Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Health implications of public displays of affection – StFX psychology professor Dr. Karen Blair receives CIHR IPPH planning grant

June 23rd, 2017
Dr. Karen Blair

What are the health implications of public displays of affection in mixed-sex, same-sex and gender diverse romantic relationships? That’s a question StFX psychology professor Dr. Karen Blair hopes to answer.

Dr. Blair has received a one-year $17,933 CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health (IPPH) planning grant that will be used to develop a proposed program of research that will focus on the potential health benefits of affection in romantic relationships.

“However, instead of simply looking at this question within the context of mixed-sex, or heterosexual, relationships, we will also be including the experiences of same-sex couples,” Dr. Blair says.

“Same-sex couples continue to perceive less social support and approval for their romantic relationships, and it is possible that this may influence the extent to which they are comfortable sharing affection with their partners, especially when they are in public.”

Dr. Blair says some of her past research has documented the negative responses that same-sex couples receive when displaying affection in public, and it is quite likely that these negative responses could turn something that should be a positive, stress-reducing experience, that is, holding hands, into something stressful and potentially damaging to one’s health.


Dr. Blair says the CIHR IPPH is a unique grant in that it is actually a planning grant, and not a research grant. All funds are to be used for planning research and building a research team.

She says the grant is specifically for individuals who take a social science approach to understanding health and who had never held CIHR funding before. Provided by the Institute for Population and Public Health, the goal of the initiative is to increase CIHR-funded research on the social determinants of health.

“The grant will allow me to develop a high calibre research team, who will then work together to submit a larger grant application to CIHR over the next couple of years. So far, the team already includes researchers and clinicians from Acadia, Dalhousie, Anglia Ruskin in the UK, and the University of Calgary in diverse fields including psychology, sociology, kinesiology, cardiology, health promotion and clinical sexology,” Dr. Blair says.

While the grant is not a promise of future funding from CIHR, having the funds to support meetings, preliminary reviews of the literature and the grant writing process will hopefully help produce a competitive grant application for a future CIHR competition, she says. 

“With this planning grant, we will be designing a program of research that will help to establish the links between public and private affection and relational and health outcomes, and which will then examine those associations within the context of both mixed-sex and same-sex relationships in order to determine how differences in sexual identity and relationship type might influence a couple’s ability to fully benefit from health-supportive forms of physical affection,” Dr. Blair says.

“Ultimately, we hope that the research will shed light on ways that we can help couples to better understand the role that affection might play in not only their relationship well-being, but also their mental and physical health.” 

In all, 23 IPPH grants were awarded. Two other grants have StFX connections. The National Collaborating Centre for the Determinants of Health (NCCDH) based at StFX is a partner with grant recipient Dr. Olena Hankivsky (Simon Fraser University), and recipient Dr. Rodney Knight (Simon Fraser) is a member of the NCCDH advisory board.



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