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.

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.