1. Study suggests blue lighting helps us to relax faster after an argument than white lighting

    November 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), in collaboration with the School for Special Education San Rafael (Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God, Granada, Spain) have proven, by means of an objective evaluation using electrophysiological measurements, that blue lighting accelerates the relaxation process after acute psychosocial stress in comparison with conventional white lighting.

    Said stress is a kind of short-term stress (acute stress) that occurs during social or interpersonal relationships, for example while arguing with a friend or when someone pressures you to finish a certain task as soon as possible.

    The researchers, which belong to the BCI Lab (Brain-Computer Interface Lab) at the University of Granada, note that psychosocial stress produces some physiological responses that can be measured by means of bio-signals. That stress is very common and negatively affects people’s health and quality of life.

    For their work, whose results have been published in the PlosOne journal, the researchers made twelve volunteers to be stressed and then perform a relaxation session within the multisensory stimulation room at the School for Special Education San Rafael.

    In said room the participants lied down with no stimulus but a blue (group 1) or white (group 2) lighting. Diverse bio-signals, such as heart rate and brain activity, were measured throughout the whole session (by means of an electrocardiogram and an electroencephalogram, respectively).

    The results showed that blue lighting accelerates the relaxation process, in comparison with conventional white lighting.


  2. Study suggests maintaining strong social networks linked to slower cognitive decline

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    Maintaining positive, warm and trusting friendships might be the key to a slower decline in memory and cognitive functioning, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

    SuperAgers — who are 80 years of age and older who have cognitive ability at least as good as people in their 50s or 60s — reported having more satisfying, high-quality relationships compared to their cognitively average, same-age peers, the study reports.

    Previous SuperAger research at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has focused on the biological differences in SuperAgers, such as discovering that the cortex in their brain is actually larger than their cognitively average, same-age peers. This study, published Oct. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE, was the first to examine the social side of SuperAgers.

    “You don’t have the be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline,” said senior author Emily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern’s CNADC.

    Participants answered a 42-item questionnaire called the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, which is a widely used measure of psychological well-being. The scale examines six aspects of psychological well-being: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance. SuperAgers scored a median overall score of 40 in positive relations with others while the control group scored 36 — a significant difference, Rogalski said.

    “This finding is particularly exciting as a step toward understanding what factors underlie the preservation of cognitive ability in advanced age, particularly those that may be modifiable,” said first author Amanda Cook, a clinical neuropsychology doctoral student in the laboratory of Rogalski and Sandra Weintraub.

    Other research studies have reported a decline in social networks in people with Alzheimer’s disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and previous literature has shown psychological well-being in older age to be associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

    “It’s not as simple as saying if you have a strong social network, you’ll never get Alzheimer’s disease,” Rogalski said. “But if there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking, maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list. None of these things by themself guarantees you don’t get the disease, but they may still have health benefits.


  3. Study maps monogamy, jealousy in the monkey mind

    October 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Davis press release:

    It’s perhaps one of the most common emotions to feel in a relationship, but one that’s virtually untouched when it comes to studying relationships in monogamous primate species. What scientists have recently discovered about jealousy in pair-bonded titi monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) offers insight into human emotions and their consequences.

    Coppery titi monkeys are among the world’s three-to-five percent of animals that form lifelong, monogamous pair bonds. Much like humans, the titi monkeys form an attachment with their partner, exhibit mate-guarding behavior and become distressed when they are separated from each other.

    “They have behavior and emotions that we recognize as close to how we feel,” said Dr. Karen Bales, the CNPRC Core Scientist who conducted the study, along with Dr. Nicole Maninger, a post-doctoral associate at the CNPRC. “The idea behind all of this is we have to first understand the way that the neurobiology of social bonding works normally before we can understand what happens in situations where social bonding, social behavior or social communication is impaired. For instance, in disorders like autism or schizophrenia.”

    Bales and her colleagues simulated a “jealousy condition,” in male monkeys by separating them from their pair-bonded female partners. The females were placed with a stranger male monkey in full view of their partner while the researchers filmed the behavior of the male partner for 30 minutes. The control condition consisted of the male subject viewing a stranger male and a stranger female next to each other.

    When a titi monkey is feeling jealous it typically arches its back, lashing its tail back and forth and is generally more emotionally aroused, explains Bales. Male titi monkeys have also been known to physically hold their partner back from interacting with another male. While female titi monkeys exhibit jealous behaviors much like their male counterparts, they do so in a less intense manner making male titi monkeys ideal for the study, Bales said. While the monkeys involved in the CNPRC jealousy study did not exhibit many of these behaviors, possibly due to the strange surroundings, there were endocrine signs of social stress.

    The monkeys exhibited hormonal changes, specifically a rise in testosterone and cortisol levels. The rise of cortisol is an indication of social stress and in this study, it correlated directly with the amount of time that the male monkeys watched their partners with the stranger male. The rise of testosterone is associated with mating-related aggression and completion, Bales said.

    Brain scans performed on the monkeys revealed heightened activity in the cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with social exclusion in humans. The researchers also noticed heightened activity in the lateral septum, an area of the brain that has been associated with aggressive behavior. The jealousy exhibited by the male monkeys, however, is not necessarily entirely negative.

