Paging Meg Ryan

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 1:08 PM EST

PAGING MEG RYAN....Something I've long suspected has finally been Proven By Science: romantic comedies are bad for you:

According to a few enterprising social scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, romantic comedies can raise unrealistic romantic expectations among fans and may therefore set them up for personal failure and a lifetime of disappointment.

....After sifting through 200 of the top-grossing romantic comedies to come out of the Big Six Hollywood studios between 1995 and 2005, [Bjarne] Holmes and his colleagues found some interesting common denominators: In the movies, new relationships are portrayed both as exciting, as most tend to be, and offering the intimacy that usually takes years to develop in real life. Past transgressions are easily forgiven. (You cheated on me with the mailman? Big deal! I still love you; let's live happily ever after!) And finally, older, more committed relationships are frequently portrayed in a negative light, with couples bickering and backbiting. More often than not, married couples are depicted as long-suffering.

Sounds right, though I'll confess that Holmes's research methodology strikes me as absurdly thin, even by the usual standards of these things. In academic-speak, he says:

Using 294 undergraduate students, an exploratory study found an association between preference for/like of romance-oriented media and two relationship-as-destiny-oriented beliefs, belief in predestined soul mates (β = .27, p < .001) and that "mind reading is expected in relationships" (β = .21, p < .001).

In English, this means that people who liked romantic comedies also tended to idealize romance. Shocking, isn't it? Still, here's the good news: Holmes and his colleagues at the Family and Personal Relationships Lab have a continuing online project dedicated to this subject and you can participate! Just click here.