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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Richard B. Slatcher


Prior work has shown links between couples’ behavior and cortisol levels in the lab as well as between couples’ behaviors in everyday life and diurnal cortisol patterns (i.e., circadian rhythms in cortisol across the course of the day). The goal of this study was to test whether positive and negative behaviors exhibited by couples during dyadic conflict interactions in the laboratory are associated with individuals’ diurnal cortisol patterns outside of the lab (i.e., in daily life). Participants (N = 82) provided a total of 18 salivary cortisol samples over a 3-day period and came into the lab with their spouse to engage in two ten-minute dyadic conflict discussions. These videotaped interactions were then coded to assess the intensity with which each couple displayed various positive behaviors (e.g., humor, affection, engagement) and negative behaviors (e.g., defensiveness, frustration, disengagement) during the conflict discussions. Multi-level modeling was used to examine the associations between couples’ positive and negative behavior during conflict discussions and diurnal cortisol patterns in daily life. Results showed effects for positive, but not negative, behaviors on diurnal cortisol patterns. Individuals who experienced more positive behaviors with their partner during the conflict discussion experienced a steeper (healthier) cortisol slope across the day in their daily lives. Further investigation of the effects of specific positive affective behaviors on diurnal cortisol revealed that both humor and affection were associated with diurnal cortisol patterns in daily life. This research advances our understanding of the impact social relationships on physical health from a biopsychosocial perspective and has important implications for understanding how the way people resolve conflict in the lab is linked to their stress physiology in daily life.

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