A team of scientists at Florida State University's psychology department led by Professor McNulty wanted to test the hypothesis that changing one's thoughts about a spouse can improve the relationship. Such feelings can be caused by something unrelated to a partner's behavior.
Like puppy pictures. Or kitten pictures. Or bunnies.
They were asked to do this by the Department of Defense. Military families have high divorce rates.
For their research, 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 will probably not replace marriage counselors, but it may improve some relationships.
It is the same principle as having a gorgeous model stand beside a car at a car show.
This isn't the first study to examine the impact of looking at cute animal photos. Research out Hiroshima University in Japan several years ago found that looking at pictures of cute animals can boost work performance.
And besides, what is more fun than puppies, kittens, and bunnies?