Automatic attitudes — not conscious thoughts — are the best predictors of marital satisfaction among newlyweds, according to an article in the journal Science.
In an experiment conducted over four years on 135 newly married couples, people were shown fleeting pictures of their partners and pressed to swiftly match the image with either a positive or negative attribute. Timing was key.
The speed of the answers provided the best indication of a person's true feelings, according to James McNulty of Florida State University and his fellow researchers.
Gut feelings predicted the outcomes of marriages over time, said McNulty. People who displayed a negative gut reaction were more likely to be unhappy in the long run.
"Sometimes people might not even be aware of these gut level feelings, McNulty said in a Science podcast
. "So for about a third of a second they see a picture of their partner, and then they have to indicate whether the word 'awful' is a good word or a bad one, or the word 'awesome' is a good word or a bad word."
Based on the psychological principle of association, "the theory is that after fleetingly seeing a picture of their partner, the newlywed is in a positive or negative state of mind," according to the BBC.
"Everyone wants to believe they are in a good relationship and people can convince themselves that they are, but these gut-level reactions are more indicative of how people feel immediately about their relationships," he told the BBC.
McNulty said the findings strengthened the idea that what happens outside of a person's awareness can affect their behavior and not just in matters of love. "Any strong automatic thought or feeling that we might have, could predict our behavior" toward other people or groups, he told the Science podcast.
He does not claim to be able to predict marital happiness before people tie the knot, saying the research methodology was not sufficiently developed.
"I think the best advice would be to attend to your gut level responses about how you think about seeing your partner. I don't think that should be the only factor people should consider, but it should be one of them," McNulty told the BBC.
• Scientists Discover How 'Love Hormone' Works Its Magic
• Secrets to Happiness
© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.