Automatic Associations Between One's Partner and One's Affect as the Proximal Mechanism of Change in Relationship Satisfaction: Evidence From Evaluative Conditioning

Psychol Sci. 2017 Aug;28(8):1031-1040. doi: 10.1177/0956797617702014. Epub 2017 May 31.


The current study examined whether directly altering affective associations involving a relationship partner through evaluative conditioning can lead to changes in relationship satisfaction. Married couples ( N = 144) were asked to view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of the partner, which, according to random assignment of couples to experimental group, were paired with either positive or neutral stimuli. Couples also completed measures of automatic partner attitudes and explicit marital satisfaction at baseline and once every 2 weeks for 8 weeks. Spouses who viewed their partners paired with positive stimuli demonstrated more-positive automatic partner attitudes than did control spouses, and these attitudes predicted increased self-reported marital satisfaction over time. These results provide novel evidence for a mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction, represent a step toward documenting how strong attitudes can evolve through passive exposure to information, and suggest novel avenues for relationship interventions.

Keywords: change in relationship satisfaction; evaluative conditioning; evaluative priming; implicit attitudes; marriage.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Association*
  • Conditioning, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Spouses / psychology*