What's the key to a good, successful marriage? Mutual interests? A solid foundation of trust? Or, does it all come down to pictures of adorable puppies and bunnies?
A new study, conducted by James K. McNulty of Florida State University and a team of psychological scientists, found that to break the monotony or resentment that can crop up in long-term relationships, one can make better associations with their spouse through a positive stimulus.
“One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies,” McNulty said in a statement.
With that, McNulty and his team showed participants in the study a stream of images that repeatedly paired pictures of their spouse with positive words (like "wonderful") or images, including those aforementioned puppies and bunnies. The control group saw their partner's face paired with netural images, such as a button. The study's participants included 144 married couples, all under the age of 40 and married for less than five years.
The couples' attitude toward their partner was measured over the course of a few weeks. Participants who were exposed to positive images paired with their spouse's face did, in fact, have more positive associations with them.
"I was actually a little surprised that it worked,” McNulty said. “All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical."
While looking at pictures of puppies isn't a cure-all for marital difficulties, as positive interactions between spouses are essential, it sure is telling what a difference a puppy can make.
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