Close Relationships Laboratory
Relationships, Biology & Health
Our lab investigates how marital relationships and parent-child relationships influence stress biology and health. Our research examines two main biological processes: regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis -- which produces the stress hormone cortisol -- and immune responses to psychological stress. Several lines of research have shown that stressful social relationships are bad for your health. However, very little is known about the psychological and physiological processes that explain relationship-health links.
Mariage and Health
work in this area primarily focuses on the health consequences
of family relationships. Family stressors include marital conflict, work
stress that people carry home with them from the office, parent-child
conflict, and so on. We recently
completed a year-long EAR study of 44 families in which we
assessed diurnal cortisol and collected diary and EAR
Robles, Repetti, & Fellows, 2010).
We are finding,
for example, that work stress affects not only people's own cortisol
but also affects spouses' cortisol. For wives, it's not all bad news:
work stress only appears to affect women who are either
their marriage or don't open up about their thoughts and feelings to
their spouses. This study is the first to our knowledge
to show that momentary feelings of stress affect close others’ cortisol
levels. We also have shown that conflict at home measured by the EAR
recording device (which allows us to actually hear what goes on when
people are at home together) is linked to less "healthy" stress hormone
production in young children (see Slatcher & Robles, 2012).
Family Relationships and Health
on this work, we investigated the links between parent-child relationships and
physical health in late childhood and early adolescence. In collaboration with Ted
Robles at UCLA, we conducted an 8-week daily diary
biological mechanisms underlying how family environments
influence susceptibility to upper respiratory-tract infections (URIs).
We also have an ongoing longitudinal
study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NHLBI R01HL114097) investigating the effects of family environments
childhood asthma among 10-15 year-olds in Detroit. Participants in this study wear the EAR,
diary measures, laboratory assessments of family functioning,
immunological and epigenetic measures, and clinical asthma evaluations.
We are following participants for three waves of data collection over
two years, which will allow us to
examine how changes in family behaviors over time are linked to changes
in asthma symptom severity and pulmonary functioning
key biological and psychological pathways that may help explain the
links between family relationships and asthma. We are finding, for
example, that family conflict coded from the EAR is associated with
flatter (less "healthy") diurnal cortisol slopes, greater wheezing in
daily life and more frequent emergency visits, whereas EAR-coded
positive parenting behaviors (e.g., actively listening to the child,
positive talk by the parent) are associated with steeper ("healthier")
diurnal cortisol slopes.
Racial Health Disparities
In an NIH-funded project (1R03NR013249) with Nao Hagiwara at VCU and Lou Penner
at Wayne State, we are conducting linguistic analyses (using LIWC) on
videotaped interactions between black patients and non-black
physicians. With this project, we hope to uncover why some black
patients are more vulnerable to health disparities than others.
Findings will inform the development of future interventions to improve
the quality of medical interactions and the health of vulnerable