Mind & Body

To Rekindle Your Romance, Science Says Look at Cute Animal Pictures

If you feel you've lost the spark in your relationship, you could try date nights, couples' therapy, or bedroom adventurousness, but all those options involve a fair amount of time and effort. Thankfully, fun new science has come up with an easier option to try first — just look at cute animal pictures together.

Kittens to the Romance Rescue

We all know clicking through kitten (or goat or sloth) pictures online is a great way to waste time and perk yourself up emotionally, but few would suspect that such a light and mindless activity could impact your relationship. Florida State University psychologist James K. McNulty was among the doubters.

"The idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical," he told the Association for Psychological Science. But when McNulty and his team decided to test the idea anyway (perhaps looking for the most heartwarming research topic available), they found something surprising.

The researchers brought 144 Florida couples into a lab and had them fill out standard surveys designed to measure marital satisfaction. Then, over the course of six weeks, the couples were shown a series of images of their partner's smiling face interspersed with other pictures. For some, those pictures were neutral — a button, say — for others, they were adorable animals.

While all the couples were told a bogus story that the task was designed to test their concentration and response speed (each person had to press the spacebar when a particular image appeared), what the researchers were really looking for was whether all those sweet animal pics would impact subjects' feelings for their spouses. The results belied the researchers' low expectations.

"The study found that those who'd been shown their spouses' faces together with puppies, bunnies, sunsets, and other happy images had developed over the course of the experiments even more positive associations for their mate than they had when the study began. More promisingly, their levels of marital satisfaction went up," reports Big Think.

"Our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies," McNulty explains. Or, in short, the happy vibes from the cute animal pics seem to have rubbed off on the relationship with absolutely no effort from either partner.

Cute Isn't a Cure-All

Now, is this the be-all and end-all of relationship science? Of course not. If you have serious problems with trust, infidelity, or respect in your relationship, absolutely no one thinks a few weeks of furry memes is going to solve things. Nor is one small study definitive proof that this effect will hold up when tested with further research.

But sitting around scrolling through adorable images together is the easiest, cutest intervention possible. If your relationship could use a little rekindling, why not give it a go? You can tell your skeptical partner this wacky idea really is backed by science.

If these results are to be taken seriously, then this book recommendation might just be too steamy for your relationship: "A Little Book of Sloth" by photographer and author Lucy Cooke is full of freakin' adorable photos of baby sloths, the hands-down cutest baby animals there are. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Jessica Stillman July 11, 2018

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