ASU Researchers Dial In to How Romantic Couples Regulate Stressful Interactions

Measuring stress of couples' relationships
Can the Perception Analyzer play a role in helping researchers and clinicians understand when and how some couples regulate stressful interactions while others don’t? Dr. Ashley K. Randall, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of clinical training of counseling and counseling psychology, and her colleague Dr. Nicholas Duran, assistant professor in psychology, at Arizona State University (ASU), thinks so. They are conducting studies on understanding couples’ moment-to-moment interactions to better understand how partners cope with stress in their relationship. To do this, they are using the Perception Analyzer to gather in-the-moment reactions from couples as they observe video recordings of their stressful conversations. The feedback collected allows Drs. Randall and Duran to examine the complex differences and similarities between partners’ behavioral exchanges and emotional experiences during stressful interactions.

Nick Duran - ASUAshley Randall - ASU We’re always fascinated with interesting applications of our moment-to-moment dial testing tools and this is a new one for us, so we followed up with Drs. Randall and Duran to see if they’d share some more details. Here are the highlights:

Q: Why the interest in using the Perception Analyzer for this study?

We were looking for a reliable way to capture the individualized, in-the-moment feedback of each partner as they observed themselves interact during stressful conversations. The Perception Analyzer is especially good at this as participants are not influenced by each other’s feedback even as they are watching and observing together. Additionally, the visual nature of the results (in the form of the line chart overlaid on top of the video recording) makes it easy to see where feedback between two individuals aligns and where it diverges.

Q: What are the objectives of your study?

Broadly defined, the goal of this project was to examine complex causalities between partners’ behavioral and emotional experiences during stressful conversations. To do so, we wanted to take advantage of dial testing technology to collect precise data of couples’ behavior and emotional experiences during their real-time interactions.

Q: How were the Perception Analyzer dials used?

We used the dials to collect basic demographic information prior to the lab session. During the lab session, couples were asked to discuss a series of topics with one another, which we video recorded. Following the interaction, the couples were then asked to watch the play-back of the video while continuously rating their emotions and cognitions, using the dials.

Q: What type of results did you get from your research? 

In the first preliminary analysis, we were able to determine how similar the romantic partners’ feelings were during each conversation type by comparing the couples’ continuous dial ratings. Specific results showed where topics being discussed involved a mutually shared stressor (for example, both participants were stressed about finances); partners perceptions of their own stress moment-to-moment was highly correlated. This was much higher compared to situations when conversations involved an unbalanced stressor (for example, male or female partner alone being stressed over a deadline at work).

Thanks to Drs Randall and Duran for the details on their study and their use of the Perception Analyzer dials. We look forward to tracking results of their research in the coming months and sharing with you any additional insights.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.