This application is in response to PAR-17-158, ?Secondary Data Analyses to Explore NIMH Research Domain Criteria (R03).? We propose to examine interpersonal regulation of prosody associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Prosody (paralinguistic features of speech), part of the RDoC ?Systems for Social Processes? domain, is indicative of emotional arousal and has essential communicative functions. While intraindividual emotion regulation has been widely studied in psychiatric disorders, research on interpersonal emotion regulation has been focused on healthy individuals. That is, little is known about how close relationships help or hinder emotion regulation for individuals with psychopathology. We propose a unique approach using prosody during negatively valenced couple conversations to examine moment-by-moment patterns of interpersonal emotion regulation associated with psychopathology. Given the prevalence and transdiagnostic relevance, this study will focus on symptoms of depression and anxiety. We pool data from eight previous investigations, including couples selected for psychiatric diagnoses (depression, OCD, eating disorders) or the presence/absence of relationship distress, resulting in a sample of N = 398 couples (796 individuals). Consistent with the RFA, this pooled sample provides a unique opportunity to examine RDoC constructs (non-facial communication, arousal), symptom clusters (depression and anxiety), and relationship distress in a dimensional manner ranging from healthy individuals and relationships to marked disturbances in both. All couples completed recorded conversations about a problem in the relationship (if applicable, related to the psychiatric disorder), and measures of depression, anxiety, and relationship satisfaction. Integrative Data Analysis, a framework to analyze data in pooled samples across different measures of a construct will be employed. Emotional arousal encoded in prosody will be measured continuously during couple conversations. We capitalize on advances in the statistical modeling of dynamic interpersonal processes and will use dyadic time-series and dynamic systems modeling to examine interpersonal emotion regulation. Adaptive interpersonal regulation during negatively valenced conversations is defined as (a) the couple?s ability to keep emotional arousal from escalating and to deescalate arousal after increases, and (b) the degree to which partners aid in the return of the other partner?s emotional arousal to baseline. Accordingly, the central focus will be to examine the associations of depression, anxiety, relationship distress, and their interaction with (a) the overall trajectories of emotional arousal across the conversation, and (b) the degree to which bidirectional moment-to-moment associations between partners? emotional arousal help or hinder the return of arousal to baseline. Findings from this investigation can contribute substantially to the understanding of the RDoC ?Social communication? construct and its relevance to emotion regulation in psychopathology, with the long term goal of identifying specific social processes as treatment targets that can optimize interventions in the future.

Public Health Relevance

Difficulties with emotion regulation are common across psychiatric disorders and, understandably, many adults turn to their partners in times of distress; however, interpersonal emotion regulation in psychiatric disorders has been understudied. The proposed study will examine interpersonal aspects of emotion regulation during stressful couple conversations, and their associations with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and relationship distress. By studying couples ranging from those with good mental health and relationship functioning to couples with severe dysfunction in both, this study will help us understand the role of specific difficulties in interpersonal emotion regulation, and inform the development of treatments that target these difficulties to better assist individuals with anxiety and depressive symptoms.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Prabhakar, Janani
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
United States
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