Clinical Psychology
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Major Ongoing Projects

Contents:

Relationships Among Military Personnel

Daily Investigation of Suicidality in Couples

Post-Trauma Functioning in Sexual Assault Survivors

Distressing Film Clips and Memory Consolidation

Distressing Film Clips and Psychophysiological Reactivity

Communication in Romantic Couples

 

Relationships Among Military Personnel

The primary aim of this project is to better understand the bidirectional associations among PTSD and other psychological problems and relationship distress in military couples, with an eye toward identifying key psychological and interpersonal mechanisms of these associations. The project is funded by the Department of Defense and being headed by Elizabeth Allen, Ph.D. at University of Colorado - Denver. We gathered data from over 500 male Army soldiers who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within the past 2 years and their female, civilian partners. Subsequently, those couples in which the soldier exhibited some level of PTSD symptoms moved into a longitudinal study with 4 times points, spaced 6 months apart. The constructs being assessed include information about deployments (e.g., level of combat exposure), basic relationship processes (e.g., communication), psychological symptoms (e.g., depression, PTSD), parenting, and many trauma-related relationship processes (e.g., disclosure of trauma, reactions to disclosures), among others. Data collection is now complete.

Daily Investigation of Suicidality in Couples

This project represents Sarah Carter’s dissertation project. It is funded by an NIMH F31 award, an APA Division 19 Student Research Award, a Military Suicide Research Consortium Award Dissertation Completion Award, and a GMU Provost Research Grant. The primary aim is to evaluate the impact of daily adaptive and maladaptive interpersonal processes in military couples on daily fluctuations in suicide risk factors and ideation, to clarify interpersonal mechanisms through which suicide risk becomes reduced or exacerbated. The target sample is 50 Army soldiers who are on a “high risk” list due to suicidal ideation or attempts at an Army behavioral health clinic, and their spouses or cohabiting partners. After soldiers complete a structured interview, soldiers and partners complete background questionnaires, and then a 2-week series of daily assessments using the “day reconstruction method.” Data collection will begin in Fall 2016.

Post-Trauma Functioning in Sexual Assault Survivors

This project represents Jennifer DiMauro’s dissertation project. It is funded by a GMU Provost Research Grant and a GMU Psychology Department Award. The primary aims are: (1) to explore potentially differing underlying mechanisms of the association between PTSD symptoms and relationship satisfaction across female sexual assault survivors (with a history of adulthood vs. childhood sexual assault) and male combat veterans, and 2) to explore factors related to trauma-related disclosure across these groups of trauma survivors. Between 100 and 200 sexual assault survivors will provide data via questionnaires regarding the nature and timing of their assault, current interpersonal functioning, and current psychological functioning. Comparable data from combat veterans are already collected, via the Relationships Among Military Personnel study (see above). Data collection is currently underway.

Distressing Film Clips and Memory Consolidation

This project represents doctoral student Lauren Paige’s 2nd-year project. The primary aim is to examine the relative effects of engaging or disrupting sensory or semantic memory consolidation on subsequent intrusive thoughts. Over 150 undergraduate participants viewed highly distressing film clips for 6 minutes, after which they engaged in one of four conditions focused on enhancing or disrupting memory consolidation (or a control condition). Participants then provided daily data on intrusive thoughts about the film clips for the following week. Data collection was completed in Summer 2016.

Distressing Film Clips and Psychophysiological Reactivity

This project represents a collaboration of our lab with Ali Weinstein. Undergraduate participants will provide baseline psychophysiological data (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, heart rate variability, etc.), and then view highly distressing film clips for 6 minutes. We will also measure physiological reactivity to the clips, as well as recovery after the clips. Participants will subsequently provide daily data on their intrusive thoughts about the film clips for the following week. Analyses will focus on the prediction of frequency of intrusive thoughts by different physiological variables. This project is currently in the planning stages, with data collection to begin during the Fall of 2016.

Communication in Romantic Couples

The primary aim of this project is to better understand factors that contribute to perceptions of communication from a romantic partner as either hostile or non-hostile (constructive) in nature. The specific objectives are to: (1) characterize differences in the behaviors and cognitions that are associated with hostile and nonhostile communication, as defined by both objective ratings and subjective perceptions, and (2) identify individual and couple-level variables that can predict discrepancies between objective ratings and subjective perceptions of both hostile and nonhostile communication. The data collection was supported by a George Mason University Creative Award research grant awarded to Dr. Renshaw. The project coordinator was Sarah Klein, one of Dr. Renshaw's doctoral students.

For this project, community couples completed a set of baseline questionnaires and then came to the lab for a series of 3 problem discussions that were videotaped. Each partner responded to a set of questions after each discussion. After all discussions were complete, partners separately watched video of the interactions, pausing every minute to rate their and their partners’ behavior. These ratings will be compared with objective coding of behavior to hopefully identify factors that predict match/mismatch of subjective perceptions with objective ratings. All data collection is complete, and datasets have been cleaned. Coding of the interactions will occur during the 2016-2017 year.

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