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Looking at Cute Pictures of Animals Can Help Marriage, Study Says

A study published in Psychological Science on May 31, 2017, revealed that spouses who frequently viewed photos of positive stimuli (in this case pictures of cute animals) together with pictures of their partner show and developed more positive associations with the partner in the photos.

James K. McNulty, who is the leader of the study, said the research was initiated and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to address issues of families that are having trouble coping with long distance relationships due to deployment, among others.

“I was asked to conceptualize and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment,” says McNulty in a press release quoted by National Geographic. “We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships,” he added.

The research team was focused on discovering if marital satisfaction can be improved by retraining the mind to produce immediate positive associations when spouses think of their other halves.

“One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive effect and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies,” explained McNulty in an interview with Science Daily.

The positive results of the study actually surprised McNulty as it is only founded on the simple theory of conditioning. “I was actually a little surprised that it 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,” said McNulty.

The work of McNulty and colleagues suggest that a brief intervention that is centered on developing automatic positive attitudes can serve as one important component of marital counseling for married couples having difficulties with long distance relationships.

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