Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Mark A. Whisman

Second Advisor

Joanna J. Arch

Third Advisor

Soo H. Rhee

Fourth Advisor

Tor D. Wager

Fifth Advisor

Luke J. Chang

Abstract

Conflict interactions are almost universally experienced by romantic couples, are often emotionally rich, and are associated with many important mental and physical health outcomes. These factors make conflict interactions an excellent topic for investigation in studies of emotion and couples. The current study included 20 heterosexual romantic couples who had been in a relationship for at least 2 years. Each couple completed a video recorded conflict interaction task and both partners in each couple viewed their own interaction and the interaction of another couple in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Partners then completed an emotion rating task where they watched the videos again and provided a continuous rating of how they remembered feeling during their own interaction, how they thought their partner was feeling during their own interaction, and how they felt watching the other couple’s interaction. These ratings were then used in a whole brain fMRI analysis and results showed that the negative emotion rating for the self-rated condition was associated with activation in the superior temporal sulcus (STS), superior temporal gyrus (STG), and the auditory cortex (false discovery fate corrected p < .05); the rating of watching the other couple was also associated with activation in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC). An additional analyses applied brain activation patterns associated with discrete emotions obtained from two past studies to the data from the current study and found negative emotion ratings were positively associated with patterns representing anger (β = .022, t = 4.12, p < .0005), amusement (β = .036, t = 4.05, p < .0005), and sadness (β = .011, t = 2.87, p < .01) and negatively associated with patterns representing neutral (β = -.029, t = -4.70, p < .0001), contentment (β = -.029, t = -5.28, p < .0001), and empathic distress (β = -.011, t = -2.52, p < .05). This study used a novel and ecologically valid task to study emotion and conflict interactions and is an important step in understanding the neural representation of the affective experience associated with complex social interactions.

Comments

Advisor: Cindy White

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