Current Research Projects | Interpersonal Relationships & Developmental Psychopathology Lab | Kent State University

Current Research Projects

Research in the lab is guided by research interests of faculty, staff, and students. We use both large-scale existing data-sets (e.g. AddHealth, NICHD Study of Early Child Care, LONGSCAN) and execute new data-collection protocols. Research protocols in the lab generally include a mixture of methods (e.g. survey measures, observational, interview and/or neurocognitive measures), both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, community and college samples, and may include romantic partners. A key premise in our protocols is that they need to be somewhat innovative and be able to provide some new insight into the current state of science and/or inform practice. Currently we are trying to tackle some of the following questions & problems

Trauma, Close Relationships, and Health

Using the LONGSCAN data, we are trying to better understand the physical and mental health consequences of stressful and traumatic events experienced from early childhood into young adulthood (see e.g. Marshall, Stigall, & van Dulmen, 2017). The events we examine are varied but include both proximal and distal sources of stress including, family instability (including entry and continued experiences in the foster care system), exposure to violence, and poverty. To achieve our overarching aim the central focus of this research is to identify the underlying mechanisms and important risk and resiliency factors that may ameliorate or exacerbate the effect that stressful events have on health. More specifically, we are interested in how experiences in close relationships (peer and romantic relationships) buffer (e.g. support, closeness) or worsen (e.g. conflict, victimization) the effects of early adversity on adolescent and young adult health.

Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Violence

Self-Control and Executive Functions. Building on data from several couple studies in Northeast Ohio, we are investigating risk factors, in particular executive functions and self-control for intimate partner violence. We are particularly interested in the interplay between self and partner effects. In other words, how do partner characteristics contribute to intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization? This work is an extension of several recent studies from our lab (Baker, Klipfel, & van Dulmen, in press; Chong, Claxton, & van Dulmen, 2015; Goncy & van Dulmen, in press; van Dulmen, & Goncy, 2010).

Relational-Independent Self-Construal and Implications for Intimate Partner Violence

Research suggests the extent to which people define themselves by their relationship (i.e., relational- interdependent self-construal or RISC) not only influences how they view their partners, but also how they come to terms with their own identity. However, scant research has examined how this affects their approach to relationship adversity, particularly in the context of romantic relationships. Thus, this line of research addresses a basic and applied issue by extending the validity of the RISC to studies of romantic relationships and examining ways in which high vs. low RISC translates to real situations of conflict using observational studies in the lab.

Implications of Young Adult Romantic Relationships for Academic Functioning

To investigate low retention rates in college, we are taking a unique approach and examining how a romantic partner affects academic functioning during the first semester of college. We are particularly interested in first semester college students, as research shows that this is arguably the most critical point for predicting degree completion and retention. We hypothesize that being in a healthy relationship can be beneficial and can even act as a buffer during times of stress (e.g. mid-terms). Using a short-term longitudinal design, and controlling for previous performance indicators (e.g. SAT scores) we hope to shed more light as to how -and why- romantic partners affect academic performance and retention.

Casual Sexual Relationships and Experiences (CSREs)

Building on recent work in our lab (e.g. Claxton & van Dulmen, 2013, 2015; Claxton, DeLuca, & van Dulmen, 2015; DeLuca et al., 2015; Klipfel, Claxton, & van Dulmen, 2014) we continue to investigate (a) the interplay between CSREs and behavioral health/alcohol use, (b) whether CSREs are unique to the college context, and (c) the social context of CSREs.

Positive Parental Engagement: The Role of the Mother-Father Relationship

Research suggests that positive parental engagement has wide-reaching benefits for children. In order to promote positive parental engagement, it is necessary to understand the factors that underlie it. Guided by a family systems approach, we investigate factors underlying positive parental engagement using an ethnically and economically diverse sample of parents. Family systems models suggest there is an interplay between the parents and the child. Therefore, the mother’s parenting of the child is influenced by her relationship with the father and the father’s parenting of the child is influenced by his relationship with the mother. Indeed, research suggests that positive mother-father relationship experiences spill over and lead to more parental engagement. Consequently, we investigate spillover between both mothers’ and fathers’ reports of positive relationship experiences and positive parental engagement. Furthermore, guided by family stress models, we investigate if spillover differs based on family structure, poverty, or race. The results of this study will help up better understand predictors of positive parental engagement in a diverse sample of parents.

