Primary Research Objectives

How do couple relationships influence health and well-being during adulthood?

A large body of literature demonstrates that conflict and discord in our adult intimate relationships can put us at risk for greater depression, anxiety, and substance use problems. In fact, couples interventions focusing on reducing conflict and developing more effective communication skills are effective options for treating adult depression.  Yet, intimate relationships consist of so much more than just managing conflict and disagreements (thankfully!).

Accordingly, a primary objective of the Family Development Lab is to examine multiple dimensions of intimate relationships in order to best explain how families ultimately promote health and well-being during adulthood. Some of these relationship qualities include:

  • the quality of support provided when one partner is feeling down or has a problem
  • the degree to which partners feel a sense of mutual closeness, warmth, interdependence, and affection for one another (i.e., intimacy)
  • the extent to which partners are respected and treat one another as competent adults
  • the quality of the sexual relationship and degree of sensuality between partners
  • the frequency and intensity of disagreements, degree of physical and psychological aggression, and conflict resolution strategies

We conduct in-depth, multi-method investigations of relationship processes in order to understand the specific behaviors unfolding in intimate relationships that ultimately contribute to better or worse mental health outcomes. Further, we are interested in explaining how various aspects of intimate relationships minimize the negative effects of well-established risk factors for psychopathology such as negative temperament, major life stressors or traumas, and chronic strains associated with daily life.

Representative Publications

Brock, R.L., Kroska, E., & Lawrence, E. (2016). Chapter 21: Current status of research on couples. In T. Sexton &  J. Lebow (Eds.), Handbook of family therapy (2nd ed., pp. 409-433). NY: Taylor & Francis.

Brock, R.L., O’Hara, M., Hart, K.J., McCabe, J.E., Williamson, J.A., Laplante, D.P., Yu, C., & King, S. (2014). Partner support and maternal depression in the context of the Iowa floods. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 832-843. doi: 10.1037/fam0000027

Brock, R.L., & Lawrence, E. (2014). Marital processes, neuroticism, and stress as risk factors for internalizing symptoms. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 3, 30-47. doi: 10.1037/cfp0000007

Brock, R.L., & Lawrence, E. (2014). Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual predictors of support overprovision in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 54-64. doi:10.1037/a0035280

Brock, R.L. & Lawrence, E. (2011). Marriage as a risk factor for internalizing disorders: Clarifying scope and specificity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79, 577-589. doi:10.1037/a0024941

Brock, R. L., & Lawrence, E. (2010). A unified and multifaceted approach to examining support transactions in marriage. In K.S. Pearlman (Ed.), Marriage: Roles, stability and conflicts (pp. 31-54). NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Brock, R. L., & Lawrence, E. (2010). Support adequacy in marriage: Observing the platinum rule. In K.T. Sullivan & J. Davila (Eds.), Support processes in intimate relationships (pp. 3-25). NY: Oxford Press.

Brock, R. L., & Lawrence, E. (2009). Too much of a good thing: Underprovision versus overprovision of partner support. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 181-192. doi:10.1037/a0015402

Brock, R. L., & Lawrence, E. (2008). A longitudinal investigation of stress spillover in marriage: Does spousal support adequacy buffer the effects? Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 11-20. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.22.1.11

How do families lead children to flourish or falter throughout their development?

The vast majority of us are bound to families in one way or another. During childhood, a central role of our families is to provide the nurture and care that we require to develop and grow to our full potential. Research demonstrates the unequivocal importance of a warm, secure parent-child relationship, devoid of controlling and adversarial behaviors, for optimal child development. Yet, families are complex, dynamic systems; thus, focusing exclusively on parent-child relationships, without consideration of the larger family system, limits our understanding of how families ultimately influence child development.

Because the relationship between parents (i.e., interparental relationship) is considered the regulator of the larger family unit, impacting all aspects of the family (e.g., parent-child relationship) in a top-down manner, another primary objective of the Family Development Lab is to explain how the interparental relationship ultimately contributes to healthy psychosocial development in children. We are especially interested in identifying the optimal familial conditions for children who are at heightened risk for emotional difficulties, behavioral problems, and social deficits (i.e., children possessing certain vulnerabilities such as anger proneness or fearfulness).

By gaining a better understanding of the impact that both interparental and parent-child relationships ultimately have on child development, we hope to reveal new treatment targets and priorities (e.g., promoting greater support, intimacy, and respect in the interparental relationship; teaching skills for more effective parenting and co-parenting) for interventions aimed at promoting healthy child development. 

Representative Publications:

Brock, R.L., & Kochanska, G. (2016). Interparental conflict, children’s security with parents, and long-term risk of internalizing problems: A longitudinal study from Age 2 to 10. Development and Psychopathology, 28, 45-54. doi:10.1017/S0954579415000279

Brock, R.L.,
& Kochanska, G. (2016). Toward a developmentally-informed approach to parenting interventions: Seeking hidden effects. Development and Psychopathology, 28, 583-593. doi: 10.1017/S0954579415000607

Brock, R.L., Kochanska, G., O’Hara, M.W., & Grekin, R. (2015). Life satisfaction moderates the effectiveness of a play-based parenting intervention in low-income mothers and toddlers. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43, 1283-1294. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0014-y

Brock, R.L., & Kochanska, G. (2015). Decline in quality of family relationships predicts escalation in children’s internalizing symptoms from middle to late childhood. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43, 1295-1308. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0008-9