Steps toward the ripening of relationship science



    Corresponding author
    1. The University of Rochester
      Harry T. Reis is professor of psychology in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at the University of Rochester. He first studied human relationships at the City College of New York, where he received a B.S. in 1970. Reis subsequently received a Ph.D. from New York University in 1975. A former president of the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships (2000–2001), he served as editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal and Group Processes (1986–1990) and is currently editor of Current Directions in Psychological Science. After 10 years as its executive officer (1995–2004), the Society for Personality and Social Psychology awarded him the Distinguished Service Award (2006) and elected him as president (2007). Reis served as member or Chair of the American Psychological Association’s Board of Scientific Affairs from 2001 through 2003, is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and of the Association for Psychological Science, and was a Fulbright Senior Research Fellow in the Netherlands in 1991. Reis’s research, which concerns mechanisms that regulate interpersonal processes, has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
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  • I dedicate this article to those visionary scholars who laid the groundwork for including personal relationships as essential subject matter for the behavioral sciences. I wish to thank several individuals who commented on one or more drafts of this manuscript: the members of the Rochester Relationships Lab (Peter Caprariello, Cheryl Carmichael, Mike Maniaci, Shannon Smith, and Fen-Fang Tsai), Rebecca Adams, Art Aron, John Holmes, Mario Mikulincer, and Sue Sprecher. Their comments have been invaluable in helping me clarify my positions, though they should be held blameless for the ambiguities and contradictions that remain. I am especially grateful to Ellen Berscheid for the inspiration of her steadfast insistence, despite considerable obstacles, that relationships were simply too important for understanding human behavior to be ignored, for providing the metaphor and ideas that led to this paper, and for her personal encouragement of my life’s work.

Harry T. Reis, University of Rochester, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, Rochester, NY 14627, e-mail:


Recent decades have seen remarkable growth in research and theorizing about relationships. E. Berscheid (1999) invigorated this growth by proclaiming “The Greening of Relationship Science,” the emergence of a multidisciplinary science of interpersonal relationships with enormous potential to advance knowledge about human behavior and to provide an empirically informed framework for improving the human condition. Here I discuss several steps necessary to move the field from a green science toward a more mature, ripened one, including the need to be action oriented but in a theory-building way, to become more cumulative and collective, and to develop an integrated network of theories, constructs, and their observable manifestations. Perceived partner responsiveness is one possible central organizing theme for the diverse phenomena relationship scientists study.