Swarthmore Psychologist Uses Research Wedding Planning

Psychology professor Andrew Ward's research on psychological barriers to conflict resolution has found a perhaps surprising application. His new book counsels brides-to-be on how to negotiate the best deals in planning for their weddings.

Ward is co-author, with Shirit Kronzon of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, of The Bargaining Bride: How to Have the Wedding of Your Dreams without Paying the Bills of Your Nightmares  (2006).

"Although weddings are emotional and spiritual, they also represent a series of business transactions," says Ward, who has conducted research on negotiation for 15 years. "This book teaches the basics of negotiation and how to apply them to meetings with vendors."

Kronzon, who teaches negotiation, says that when planning her own recent wedding, it occurred to her that brides and their families could benefit from a "crash course in bargaining." She teamed with Ward, a friend and frequent research collaborator.

Some of their tips include:

  • bring someone as a devil's advocate;
  • use a contingency contract to cover last minute surprises. "For example," Ward says, "have something that says, 'If I don't receive x flowers, then y, and if not y, then I'll be compensated.'"
  • beware of hidden charges, such as cake-cutting, corkage, and alteration fees;
  • set an amount you won't exceed, and don't feel entrapped into spending more.

"Some think it's inappropriate to put a dollar value on something that's supposed to have a romantic air about it," Ward says. "But next to a house, the wedding is the most expensive thing a couple may buy. It makes sense to be prepared."

The authors cover a lot of the wedding basics, devoting whole chapters to the gown, cake, music, and invitations. But despite their focus on the business side of weddings, they do not cover everything. "Call us hopeless romantics," Ward says, "but we don't discuss pre-nups."

Ward is also an expert in behavioral control whose research on diets, smoking, and aggression has appeared in both academic journals and mainstream magazines. He joined Swarthmore's psychology faculty in 1997 and is a faculty affiliate at the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict.

Kronzon received her B.A. in psychology from Stanford and her Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton. She has taught at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania for eight years.