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Test Reveals a Person's Need for Intimacy

December 04, 1987|From the Associated Press

GARY, Ind. — The elements of love are the subject of poems, songs, books and, now, scientific research.

Gary native Dan McAdams has created what may be the first index that measures a person's need for intimacy.

McAdams, 33, the 1975 Lew Wallace High School valedictorian, began his work at Harvard University and continues it as an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago.

McAdams said psychological research on love had been ignored in past decades partly because thought and feeling could not be measured.

"Some would say it isn't good (to study love), because we will demystify it and make it cold and calculated. A lot of people believe scientists are going to wreck it--and we might!

"My own work on love is more in the line of how individuals think of it, instead of how people do love," he said.

Recurring Themes

By asking people to write stories about a set of characters, McAdams has been able to uncover recurring themes about intimacy, which he defines as the desire for warm, close, communicative relationships.

By breaking down the components of intimacy, researchers can now understand how it shapes our lives, relationships and identities, he says.

McAdams takes two scores from his tests. One, an "intimacy motivation" score, picks out references to intimacy, according to categories McAdams has created. A similar "power motivation" score is also taken.

"Some of our research does support that people who score high on intimacy motivation are better off. Adult women (who score higher) are somewhat happier with their lives, more satisfied with their roles than are women who are somewhat lower in intimacy motivation.

"For men, intimacy motivation is related to feeling less strain, stress and somewhat less anxiety and uncertainty about the future, though it isn't related to life satisfaction and happiness," he said.

If you are high in power motivation, you are more likely to be concerned with control and with making a contribution to the world, he believes. You might also be in a certain profession, such as academia, journalism and the executive ranks of corporations.

Blue collar workers, lawyers and doctors have shown a lower than expected intimacy motivation, he says.

But our needs for power or intimacy can change throughout life, McAdams notes, and the scores reflect that. How we score can be a clue to how we perceive ourselves and how we form an identity.

McAdams' research suggests we understand our identity in terms of an ongoing "life story" that includes intimacy and power themes, he said.

If you have a strong need for intimacy, you likely picture yourself as a great care-giver, lover, friend or peacemaker, he said.

Power themes show up if you view yourself as an adventurer, traveler or warrior.

But, he added, it's possible to hold conflicting views of yourself, which often show up in a relationship.

"I'm sure there are a lot of husbands and wives out there who don't know each others' 'story.' Sometimes we don't have a conscious sense of our identity . . . and it leaves the partner without an understanding of the other.

"In a relationship, essentially you have two life stories and somebody has to find a way to allow overlap. Often it is the woman who rewrites her story."

McAdams' goal is to see how people live out their stories, especially in the face of conflicting needs. The tension between intimacy and power is everywhere in his research, possibly because it is common in our history. Even the ancient Greek philosopher, Empedocles, wrote of it, naming it love and strife.

Our need for power or control fights our need for closeness, he explained. We seem to fall in love when we surrender, saying that a greater force intervened.

"But getting control of your life seems to be important today. It seems the stronger we have it, the more we want to lose it, too. I think most modern young Americans truly want both power and intimacy. I think each person tries to merge them in a different way," he said.

Next year, McAdams will take a six-month sabbatical to finish a college textbook on personality psychology, titled "The Person," and to begin a layman's book on the power and intimacy topic called, "The Intimacy Motive." Both will be on bookshelves by 1989.

McAdams' previous findings were published in 1985 in "Power, Intimacy and the Life Story."

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