Looking at Cute Animals Could Improve Your Relationship

Jun 20, 2017 at 4:40 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images

What is it about pictures of puppies that make us melt? Our hearts start beating faster and we get the urge to plant a hundred kisses on that adorable face. Now, pair that cute Labrador photo with an image of your spouse, and you could have instant relationship bliss according to a study recently published in Psychological Science.

The researchers, led by James K. McNulty of Florida State University, explored how certain "interventions" can improve your thoughts about your spouse (as opposed to interventions that target your partner's behaviors). This phenomenon, known as conditioning, links a positive stimulus to an unrelated stimulus to create a positive association over time.

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Over eight weeks, researchers asked 144 married couples to view a stream of various images that included photos of their partner. One group looked at images of their partner with a positive stimuli like a puppy, while the control group saw their spouse alongside a neutral stimuli — in this case, a button. The results: Participants who looked at positive images paired with their partner's face showed more positive automatic reactions to their partner than those who saw neutral pairings.

In other words, viewing uplifting content — including images of sweet puppies and adorable bunnies — along with pictures of your spouse was enough to rekindle a spark and make people want to spend more time making out (with your spouse, not the puppy).

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McNulty told ScienceDaily that he was actually a little surprised that this intervention worked. "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.” 

Hey, we'll take it. We're not saying it's going to fix a deeply broken relationship, but if you fall victim to life's daily stressors and energy-drainers and have a tendency to snap or be irritated with your S.O. for no really good reason, this might be worth a try. You can reprogram yourself to think happy, mushy, affectionate thoughts about your spouse, just like you would with a baby animal. It could be just what the doctor — er, couples therapist — ordered.

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