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Kinsey researcher Justin Garcia studies complex romantic relationships

Feb. 14, 2013

When you talk to Justin R. Garcia about his work, you hear about his interest in interdisciplinary collaborations and behavioral neurogenetics and about his training as an evolutionary biologist. 

And you hear lots and lots about pair bonding. In people.

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia

When it comes to studying complex romantic relationships, the human species is hard to beat -- or to understand, says Garcia, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University Bloomington.  But the work is worth the effort, he says, considering the role romantic love plays in reproduction -- and the evolution of the species.

“As one of my mentors, Helen Fisher, often says: 'In every society anthropologist have studied, people live for love, they sing for love, they dance for love, and they kill for love,'" Garcia said. "Understanding the mechanisms underlying how we move in and out of romantic relationships, what allows us to experience great happiness and pleasure and also great sorrow and despair with regard to love and sex, is fundamental to understanding the human condition.” 

Garcia’s research interests include evolutionary and biocultural models of human behavior, romantic love and intimate relationships, sexual and social monogamy, and uncommitted sex and hook-up culture in emerging adulthood.

As a scientific advisor/consultant for the international online dating site, Garcia was co-investigator of the third annual “Singles in America” study, which received national media attention last week in the Huffington Post  and USA Today.

His hook-up research, published in Review of General Psychology, is featured this month on the cover of the Monitor on Psychology, the newsletter for the American Psychological Association. Read more about his original article, "Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review."

His book “Evolution's Empress: Darwinian Perspectives on the Nature of Women” is co-edited with psychologists Maryann L. Fisher, from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, and Rosemarie Sokol Chang, of State University of New York at New Paltz. Their collection of writings, published later this month by Oxford University Press, attempts to reconcile longstanding differences between evolutionary and feminist scholars. 

His book “Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior” is co-authored with anthropologist Peter Gray of the University of Nevada and will be published in March by Harvard University Press. This work mentions many of their own studies, including research in a Las Vegas sex club, as it offers an accessible and transdisciplinary synthesis of how evolutionary principals continue to shape various aspects of sexual behavior and sexuality.

Garcia earned his academic degrees at Binghamton University (SUNY), where he studied with noted evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. He earned a B.S. in neuroscience and behavioral development, M.S. in biomedical anthropology, and Ph.D. in biological sciences in 2011.

He moved from upstate New York to Bloomington in 2011 for a position funded by a National Institutes of Health training grant in Common Themes in Reproductive Diversity, directed by Ellen Ketterson, distinguished professor in the Department of Biology. Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute, is Garcia’s post-doc mentor for CTRD.

book cover

“Justin’s work reminds us that keeping updated on common and uncommon relationship patterns keeps us thinking afresh about sex and the desire for connection,” she said.

Beginning in the fall, Garcia will join the Department of Gender Studies as assistant professor, with a joint appointment at the Kinsey Institute and affiliation with the Cognitive Science Program.  This makes him one of the first -- if not only -- biologists on the core faculty of a gender studies department in the U.S.

“With his disciplinary background and interdisciplinary research profile, Justin adds a unique perspective to the department’s strength in exploring questions of gender, sexuality and science from multiple theoretical and methodological angles,” said Claudia Breger, chair of the Department of Gender Studies. “We are looking forward to a range of research and teaching collaborations that will enhance our reputation as a leading voice in national and international conversations on topical developments in the field.”

Garcia called his move to Bloomington a unique and exciting opportunity. The training grant fosters the interdisciplinary atmosphere he began to appreciate as a college freshman and the affiliation with The Kinsey Institute brings him together with leading researchers in their field, who are asking interesting questions about sex, gender and reproduction.

“I was really fortunate to have an opportunity to come  to Indiana University and The Kinsey Institute, and even more so to have the opportunity to stay and expand my research and teaching interests,” he said.

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