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Ambivalence is widely assumed to prolong grief. To examine this hypothesis, the authors developed a measure of ambivalence based on an algorithmic combination of separate positive and negative evaluations of one's spouse. Preliminary construct validity was evidenced in relation to emotional difficulties and to facial expressions of emotion. Bereaved participants, relative to a nonbereaved comparison sample, recollected their relationships as better adjusted but were more ambivalent. Ambivalence about spouses was generally associated with increased distress and poorer perceived health but did not predict long-term grief outcome once initial outcome was controlled. In contrast, initial grief and distress predicted increased ambivalence and decreased Dyadic Adjustment Scale scores at 14 months postloss, regardless of initial scores on these measures. Limitations and implications of the findings are discussed.
Social contact promotes enhanced health and well-being, likely as a function of the social regulation of emotional responding in the face of various life stressors. For this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, 16 married women were subjected to the threat of electric shock while holding their husband's hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or no hand at all. Results indicated a pervasive attenuation of activation in the neural systems supporting emotional and behavioral threat responses when the women held their husband's hand. A more limited attenuation of activation in these systems occurred when they held the hand of a stranger. Most strikingly, the effects of spousal hand-holding on neural threat responses varied as a function of marital quality, with higher marital quality predicting less threat-related neural activation in the right anterior insula, superior frontal gyrus, and hypothalamus during spousal, but not stranger, hand-holding.
In 2 daily experience studies and a laboratory study, the authors test predictions from approach-avoidance motivational theory to understand how dating couples can maintain feelings of relationship satisfaction in their daily lives and over the course of time. Approach goals were associated with increased relationship satisfaction on a daily basis and over time, particularly when both partners were high in approach goals. Avoidance goals were associated with decreases in relationship satisfaction over time, and people were particularly dissatisfied when they were involved with a partner with high avoidance goals. People high in approach goals and their partners were rated as relatively more satisfied and responsive to a partner's needs by outside observers in the lab, whereas people with high avoidance goals and their partners were rated as less satisfied and responsive. Positive emotions mediated the link between approach goals and daily satisfaction in both studies, and responsiveness to the partner's needs was an additional behavioral mechanism in Study 2. Implications of these findings for approach-avoidance motivational theory and for the maintenance of satisfying relationships over time are discussed.
Recent studies have shown that the presence of a caring relational partner can attenuate neural responses to threat. Here we report reanalyzed data from Coan, Schaefer, and Davidson ( 2006 ), investigating the role of relational mutuality in the neural response to threat. Mutuality reflects the degree to which couple members show mutual interest in the sharing of internal feelings, thoughts, aspirations, and joys - a vital form of responsiveness in attachment relationships. We predicted that wives who were high (versus low) in perceived mutuality, and who attended the study session with their husbands, would show reduced neural threat reactivity in response to mild electric shocks. We also explored whether this effect would depend on physical contact (hand-holding). As predicted, we observed that higher mutuality scores corresponded with decreased neural threat responding in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and supplementary motor cortex. These effects were independent of hand-holding condition. These findings suggest that higher perceived mutuality corresponds with decreased self-regulatory effort and attenuated preparatory motor activity in response to threat cues, even in the absence of direct physical contact with social resources.
Laughter facilitates the adaptive response to stress by increasing the psychological distance from distress and by enhancing social relations. To test these hypotheses, the authors related measures of bereaved adults' laughter and smiling 6 months postloss to measures of their (a) subjective emotion and dissociation from distress, (b) social relations, and (c) responses they evoked in others. Duchenne laughter, which involves orbicularis oculi muscle action, related to self-reports of reduced anger and increased enjoyment, the dissociation of distress, better social relations, and positive responses from strangers, whereas non-Duchenne laughter did not. Lending credence to speculations in the ethological literature, Duchenne laughter correlated with different intrapersonal and interpersonal responses than Duchenne smiles. Discussion focuses on the relevance of these findings to theories of positive emotion.