If You Spot This in Old Photos, You're 5 Times More Likely to Divorce


As much as we'd all like to think that our marriages will last forever, "till death do us part" is far from guaranteed. In the U.S., the divorce rate is about 2.7 per 1,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Couples decide to part ways for a number of reasons, from lack of communication to infidelity to financial issues, and there's no one tell-tall sign that your marriage is headed for disaster. But research has found commonalities among divorced people, including some surprising predictors. In fact, one study found that one sign found in old photos could indicate that a person is five times more likely to divorce than others. Read on to find out what you should look for in your photo albums.

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People who are seen frowning in old photos are more likely to divorce.

A 2009 study published in the Motivation and Emotion journal found that the smile intensity in old photos can provide as a predictor of one's likelihood of divorce later in life. For one test, the researchers recruited more than 300 psychology alumni and around 350 general alumni, rating smile intensity in the participants' college yearbook photos from 1 to 10. Researchers found that none of the people who fell within the top 10 percent of smile strength had gotten a divorce. But in the bottom 10 percent, one in four had experienced a divorce.

For a second test, the researchers recruited more than 50 individuals over the age of 55 and asked them to provide up to eight photos of themselves between the ages of 5 and 22. According to the study, only 11 percent of those who were analyzed to be big smilers had been divorced, compared to 31 percent of those who frowned in their old photographs. "Divorce can not only be predicted by photographs taken in early adulthood, but in childhood as well," the researchers wrote in their study.

And frowners could be up to five times more likely to end a marriage.

Overall, people who frown in old photos are five times more likely to get a divorce than people who smile, according to the study. Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at DePauw University, told LiveScience that the results of this study fit into a larger pattern of research that has found that many personality characteristics can be determined by small displays of behavior. Smiling in photos, for example, has been correlated with a number of personality traits, including a generally happier disposition, per LiveScience.

"I think [our results] go along with a lot of the literature that's been coming out over the last five to 10 years, which shows that positive emotionality is incredibly important in our lives," Hertenstein told LiveScience. "There are many, many beneficial outcomes to a positive disposition."

As the study notes, people with higher levels of positive emotionality are more likely to "take advantage of opportunities, are more open to social relationships, are more capable of 'undoing' sporadic negative emotions, and appraise ambiguous events more positively."

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People who frown in old photos could have a higher divorce risk for more than one reason.

The researchers noted that their study only shows correlation not causation, so they can't definitively say why people who frown in old photos are more likely to get divorced. But according to the study, there could be a number of reasons—all likely related to a less positive emotional disposition. "People high in positive emotionality may be more likely to seek out environments more conducive to happy marriages and may even seek out partners who are higher in positive emotionality themselves," the researchers noted in their study.

But Hertenstein told Scientific American that there could also be a more negative explanation behind the study's findings. "Maybe people who look happier in photos show a social face to others," he told the magazine in 2009. "Those may be the same people who are likely to put up with partners because they don't want to appear unhappy."

And smiling in photos isn't a surefire sign someone will be a good partner.

Don't look at your partner's old photos and think you can decide the entire future of your marriage, however. The study researchers and other experts say smiling in childhood photographs is not always a surefire sign that a person will be a good partner. For instance, Susan Heitler, PhD, a psychologist and author of The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong and Loving Marriage, told ABC News that smiles can be misleading and don't necessarily accurately portray everyone's personality.

"People who are narcissistic and a little bit hypomanic can be generally very happy. They're life-of-the-party people. But they're more focused on themselves and not so good at hearing others," Heitler said. "In one-on-one relationships, they can be difficult partners. It's all about them and their way."

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