Cute Puppies Can Make Your Relationship Happier

Posted on June 28, 2017


If your relationship is going through a bit of a rough patch or is even just a bit mundane, looking at photos of your partner cuddling a cute puppy apparently can help.

Sounds like strange advice - but according to Theresa DiDontao of Psychology Today, new research published in Psychological Science suggests "couples can benefit from creating mental links between things that inherently make them [and their partners] happy."

It's good ol' classical conditioning applied to the romantic relationship context. Remember Pavlov's dogs? McNulty and colleagues (2017) decided to see if they could improve couples' basic feelings about their partners by using the same principles.

"They focused on people's perceptions about their partners," DiDonato describes, "testing if by linking those perceptions to positive, happy reactions, they might actually shift people's feelings about their marriages."

So how did they do it? Here's the run down of the study:

WHO PARTICIPATED:150 married couples, 40 years old or younger.

WHAT THE PARTICIPANTS DID: Viewed 225 images on a computer screen every few days for six weeks.

EXPERIMENTAL GROUP: Viewed pictures of their romantic partners presented with positive images (eg. photos of cute puppies or sunsets).

CONTROL GROUP: Viewed pictures of their romantic partners presented with neutral images (eg. photos of buttons).

It's an unconventional intervention, notes DiDonato, but an interesting idea: "why not retrain the brain a bit and use evaluative conditioning to increase positive feelings towards a partner?" The findings showed that the conditioning worked: people who saw their partners paired with positive images later...

1) showed more positive automatic reactions towards their partner, and also
2) reported more improvements in overall marital satisfaction over the course of the study than the other group.

DiDonato says that there is one thing to take note of, however. "As fascinating as these findings are, they in no way discount the importance of spousal interactions. The dynamics that emerge and are reinforced within a couple are very much at play in determining partner perceptions."

Nonetheless, it could be helpful to know that practicing mental associations linking a partner with positive concepts can help automatic attitudes of couples. This new strategy may even become one that marriage counselors use to support couples in difficult situations.

Category(s):Relationships & Marriage

Source material from Psychology Today

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