Reflections on The Science of a Happy Marriage

Parker-Pope, T. (2010). “The Science of a Happy Marriage.” New York Times. Visited June 24 2010.

Summary: The article, by Tara Parker Pope, discusses the science of a happy marriage, and why some individuals cheat on their partners, while others don’t. Pope explains that some scientists account for this by pointing to biological or genetic factors and others assess the psychological impact of flirting with a stranger.

According to some research, it is possible to train yourself to protect your marriage by increasing the feelings of commitment. One researcher, Hasse Walum studied 552 pairs of twins to assess  a gene that contributes to the body’s regulation of the bonding hormone vasopressin.  Overall, men who demonstrated a variation of the gene were less likely to be married. Those that were married in this category, were more likely to be in unhappy marriages or to have experienced a relationship crisis.

Other research accounts for how the brain can be trained to encourage faithfulness. John Lydon’s research found that when individuals were presented with scenarios where an attractive woman might threaten their relationship, they instinctively told themselves, ‘he’s not so great.’ His research also revealed that when women were primed to imagine a flirtatious fantasy, they were more likely to demonstrate subconscious concerns about commitment in psychological word puzzle games.

Other studies examine how commitment is dependant on the ability of your partner to enhance your life- ‘self-expansion.’ Research conducted at Stony Brook University revealed that couples who had experienced some sort of victory  (through challenge) together were more likely to demonstrate relationship satisfaction.

This article is mostly relevant for conceptual design.

Conceptual Design: There are a number of approaches that product designers could pursue in order to capitalise on this information. Knowing that it is possible to ‘train’ to increase levels of commitment by encouraging shared experiences of victory and challenge, product designers could design getaway activity packages for couples that specifically deal with these feelings. To market these products as a ‘cure’ for unhappy marriages would have a lot of potential in a world where divorce rates sit at 50% in many Anglo-Saxon countries.

There are a bunch of “brain” games on the market now that are capitalizing on research on brain plasticity. Baby Boomers in the US are the prime target of marketing fr these products. There is potential for another set of games or “experiences” that are sold as measures to ward off marital discord. One idea: a ‘marriage roller-coaster’…..

Also, knowing that this type of research and evidence will increasingly enter the public domain, it is important for product designers to consider how this may impact the rate of divorce, and increase the longevity of marriages. Certainly, less divorce and longer marriages completely impacts that market and user groups.

Product designers might use this research to consider how to transforms basic everyday household experiences into challenging and fun activities, so that interaction with the products involves partners, as opposed to just individuals. How could something like cooking involve a couple? Cook books made for couples? Or what about activities such as cleaning?