Researchers at Texas Christian University have found evidence that viewing images of smiling babies prompts women, but not necessarily men, to desire an earlier marriage.
The findings, which were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, highlight that our attitudes towards major life events are not necessarily set in stone.
“The average person, and all too many research psychologists, believe that attitudes, at least attitudes on important topics, are like glaciers — they seldom change, and when they do it is a very slow process,” explained study author Charles G. Lord.
“That kind of thinking can be misleading and dangerous. It can leave us feeling puzzled and sometimes even betrayed when politicians suddenly embrace policies they had criticized while campaigning for office, employers impose new business practices antithetical to those that attracted us to the job, and romantic partners suddenly change their intentions to marry.”
“The goal of my research for the past 40 years has been to help ordinary people to realize that they and other people are incredibly flexible and adaptive in the attitudes that they take, and that attitudes flow from what the individual thinks at that moment, not from what some research psychologist thinks about the topic,” Lord said.
An initial experiment with 122 unmarried college students found that women who were exposed to images of smiling babies wanted to marry sooner than women who were exposed to other non-baby images. While viewing baby images significantly increased the desire for women to marry sooner, it had only a small impact on the men in the study.
A follow-up experiment with 294 U.S. adults replicated the initial findings. Women wanted to marry almost three years sooner than men after viewing baby images.
The researchers also found evidence that women who viewed smiling babies tended to have more positive thoughts about children. But this was not true for men.
“Attitudes, defined as people’s evaluative responses, are not set in stone,” Lord told PsyPost. “If attitudes toward an action as important as getting married can change just because a briefly glimpsed photo makes thoughts of having children more likely to come to mind, and if thoughts of having children make marriage seem more desirable to one sex and less desirable to the other sex, then a foolish consistency is truly the hobgoblin of little minds. We would do well to evaluate people, objects, and concepts flexibly, and not be surprised when others do this as well.”
“Some people still expect and demand a foolish consistency in themselves and others, and some research psychologists still expect everyone to think the way they do—to conceive of ‘attitudes’ as mysterious entities that sit somewhere inside a person’s head and dictate everything that he or she does.”
“It will take many more studies like these to change the essentialist view of attitudes,” Lord added. “As Kurt Lewin, the father of social psychology, argued almost 90 years ago, it is long past time to switch from Aristotelian to Galilean thinking about attitudes.”
The study, “Individual differences in the effects of baby images on attitudes toward getting married“, was co-authored by Christopher J. Holland and Sarah E. Hill.