Inner connections between family members’ functioning

Another line of my research makes a strong case for the interdependence and reciprocity assumptions of the family systems theoretical perspective, as well as developmental psychopathology. Generally, studies in this line of work help us to understand how processes might be linked across family members (such as married partners showing similar emotions during marital conflict discussions; Papp, Kouros, & Cummings, 2010) or how one person’s functioning in one domain is linked to the outcomes of another person (with parents’ psychological distress and marital functioning jointly predictive of child development; Papp, 2012).

With Emma Adam at Northwestern University and colleagues, I have studied these questions using cortisol levels of family members sampled across a few days in their daily lives. We examined physiological synchrony of mothers and their adolescents (Papp, Pendry, & Adam, 2009). After accounting for several factors that influence cortisol levels, hierarchical linear models indicated the presence of significant covariation over time in mother-adolescent cortisol levels. Additionally, tests of moderation revealed that over and above the presence of the mother, cortisol synchrony was stronger among mothers and adolescents who spent more time together and among dyads with higher levels of parental monitoring and engagement in shared activities. Moreover, in momentary diary accounts by both parents and adolescents, this within-family physiological synchrony was amplified in contexts of elevated maternal and adolescent negative affect. We recently extended investigation of within-family cortisol levels to husband-wife dyads: We again documented significant covariation in marital partners’ cortisol levels, and found that this within-couple physiological synchrony was stronger for husbands who spent relatively more time with their spouse during the study period (Papp, Pendry, Simon, & Adam, in press).

Representative Publications:

Papp, L. M. (2010). The course and quality of intimate relationships among psychologically distressed mothers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80, 71-79.

Papp, L. M. (2012). Longitudinal associations between parental and children’s depressive symptoms in the context of interparental relationship functioning. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21, 199-207.

Papp, L. M., Kouros, C. D., & Cummings, E. M. (2010). Emotions in marital conflict interactions: Empathic accuracy, assumed similarity, and the moderating context of depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 367-387.

Papp, L. M., Pendry, P., & Adam, E. K. (2009). Mother-adolescent physiological synchrony in naturalistic settings: Within-family cortisol associations and moderators. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 882-894.

Papp, L. M., Pendry, P., Simon, C., & Adam, E. K. (in press). Spouses’ cortisol associations and moderators: Testing physiological synchrony and connectedness in daily life. Family Process.

Smith, D. A., Breiding, M. J., & Papp, L. M. (2012). Depressive moods and marital happiness: Within-person synchrony, moderators, and meaning. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 338-347.