We already know that animals have a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. But did you know that puppies and bunnies can help improve our relationships with our partners?

Human relationships take effort and improvement to pass the test of time. After a while, feelings of intense passion and romantic attraction subside to make way for trust, companionship, love, and security. But sometimes we want to experience feelings of old and see our partners in a renewed light. Researchers suggest animals can help us!

Relationship study: the power of puppies and bunnies

Psychological scientists from the Florida State University wanted to explore the idea that couples could be influenced about their thoughts of one another to improve relationship and marital quality. They would do this by using images of puppies, bunnies, positive affirmation words, and more.

For six weeks, experimental group participants were shown a series of images three times per week. These included a conditioned stimulus - picture of their partner smiling - coupled with an unconditioned stimulus - image of a puppy, bunny, sunset, positive affirmation word, etc. Control group participants conducted the same experiment, however the image of their partner's face was paired with a neutral stimulus such as a picture of a button.

Study findings

Researcher scepticism at the beginning of the study was quickly negated with results that showed a positive effect on the experimental group. Participants were found to show an increased positive association towards their partners and increased marital satisfaction. Those in the control group remained less influenced by the conditioning.

Lead researcher, James K. McNulty told the Association for Psychological Science, publisher of journal Psychological Science, that he was somewhat surprised with the study's findings.

"I was actually a little surprised that it worked," he said. "All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical,” McNulty explained.

According to McNulty, the research was conducted following a grant from the Department of Defense.

"I was asked to conceptualise and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment,” McNulty said.

A total of 144 married couples were used for the study. Each couple had been married for less than five years and were all under the age of 40 (average age was 28). 40% of the couples had children.

"We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships."

So it turns out puppies and bunnies, and we're sure plenty more animals, could just be the answer to helping improve marital satisfaction and longevity! And we already know purr therapy is a winner!

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