Puppy pictures could be the key to a happy marriage: Study finds cute animals can help to create positive associations
erusing pictures of cute animals could help to save your marriage, according to a new study.
Researchers have found that viewing uplifting content – including images of puppies and bunnies – paired with images of your spouse can help to rekindle the spark in a relationship.
The intervention, which relies on what’s known as evaluative conditioning, could offer an unconventional fix for what scientists say is one of the most common challenges of marriage: the death of passion.
While spouses’ behaviour in a relationship is the most important factor in influencing each partner’s automatic attitude toward the other, the researchers say outside influences play a role as well.
And, these could be harnessed for counselling or as a resource for couples experiencing difficult times.
‘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,’ said James K McNulty of Florida State University.
In the new study, a team of psychological scientists led by a researcher from Florida State University investigated the relationship satisfaction of 144 married couples.
Of the group, all were under the age of 40 and had been married for less than 5 years, and roughly 40 percent of couples had children.
The researchers tapped into a phenomenon known as conditioning, in which linking a positive stimulus to an unrelated stimulus creates a positive association over time.
This effect was most famously seen in the Pavlov’s dogs experiment, where dogs were conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with food.
The new study focused on a type of conditioning called evaluative conditioning.
In their experiment, participants were asked to individually view a stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks.
The experimental group were shown images of positive stimuli, including puppies or words such as ‘wonderful,’ with pictures of their partner embedded in the stream.
Participants in the control group were shown images of their partner paired with neutral stimuli, such as an image of a button.
At the beginning of the study, the couples each completed surveys to measure relationship satisfaction, followed a few days later by a measure of their immediate- automatic attitudes towards their partner.
And, over the course of the study, the participants were asked to complete additional surveys every 2 weeks for a period of 8 weeks.
To the surprise of the researchers, they found that the positive pairings did, in fact, lead to more positive automatic reactions.
Positive automatic reactions to the spouses predicted greater improvement in the overall marital satisfaction, the researchers found.
‘I was actually a little surprised that it worked,’ McNulty explained.
‘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.’
According to the researcher, the work was prompted by a grant from the Department of Defense, and could be helpful for those in long-distance relationships, like soldiers.
‘I was asked to conceptualize and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment,’ McNulty said.
‘We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships.’