Cardiovascular reactivity to marital conflict in laboratory and naturalistic settings


Cardiovascular reactivity during spousal conflict is considered to be one of the main pathways for relationship distress to impact physical, mental, and relationship health. However, the magnitude of association between cardiovascular reactivity during laboratory marital conflict and relationship functioning is small and inconsistent given the scope of its importance in theoretical models of intimate relationships. This study tests the possibility that cardiovascular data collected in laboratory settings downwardly bias the magnitude of these associations when compared to measures obtained in naturalistic settings. Ambulatory cardiovascular reactivity data were collected from 20 couples during two relationship conflicts in a research laboratory, two planned relationship conflicts at couples’ homes, and two spontaneous relationship conflicts during couples’ daily lives. Associations between self-report measures of relationship functioning, individual functioning, and cardiovascular reactivity across settings are tested using multilevel models. Cardiovascular reactivity was significantly larger during planned and spontaneous relationship conflicts in naturalistic settings than during planned relationship conflicts in the laboratory. Similarly, associations with relationship and individual functioning variables were statistically significantly larger for cardiovascular data collected in naturalistic settings than the same data collected in the laboratory. Our findings suggest that cardiovascular reactivity during spousal conflict in naturalistic settings is statistically significantly different from that elicited in laboratory settings both in magnitude and in the pattern of associations with a wide range of inter- and intrapersonal variables. These differences in findings across laboratory and naturalistic physiological responses highlight the value of testing physiological phenomena across interaction contexts in romantic relationships.

In Family Process

Full Citation:
Baucom, B.R.W., Baucom, K.J.W., Hogan, J.N., Crenshaw, A.O., Bourne, S., Crowell, S.E., …Goodwin, M.S. (2018). Cardiovascular reactivity to marital conflict in laboratory and naturalistic settings. Family Process, 57(3), 662-678.