When Al and Tipper Gore recently announced their sudden split, even their closest friends were reportedly shocked. The Gores had experienced 40 seemingly happy years of marriage and a relationship that offered a pleasant juxtaposition to the drama that encompassed the White House during the Clinton presidency.
The news seemed like proof that what is happening privately in a marriage is a mystery to anyone on the outside, no matter how public the marriage.
But what if we could peer on the inside? Not as paparazzi, of course — but as brain researchers?
The New York Times reports that over the last several years, a growing number of scientists have become intrigued with the emotional insides of long-married couples. Utilizing brain scan analysis and observations of facial micro-expressions, some of the research has become remarkably good at predicting the success or failure of a marriage.
For instance, recent research conducted by Bianca Acevedo, a postdoctoral psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has revealed that long-married individuals who still claim to be passionately in love have brain scans to prove it.
Acevedo found that when the happiest older couples were shown a picture of their spouse, their scans lit up in all the regions associated with feelings of romantic love and the regions associated with deep attachment.
"They have the feelings of euphoria, but also the feelings of calm and security that we feel when we're attached to somebody," she said. "They were still very much in love and engaged in the relationship. That's something that seems different from the Gores, who said they had grown apart."
Other research by psychologist John Gottman, which was also featured in Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink", has looked at human emotion and analyzed facial micro-expressions. Gottman claims his model of analysis can predict which couples will stay married and which will divorce with 90 percent accuracy.
So could the Gore separation have been predicted? The answer is probably — with all the right tools and sophisticated analysis. But perhaps lost in the research and speculation about predicting divorce is a better question: should the Gore separation have been predicted? Does the measure of a successful relationship amount to whether it lasts?
In speaking about the Gore breakup to the New York Times, Dr. Betsey Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania noted that "they had 40 years of marriage, and they had what, by many dimensions, should be considered a successful marriage. The fact that they both can look forward and see a promising future by not being married — it's unfortunate that the answer is 'yes,' but it's also somewhat a celebration about how much optimism they have for the rest of their lives."
Read the full story at the NY Times site.
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