"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 sa
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