Feeling less than blissfully wed? Try looking at pictures of bunnies. Or puppies. Any adorable animal should do.
A new study suggests gazing at images of cute fuzzballs can help improve marital satisfaction.
A team of scientists led by James McNulty of Florida State University’s psychology department wanted to test the hypothesis that changing one’s thoughts about a spouse can improve the relationship. That positive thoughts can lead to good feelings isn’t surprising, of course. It is notable that such feelings can originate with something unrelated to a partner’s behavior. Like puppy photos.
For their research, which appears in the journal Psychological Science, the team asked 144 married couples to view a stream of images once every three days for six weeks. Pictures of the spouses’ partners appeared in the stream, but the experimental group also saw their loved one’s face paired with a puppy pic or the word “wonderful.” Those in the control group, on the other hand, saw their partner’s face matched to a far less adorable image of a button.
McNulty and colleagues banked on the idea that like the dog in the famed Pavlov experiment, people would become conditioned by repeated associations. At the start of the study, the couples rated their relationship satisfaction and measured their immediate, automatic attitudes toward their partner. Those exposed to puppy images paired with their partner’s face showed more positive automatic reactions over the course of the experiment than those who saw neutral pairings.
“I was actually a little surprised that it worked,” McNulty said in a statement. “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.”
This isn’t the first study to look at the impact of cute animal photos. Research out of Japan several years ago found that looking at pictures of cuddly critters.
The latest research probably won’t put marriage counselors out of business anytime soon, and the researchers make it clear that staring at cute kitties all day can’t replace being a loving, supportive partner. But adorable bunny ears aside, the findings could eventually have an impact on a serious issue.
The latest research was funded by a grant from the Department of Defense, which asked McNulty to work on a way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment.
No word from the researchers on whether the couples also started calling each other a goodboyyesyouare or tossing around the command “sit” more often.