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UArizona psychologists seeking couples for study on relationships

Psychologists are planning to study how and why relationship difficulties can impact a person's...
Psychologists are planning to study how and why relationship difficulties can impact a person's mental health.(WLUC)
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 8:10 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Two University of Arizona psychologists are recruiting couples for a study on how difficulties in romantic relationships affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing.

Psychologists Jessica Andrews-Hanna and David Sbarra, who recently got a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, plan to do a neuroimaging study of 200 couples to study how members of each couple process social information and how these neural responses pose a risk for depression.

The professors plan to start recruiting couples in at the end of July and the study will last four years. Researchers are looking for married couples or unmarried couples who have lived together for at least six months.

Participants will be paid, according to a news release from the university.

“The basic idea of this study is simple,” Sbarra was quoted as saying. “Our romantic relationships can bring us tremendous joy and happiness, but when these relationships are strained, the risk for emotional pain and suffering increases enormously.”

The study specifically seeks to understand the neural processes that may explain how and why relationship difficulties can have such a “profoundly” negative impact on mental health.

Andrews-Hanna said researchers will use MRI to study activations in parts of the brain associated with emotions and empathy while members of each couple are thinking about their partner.

Andrews-Hanna said the research also developed smartphone apps, which they also plan to use to study the communication patterns between each couple.

“It’s an enormous study and a huge team effort, and I’m expecting the findings will be groundbreaking for our understanding of relationships and mental health,” Andrews-Hanna was quoted as saying.

The study comes after many couples have spent a prolonged period of time together under quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t plan this to be a COVID-related study, but after a year in lockdown, loneliness and disconnection are very relevant – now more than ever, I’d say,” Sbarra was quoted as saying.

Couples who are interested can email couplesresearch@email.arizona.edu.

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