Developmental Competence of Young Adult Adoptees

Little empirical work examines the long-term adjustment of adoptees and how adoption-related experiences, such as age at adoption and type of adoption, impact outcomes in young adulthood. To fill this gap in the literature, Haylee’s dissertation aims to (a) extend the limited literature on the young adult outcomes of adoptees and (b) utilize propensity score methods to provide a more precise estimate of the long-term impact of adoption by accounting for relevant confounds. In addition, this work will (c) compare the young adult outcomes of adoptees based on adoption-related experiences, which will help explain why some adoptees show poorer outcomes than others. Specifically, Haylee is analyzing the long-term implications of adoption on educational, work, and marital outcomes in young adulthood. In addition, she is investigating the role of age at adoption, foster care experience, and type of adoption in understanding individual differences in adoptee outcomes. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), she will conduct regression analyses and utilize propensity score methods to account for the quality of close relationships (i.e., parent-child relationships, peer relationships, and romantic relationships) and other relevant confounds (e.g., internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, mother’s educational attainment) that may explain previously observed differences in the literature. This research will provide a more nuanced understanding of the long-term effects of adoption and adoption-related experiences, which will inform existing research and theory on the adjustment of adoptees in young adulthood.

Mindfulness-Based Skills Training to Reduce Dating Violence

Dating violence is a prevalent and problematic issue on college campuses. Unfortunately, not much is known about the efficacy of current psychoeducational interventions on college campuses. While psychoeducational interventions are often successful in increasing knowledge and changing attitudes towards dating violence, the current consensus is that they are not enough (in and of themselves) to reduce the actual behavior of dating violence. It is critical to also address behavioral risk factors in interventions if we wish to see behavioral change. One behavioral risk factor to consider is the way in which an individual responds to emotionally charged states. Indeed, experiencing emotionally charged states such as anger or stress increases the likelihood of perpetrating dating violence. Unfortunately, some individuals use aggression as an unhealthy coping mechanism when they experience emotionally charged states. Therefore, the current study examines if traditional psychoeducational programs can be improved by adding a booster session that teaches students to cope with emotionally charged states in a healthy manner; specifically, though mindfulness-based skills. This study will inform current prevention efforts on college campuses as well as future research on the association between mindfulness and dating violence. 

 – Assessing Romantic Inclination in a non-Western Sample

 Most research on romantic involvement has been conducted using Western samples, which commonly involve dating before marriage. However, dating-based partner selection and marriages of choice are not predominant practices in many non-Western cultures. The Romantic Inclination Scale (RIS) was developed to assess the attitude and readiness of young adults to develop romantic relationship with a partner of choice (Ganth & Kadhiravan, 2013). We seek to examine the reliability of this scale in non-Western and Western samples, and whether it is invariant across gender and relationship history (i.e., does the measure operate similarly for those who have been in a romantic relationship versus those who have not been in a romantic relationship).

Eye-tracking study – Visual Attention as a Function of Love or Lust

Previous studies demonstrate love and lust stem from two functionally independent social behaviors with distinct behavioral and neural mechanisms. Research has also indicated that a person’s eye gaze shifts as a function of his or her goal (love vs lust) when looking at a visual stimulus (Bolmont, Cacioppo & Cacioppo,2014). However, it is not clear to what degree individual differences in attitudes and experiences in romantic relationships and sexual behavior impact goals of love or lust. Therefore, this study is aims to (a) replicate the previous research using eye-tracking methodology to understand differential gaze patterns involved in love and sexual desire and (b) investigate the role of individual difference variables (e.g. romantic relationship and sexual relationship history) underlying love and sexual desire gaze patterns.