That "squeee!" you feel when you look at pictures of cute puppies or bunnies might be good for your love life. A new study finds that looking at baby-animal photos may increase couples' levels of satisfaction with their relationships.
Researchers found that study participants who looked at the photos of their spouses paired with photos of cute animals or with other pleasant images over a few weeks seemed to see their partners in a more positive light by the end of the study, compared with people who looked at the photos of their spouses paired with other images over the same period. Plus, this more positive view, in turn, was linked to higher levels of marital satisfaction by the end of the study in the group that looked at the pleasant images, compared with the other group.
"I was actually a little surprised that [this strategy] worked," lead study author James K. McNulty, a psychologist at Florida State University, said in a statement. One reason he was surprised it worked was that "just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage made me skeptical," he said. [I Don't: 5 Myths About Marriage]
In the study, the researchers looked at 144 married couples who had been married for less than five years. The participants' average age was 28. Around 40 percent of the couples had kids, the researchers said.
At the start of the study, the researchers asked the participants how satisfied they were with their relationships. The researchers also measured the spouses' attitudes toward each other. Then, the researchers divided the couples into two equal groups. Every three days over the next six weeks, the researchers showed one group images of their spouses paired with pleasant images, such as pictures of puppies. Over the same time period, the people in the control group were shown images of their spouses paired with images of neutral, everyday objects, such as straws or buttons.
The researchers also examined the spouses' attitudes toward each other and their marital satisfaction every two weeks during the study period. They found that, by the end of the study, the people who had been shown pleasant images along with their partners' photos had more positive attitudes toward their spouses by the end of the study than the people in the control group.
It also turned out that the people who had viewed the pleasant images were more likely to become more satisfied with their marriages over the study period than those who had viewed the neutral images, the researchers found. [13 Scientifically Proven Signs You're in Love]
The new findings show that this type of intervention may help to change people's levels of marital satisfaction without changing spouses' behaviors, according to the study, which was published in June in the journal Psychological Science. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings in other groups.
However, the findings do not mean that people's behaviors don't affect their relationships, the researchers said. In fact, research suggests that behaviors are still the most important factor in shaping spouses' attitudes toward each other, the researchers said.
The mechanism behind the new findings is unclear, the researchers said. However, it is possible that looking at a partner's photos paired with photos of puppies or other cute images may help to create or strengthen associations between the partner and positivity in a person's memory, the researchers said.
Originally published on Live Science.