Data for the study was gathered from 135 newlywed couples recruited within the first six months of marriage, completing measures of their attitudes
Journalist Steve Connor reports in The Independent about the research of SMU psychologist Andrea L. Meltzer, who was co-author on a four-year longitudinal study of 135 newlywed couples that found that a spouse’s implicit feelings about their partner predicted marital satisfaction later.
The article, “The key to marital bliss? Use your gut instinct,” was published Nov. 28.
Meltzer, co-author on the study, is an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Psychology.
By Steve Connor
Oscar Wilde once said that marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Now scientists have shown that the best advice for people contemplating matrimony is to put their gut instinct ahead of wishful thinking.
A study of 135 newly-wed couples who were followed over a four-year period found that what people say about their partner is not always what they think deep down – but it is this gut reaction that matters for future marital happiness.
The optimism shown by all the couples at the outset of their marriage generally declined over time but the level of growing dissatisfaction with their spouse was directly related to the inner-most feelings at the outset – which they actively suppressed, the scientists found.
Those who harboured the most negative gut reaction to their partners after six months of marriage were also the ones who felt the most dissatisfied and unhappy after four years of marriage, according to Professor James McNulty of Florida State University in Tallahassee, who led the study published in the journal Science.
“Everyone wants to be in a good marriage and in the beginning many people are able to convince themselves of that at a conscious level,” Professor McNulty said.
“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,” he said.
Measuring gut feelings was not straightforward and the researchers used an established psychological technique for determining someone’s subconscious thoughts by measuring the time it took for them to react to photographs of a spouse.
The experiment involved flashing a photograph of someone’s partner on a computer screen for just one third of a second, followed by a positive word such as “awesome” or “terrific” or a negative word such as “awful” or “terrible.
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