Story at a glance

  • Relationships, and marriages, are hard, and researchers attached Fitbits to people to see what happens to their heart rates around their spouses.
  • Although there was a lot of variation, the data suggests that couples sync up their heart rates when they are in close proximity.
  • The team thinks this could be helpful for understanding processes in relationships.

Your heart may flutter when near your significant other, but what does their heart do? To study how heart rates change among older couples who are living together, researchers combined fitness tracker data with proximity data.

The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, highlights some of the interesting results. “Relationship researchers typically ask people how they're doing and assume they can recall properly and give meaningful answers,” says Brian Ogolsky, who is an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, in a press release. “But as couples age and have been together for a long time, they laugh when we ask them how satisfied or how committed they are. When they have been married for 30 or 40 years, they feel that indicates commitment in itself.”

In the study, the researchers gave Fitbits to 10 heterosexual married couples ranging in age from 64 to 88. The couples had been in their relationships for 14 to 65 years. After following the couples for two weeks, the researchers looked at the heart rate data that was tracked continuously during that time. They also had data on the proximity to each other within their homes from another device.

The couples got phone calls from the researchers twice a day, once in the morning to remind them to wear their devices and once in the evening to ask about health, well being and their relationship dynamic during the day.


America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


“We were looking for more objective ways to measure relationship dynamics, and we know that being around other people has psychological benefits. So, physical proximity seemed like a strong candidate,” says Ogolsky.

What they found was an interesting look into the lives and relationships of these couples. The couples’ heart rates would synchronize when they were in close proximity to each other, often with one person in the lead. The person who led the change in heart rate could change throughout the day or over the study, suggesting a “unique couple-dance” that affects their physiology and patterns throughout the day, says Ogolsky.

There was large variation in the data. “We found each day is a unique context that changes depending on circumstances. Couple interactions, their attitudes, behaviors, whether they're close to each other or far away, change all the time,” says Ogolsky. “Even across 14 days, couples are not consistent enough in these kinds of objective patterns to allow us to make any couple-level conclusions.”

The team thinks that it is more important to focus on micro processes, rather than trying to be able to make predictions or conclusions across couples. “We're not focusing on cause and effect, but on co-regulation, which happens when heart rates move in a synchronous pattern,” says Ogolsky. “That is, when the partners are close, their heart rate patterns indicate an interaction that is collectively meaningful in some way.”


READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA

RETIREES USING THE INTERNET GET A BOOST TO COGNITIVE FUNCTION

EXPERTS PREDICT AN ALARMING SURGE OF US COVID-19 CASES THIS WINTER

HUGE NEW STUDY FINDS MASKS MOST EFFECTIVE PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURE IN FIGHTING COVID-19

‘HAMILTON’ STAR LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA FIRES BACK AT CANCEL CULTURE

SITTING MORE AND LESS MOVEMENT LINKED TO SPIKE IN DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY SYMPTOMS


 

Published on Nov 21, 2021