People who see images of their spouse paired with positive images, including those of cute animals, can improve their marital satisfaction, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science.
The study draws upon theories of conditioning, like those used in behaviorist Ivan Pavlov’s famous studies of dogs. Conditioning pairs stimuli to create an automatic association. Pavlov, for example, could get dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by first pairing the bell with food. When he removed the food, the dogs had developed a conditioned association between the bell and food, so they automatically salivated in response to the bell even when no food was present.
Cute Animals: Shortcut to Marital Bliss?
The study included 144 married couples younger than age 40 who had been married for less than five years. Participants averaged about 28 years old, and less than half (40%) had children.
Each couple completed several surveys to measure marital satisfaction. They also completed lab-based tests to assess their automatic associations with their spouses every two weeks for eight weeks.
Each partner also viewed a series of images every three days for six weeks. The series included images of their spouse. One group always saw the spouse paired with positive images, such as words like “wonderful” and cute puppies. The other group only saw the spouse paired with neutral images, such as a button.
New Strategy for Marriage Counseling
The authors of the study suggest this intervention could be one strategy for addressing automatic attitudes in marriage, particularly automatic negative associations. They point out that positive interactions between spouses are the most significant predictor of automatic associations and marital satisfaction. For couples trapped in negative patterns or in long-distance relationships, however, the study offers a strategy that could improve outcomes in marriage or relationship counseling.
- How viewing cute animals can help rekindle marital spark. (2017, June 19). Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/how-viewing-cute-animals-can-help-rekindle-marital-spark.html#.WUlIW4grJhE
- Mcnulty, J. K., Olson, M. A., Jones, R. E., & Acosta, L. M. (2017). Automatic associations between one’s partner and one’s affect as the proximal mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction: Evidence from evaluative conditioning. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797617702014
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