The Secret to a Happy Marriage: Voodoo Dolls

voodoo dolls

When it comes to co-existing with your romantic partner, the occasional spat is going to be inevitable. In a post-woke world where gender isn’t supposed to define who we are as people, there really is no two ways about it: men and women –and the people who identify as either, or neither –are built differently.

Different, not better or worse, just fundamentally varied in the way our brains are wired. The healthy couple will recognize and find ways to peacefully co-exist with another human being, whether it’s by swallowing their pride or making sure the toilet seat is down without being asked, or seeking treatment for your loud snoring.

But social psychologists have found another way to make sure that a happy partner equals happy life: voodoo dolls.

Wait, what?

Voodoo Dolls: Keeping Couples Happy

In a study by social psychologist Brad Bushman, 107 married couples were given a pair of voodoo dolls that represented their partners. They were then given 51 pins and instructed to stab their respective dolls every night, with the number of pins equaling the amount of frustration they felt for their partner throughout the day.

It might sound macabre because it is, but the study found a few surprising things and came to a not-so-surprising conclusion.

One of the most surprising things that the researcher found was that individuals who had low blood sugar often stabbed their doll with more pins. That’s right, being ‘hangry’ is real, and it might actually be a tangible reason why couples fight. Working moms who balance the rigors of family and work life might be just a little gentler if their husbands brought home a cheeseburger.

This might seem like common knowledge, and while older couples might have known this all along, science has come around to confirm what we all know to be true: if you feed your partner, or lure them with your culinary magic, they’re going to be a lot calmer.

According to Bushman’s paper on the study published in a scientific journal, “Self-control of aggressive impulses requires energy, and much of this energy is provided by glucose derived from the food we eat…People are often the most aggressive against the people to whom they are closest — intimate partners.”

Voodoo Dolls: A Measure-stick for Aggression

Voodoo Dolls
Photo by Brian Lynch via Flickr Creative Commons

Voodoo dolls have been surprisingly helpful to scientists wishing to study human aggression. During experimentation, researchers need standard methods to measure variables, regardless of how tamed or untamed, they are. Ask people how aggressive they feel, and the answers will vary wildly; after all, aggression and anger are so subjective, it’s hard to create a baseline that could affect a large portion of humanity.

But voodoo dolls take out a lot of the guesswork by providing researchers with a tool to measure people’s aggression levels in a controlled manner. The Voodoo Doll Task, a study designed to measure how people are able to express their aggression, was a resounding success. In the task, researchers provided participants with a voodoo doll, both virtual and physical, and were told to visualize a person –or persons –that they felt wronged them. They were then told to stab away to their heart’s delight, with a majority of the participants showing a measurable level of aggression that scientists had no access to before.

Letting out your aggression, however, has always been one of the goals of leading a fulfilling life, especially since pent-up rage does a number on the body, from elevating stress hormones to harming your emotional connection to your partner.

How Voodoo Dolls Keep Couples Happy

The Haitian ritual from which the voodoo doll hails is complex and culturally relevant, but it operates on a simple psychological paradigm that involves transferring the characteristics of a particular person onto an object.

Now, before you say that this somehow propagates violence against a spouse, hear us out: science says it actually works. In various studies, couples who were allowed to let their aggression out onto an object rather than on each other, reported higher levels of happiness and contentment. That’s because their partners didn’t have to bear the brunt of their annoyance: the Voodoo doll took it all.

How is this different from, say, hitting the gym or a heavy bad? Well, a voodoo doll makes it easier for people to visualize their partners. This is important because it allows partners to have a tangible object that contains their spouse’s image, so while they can allow themselves to be aggressive, the aggression is let out in smaller bursts. It’s not like hitting a faceless punching bag: there’s empathy involved in a voodoo doll.

The study had its critics, as expected. And we also need to inform you that Brad Bushman is an Ig Nobel Prize recipient for another study that tried to prove people feel they’re more attractive when they’re consuming alcohol.

But the voodoo doll study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, reported showed promising results from his test subjects.

“I think the implications are pretty broad,” he says. “What we eat is related to our angry feelings and aggressive behaviors towards our most intimate partners.”

Bushman’s recommendation: “If I was going to have a serious discussion with my spouse, I’d make sure I wasn’t hungry first.”

So the next time you find yourself getting angry at your partner, consider two things: first, are you really angry at them for that off-hand comment they made, or are you just hungry? And secondly, if you’re going to stab a pin on your partner’s voodoo doll, how many pins are too many? Managing your stress, after all, is one of the best ways to avoid long-term marital health problems.

Aggression is an important part of the human condition, albeit one that is destructive. In fact, in the almost 80 years since the end of the Second World War, the world only experienced 26 days of international peace. Note, however, the operative words international peace; people were still fighting one another, but they kept it within their own borders. Maybe they should have all just eaten a Kit-kat and heard each other out?

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