is registered. Layout considerations are present and applied correctly. The structure and layout support the reading, understanding and evaluation of the extended essay. 4 marks.

E. Engagement

The student has a word limit of 500 words.  It is a shame that the reflections are not developed.  The student could have written another 120 words which would have made for a stronger set of reflections. There is a certain level of personal engagement in the reflections and difficulties in the research have been identified, but how they were resolved is not addressed in a meaningful manner. The final reflection is particularly weak, simply stating the conclusions.  3 marks.

Total marks and predicted grade

23 marks.  Predicted: B

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Comments 6

Lea Pateras 6 February 2018 - 17:54

I see that the end of the Introduction states the "answer" to the research question.Is it an IB requirement for this to be in the Introduction (and not only in the Conclusion)?

John Crane 7 February 2018 - 13:43

Dear Lea

Yes, the introduction must include a thesis statement that outlines the argument that will be made in the paper.

Michaela Fitzgerald 11 April 2018 - 07:28

Hi John,
Were any marks deducted for inconsistencies with citations?

John Crane 12 April 2018 - 05:00

Dear Michaela

the IB no longer takes off marks for citation unless it is that the citation is "poorly presented." This means - the sources are not alphabetized or that a combination of footnoting and parenthetical citation is used - in other words, more than one citation method is applied.

Charlotte Cachia 3 May 2018 - 11:42

If we're using APA, do we need to put the link to the website, as it has done above for journals?

John Crane 3 May 2018 - 20:49

Dear Charlotte

On p 33 of the EE guide it states that URLs are required. This is also the requirement in the new APA and MLA guidelines.