FSU Research Reveals Connection between Daily Moods and Automatic Partner Attitudes

This is a photo of a couple eating popcorn.

How you feel about your partner on an automatic level may influence daily moods as well as relationship satisfaction depending on the length of the relationship, as two researchers from Florida State University have found.

The Journal of Family Psychology recently published a research study titled “Automatic Partner Attitudes and Daily Experiences of Mood and Relationship Satisfaction” by Social psychology doctoral candidate Jordan Turner and Professor of Psychology Dr. James McNulty.

Automatic partner attitudes emerge from accumulated memories involving and evaluations of the romantic partner. These attitudes activate automatically when seeing or being reminded of the partner. With a newlywed sample of 120 couples recruited from northern Florida, Turner and McNulty conducted analyses on daily diary data from 14 days. Participants reported on daily positive and negative moods and daily relationship satisfaction. Data on automatic partner attitudes as well as relationship length had been collected beforehand.

The findings revealed a connection between automatic partner attitudes and daily mood. Those with more negative automatic partner attitudes reported more negative moods and less positive moods on a daily basis. How one’s automatic partner attitudes linked to their daily relationship satisfaction depended on the length of the relationship. For those who have been in their relationship for longer, having negative automatic partner attitudes was related to lower daily relationship satisfaction. This pattern was the opposite for those in shorter relationships, to whom more negative partner attitudes were associated with higher daily relationship satisfaction.

One interpretation offered by Turner and McNulty was that people were more able to resist the impact of their automatic partner attitudes on daily moods if their relationships have not lasted for long. Because people often are reminded of their partner multiple times throughout the day, with the passage of time the feelings triggered by automatic partner attitudes may become more and more associated with their daily moods.

Findings from this research also showed that those with more positive automatic partner attitudes reported higher relationship satisfaction if their relationship has lasted for longer. Turner and McNulty explained that people who have been in a relationship for a while likely learned to differentiate between feelings triggered by their partner and feelings triggered by other people or events. This may have helped their automatic partner attitudes remain consistent with daily relationship satisfaction.

One of the take-home messages offered by Turner and McNulty is that people should try to experience positive moods with their partner by their side. “Whether people are enjoying their favorite food, watching their favorite program, or reading their favorite book, their relationships may benefit to the extent that they remain physically close and/or attentive to their partners, thereby enhancing the extent to which those feelings become associated with the partner.”

By Charlene Wu