Why the military got scientists to show married couples puppy pictures.

Marriage losing that spark? You know what could help? A corgi puppy running through a field of grass.

Image via iStock.

Or, more specifically, the picture of a corgi puppy.


Florida State University professor James McNulty and a colleague, University of Tennessee professor Michael Olson, got a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to find a way to help military couples cope with the stress of separation.

McNulty, knowing the human being's love of things like adorable animals, chose to show people cute bunnies and puppies to test the idea of automatic association.

As you see, hear, and feel things, your brain sifts and categorizes it, building unconscious associations. A picture of your spouse, for instance, might be tied to feelings of home, safety, and love. The next time you see them, your brain is immediately ready with a slew of positive emotions.

Unfortunately for newlyweds or military spouses separated by distance, their brains never shut off this sorting machine. Over time, the stress, boredom, and dark clouds of daily life can creep in and dull that emotional spark.

What the researchers suspected is that, just as any negative association could dull the spark, any positive association could rekindle it.

Positive associations like, say, bunnies.

OK, this was just an excuse for another bunny picture. Image from skeeze/Pixabay.

They recruited 144 different couples. Every three days, the couples would be emailed short slideshows featuring pictures of their spouse mixed in with either positive words and pictures (puppies, beautiful sunsets, etc.) or neutral images (like drinking straws or buttons).

The paper did not say anything on the possibility of avid button-ophiles. Photo from Richard Wheeler/Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of the trial, the scientists compared both self-reported satisfaction and measurements of unconscious reactions from the two groups. The couple who saw the positive images (bunnies and puppies) not only had more positive unconscious reactions, they actually reported greater real-world satisfaction as well.

"I was actually a little surprised that it worked," said McNulty in a press release.

More than just an interesting psychological trick, this could actually help people.

McNulty and Olsen aren't saying this will empower each and every relationship. How we actually talk with and treat each other is still far more important. But they do think this kind of intervention could be helpful to people in marriage counseling or in long-distance relationships. Like, say, those deployed overseas.

And, for those not traveling abroad, maybe it's just a good reminder that our brains can both help and hurt our relationships but that either way, we have a bit of power over it.

McNulty and Olsen's work appeared in the journal Psychological Science on May 31, 2017.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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