Newly-weds who reveal a subconscious negative reaction to photos of their spouse are more likely to divorce, US researchers have reported.
A team led by Professor James McNulty of Florida State University used a test designed to reveal subconscious emotion and gut instinct. They interviewed 135 recently married couples. Each partner was first asked to rate the state of their relationship, and then they were shown a photograph of their other for a fleeting one third of a second, followed by various adjectives, such as ‘terrific’ or ‘awful’.
Finally, the study participants were asked to indicate whether these words were positive or negative ones, with their reaction times closely measured. Participants who took longer to identify positive words terms such as ‘great’ were in a negative state of mind after seeing the photograph of their spouse, the researchers claimed.
People left in a positive state of mind after seeing the photo of their husband or wife were, by contrast quick to identify positive words.
Professor McNulty said:
“It’s generally an easy task, but flashing a picture of their spouse makes people faster or slower depending on their automatic attitude towards their spouse. People who have really positive feelings about their partners are very quick to indicate that words like ‘awesome’ are positive and very slow to indicate that words like ‘awful’ are negative words.”
The researchers then followed the couples for a period of four years, interviewing them every six months.
Study participants who appeared to be in a negative frame of mind following the test were more likely to say they were unhappy as the assessment period continued, and some eventually divorced.
Professor McNulty said:
“People can have love and negative emotions at the same time and this test probably taps into both of those.”
“Everyone wants to believe they are in a good relationship and people can convince themselves that they are – but these gut-level reactions are more indicative of how people feel immediately about their relationships.”
The professor continued:
“I think the findings suggest that people may want to attend a little bit to their gut. If they can sense that their gut is telling them that there is a problem, then they might benefit from exploring that, maybe even with a professional marriage counsellor.”
The study was published in the the journal Science