The research is an example of a social priming effect, an old idea in psychology that has recently become more controversial. The idea holds that when people are “primed” or prompted to think about a particular concept — such as physical magnetic attraction — it affects their cognition in surprising ways.

In this case, the magnets may make the metaphor of love as a physical force more prominent in people’s minds, leading them to report closer feelings with their partners, said Andrew Christy, a graduate student in psychology at Texas A&M University and a co-author of the new study. [13 Scientifically Proven Signs You’re in Love]

Social priming effects have become a battleground in social psychology in recent years. The entire field is in the midst of a “replication crisis,” because scientists have failed to replicate the results of many famous experiments when trying to repeat them. Social priming studies have been some of the highest-profile failures: In 2012, researchers failed to replicate one classic study of social priming, which found that people walked slower after being exposed to words related to old age, kicking off a firestorm of debate.