TUESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Want to know if your
romantic relationship will last "'til death do you part" -- or if
you are cruising toward a breakup?
A simple word association game may reveal the hidden truth about
your union, a new study suggests.
Most research on successful relationships is flawed because it
relies on asking the people involved how they feel about each
other, said researcher Dr. Ronald Rogge, an associate professor at
the University of Rochester and co-author of a study recently
published online in the journal
That strategy assumes partners know how happy they are -- and
tell the truth -- which is not always the case, he said.
Instead, Rogge and his colleagues used word association games
that are often used to detect bias to see what people really think
about their partners.
The researchers asked 222 volunteers who were involved in a
romantic relationship to supply the partner's first name and two
other words related to the partner, such as a pet name.
Next, the participants watched a monitor as three types of words
were presented, one at a time, in the following three categories:
good (for example, vacation or sharing); bad (such as, death or
criticizing); and partner-related (names or traits).
In the first exercise, participants were told to press the space
bar if a good word or partner word showed up. "What we were really
interested to see is how easy it was to have partner words paired
with a good target," Rogge said.
In another exercise, the participants were instructed to press
the space bar if they saw a bad word or partner word. "If they were
really good at that, that would suggest in the back of their mind
they had a negative attitude toward the partner," Rogge said.
The median age of the couples in one exercise was 25; in the
Rogge's team followed-up with the participants for one year and
discovered that those who found it easy to associate their partner
with bad words and difficult to associate their partner with good
words were more likely to separate in the next year. The ones "who
did well on the partner-bad tests and poorly on partner-good had a
75 percent risk of breakup," Rogge said.
"They had the least positive and most negative subconscious attitude," he said.
At the study's start, participants had also reported on the
strength of their relationships. When Rogge compared the word
association test results with the self-reports, he found the tests
did a better job of predicting breakups.
How is that possible? He explained that the task kept the
conscious mind busy as the researchers assessed the participants'
subconscious thoughts. "It could either be something they don't
know themselves or are not willing to tell you," he said.
The game results could reveal the earliest signs of a
relationship unraveling, possibly in time to save the partnership,
the authors noted.
The new research is termed a "watershed" contribution by another
expert, Dr. Eli Finkel, an associate professor of social psychology
at Northwestern University, who has researched relationships.
The findings illustrate "the power of the unconscious to
influence relationship outcomes," Finkel said. However, he added,
"it's too early to know whether this unconscious measure will be
useful for clinical or assessment purposes."
But Rogge said the strategy may eventually be used by therapists
to assess relationship health and intervene if needed. Meanwhile,
the test is available on his university Web site.
"You could do the test yourself and see where your attitudes lie," Rogge said.
"If you get feedback that says you don't have the strongest positive attitude and you are starting to get a subconscious negative attitude toward your partner, I would not immediately recommend breaking up," he said. "Use it as information. There is a lot people can do to make the relationship stronger."
Kansas States University has more about