Although newlyweds may not be aware of it, they may know whether their walk down the aisle will result in a happy marriage or otherwise, according to a new study led by a Florida State University researcher. The study titled, “Though They May Be Unaware, Newlyweds Implicitly Know Whether Their Marriages Will Be Satisfying,” was published on November 29, 2013 in the journal Science.
The paper outlined two important findings. First, people’s conscious attitudes, or how they said they felt, did not always reflect their gut-level or automatic feelings about their marriage. Second, it was the gut-level feelings, not their conscious ones, that actually predicted how happy they remained as married people over time.
Associate Professor of Psychology, James K. McNulty, and his colleagues, at first, asked more 135 recently married couples (270 individuals) to rate their spouse. Everybody unsurprisingly, declared that their spouses were excellent.
Next a study participant’s spouse’s photo was flashed on a computer screen for just one-third of a second followed by a positive word like “awesome” or “terrific” or a negative word like “awful” or “terrible.” The individuals simply had to press a key on the keyboard to indicate whether the word was positive or negative. The researchers used special software to measure reaction time.
“People who have really positive feelings about their partners are very quick to indicate that words like ‘awesome’ are positive words and very slow to indicate that words like ‘awful’ are negative words”, McNulty said.
The theory behind these responses is that the brain needs a bit more time to get from something that makes it happy to something that makes it sad. So if the picture of the loved one produces only a positive response, then the brain has to do a few more gymnastics to get to a negative notion. “It takes “switching gears” to process a negative concept like “awful” after seeing a picture of one’s partner, if one has a really positive attitude toward the partner,” says McNulty. “It does not take quite as long, however, to process negative concepts after seeing a picture of the partner if one has a less positive attitude toward the partner.”
The message is simple: for marriage happiness, trust your gut feelings.
But the researchers its too early to begin using this as a diagnostic tool to identify specific individuals who will become unhappy, though. The observation was an average tendency, and there were certainly people who were exceptions to this trend.