A new study finds that newlyweds know on a subconscious level whether their marriage will be a happy one or not, and that when it comes to tying the knot, listen to your gut instincts.
Florida State University scientists recruited 135 heterosexual couples who had been married for less than six months and then followed up with them every six months over a four-year period.
They found that the feelings the study participants verbalized about their marriages were unrelated to changes in their marital happiness over time. Instead, it was the gut-level negative evaluations of their partners that they unknowingly revealed during a baseline experiment that predicted future happiness, the researchers said.
The study was published November 29 issue of the journal Science.
"Everyone wants to be in a good marriage," said head researcher James K. McNulty. "And in the beginning, many people are able to convince themselves of that at a conscious level. But these automatic, gut-level responses are less influenced by what people want to think. You can't make yourself have a positive response through a lot of wishful thinking."
To conduct the experiment, the researchers asked subjects to report their relationship satisfaction and the severity of their specific relationship problems. Subjects also were asked to provide their conscious evaluations by describing their marriage according to 15 pairs of opposing adjectives, such as "good" or "bad," "satisfied" or "unsatisfied."
Most interesting to the researchers, though, were the findings regarding another measure designed to test their automatic attitudes, or gut-level responses. The experiment involved flashing a photo of the study participant's spouse 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.
"It's generally an easy task, but flashing a picture of their spouse makes people faster or slower depending on their automatic attitude toward the spouse," McNulty said. "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."
"I think the findings suggest that people may want to attend a little bit to their gut," he added. "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 counselor."