    “Trying to keep your mate away from your opponent is evolutionary geared toward preserving the relationship,” Dr. Bales said.

    The results of the study give important clues that we can use to approach health and welfare problems such as addiction, autism and domestic violence, Bales said. The full jealousy study is available online in the open-access journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.


  4. Study suggests having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases risk for teenage dating violence

    October 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    Having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases the risk for dating violence among teenagers, according to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.

    In addition, researchers found that the root causes of teen dating violence can be seen as early as infancy.

    “Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” says Jennifer A. Livingston, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA and lead author of the study.

    Livingston evaluated 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for study at 12 months of age. By analyzing data that was collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, Livingston was able to identify factors that led to some of the teenagers to be involved in abusive dating relationships.

    “It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years,” she says.

    Mothers living with partners who have alcohol use disorder tended to be more depressed and, as a result, were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children, beginning in infancy. “This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behavior,” Livingston says. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”

    These conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behavior, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood. Children who are more aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with their romantic partners during their teen years.

    “Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” Livingston says. “Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years. This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior.”


  5. Study examines reactions to infidelity

    by Ashley

    From the Norwegian University of Science and Technology press release:

    Infidelity is very common. At least 20 per cent of couples – and perhaps many more, depending on where you set the limit – are unfaithful to their spouse.

    Being forgiven for infidelity is simply not easy. But many people whose spouse forgives them mistrust the signals and do not really believe that they are forgiven, according to a new study from NTNU.

    “We have a strong tendency not to believe our partner when they tell us we are forgiven,” says Mons Bendixen, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology.

    Overcompensate

    Free of charge infidelity is not, because possible forgiveness comes at a considerable cost. A large part of this cost we bring upon ourselves.

    When you do not really believe you are forgiven, even if your partner asserts that you are, you will overcompensate.

    You may become more attentive, buy gifts or do other things that you expect your partner will appreciate. Underestimating the degree of forgiveness is probably an evolutionary mechanism, because the relationship may be in danger.

    “The cost could be high if you think you are forgiven, but really are not. You might not work hard enough to mend the relationship,” says Bendixen.

    Better safe than sorry, it is better to make a little extra effort rather than do too little. Regardless, the consequences are usually uncomfortable for the unfaithful party. Your partner takes it for granted that you believe what he or she says to be true.

    Advantageous to be wrong

    In this case, it may be to your advantage to be wrong. The Error Management Theory (EMT), a theory of evolved perceptual errors, can help explain why. (See fact box.)

    When interpreting signals, we can make one of two false assumptions: we can believe that something exists even if it doesn’t, and we can believe that something doesn’t exist even if it does.

    From an evolutionary perspective, it’s a question of which errors are more adaptable.

    “An example is men who think women are interested in sex, even though the women’s intention is just to be nice. The most important thing for men in situations like this is not to miss a sexual opportunity,” says Bendixen.

    Similarities between the sexes

    Most partners aren’t particularly intent on getting revenge or seeing their partner suffer. That doesn’t mean that it never happens, but the probability is the same for both sexes.

    They are more likely to pull away and want to keep some distance.

    “Partners want the infidelity to have a cost, but will rarely respond by being unfaithful themselves,” says evolutionary psychologist Trond Viggo Grøntvedt in NTNU’s Department of Public Health and Nursing.

    There is also no difference between the sexes when it comes to whether they would break up with the unfaithful partner or not. This is as likely for women as for men.

    The sexes agree on a lot when it comes to infidelity. But one exception exists.

    Did I do something wrong?

    “Men often do not understand how hard emotional infidelity is on women,” says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair in the Department of Psychology.

    Sexual infidelity strongly affects both men and women. Neither men nor women usually find it acceptable for their partner to have sex outside the marriage.

    But say you meet someone at a party and dance and flirt with the person there. Later you meet that person multiple times without telling your partner, but you don’t have sex. A friend of your partner finds out, and even reports that you look like you are in love. Is this wrong?

    Women find this scenario much worse than men do.

    “Many men do not see this as infidelity at all, since they did not have sex with the other woman,” said Kennair.

    Is this a problem? Well yes, maybe.

    Men forgive more often

    Men who are confronted with emotional infidelity do not necessarily think that they have done anything wrong. As a result, they do not attempt to make up for anything, at least not as much as if they had been sexually unfaithful. This certainly does not benefit the relationship.

    “It can also be a seed for conflict in the relationship,” says Kennair.

    At the same time, men are more likely to forgive this form of infidelity in their spouse. Men have less need to distance themselves from their partner than women do, and they look at emotional infidelity as less threatening to the relationship than women do.

    The same with jealousy

    This matches up with the psychologists’ predictions. Previously, they investigated jealousy reactions in women and men around the suspicion of imminent infidelity. Many of the same patterns were found in that study.

    Women become most jealous at the thought of their partner being emotionally unfaithful, whereas men become most jealous in the case of sexual infidelity.

    This is again entirely in line with the evolutionary theory of parental investment. For most women, it has historically and evolutionarily been worse for them if their partner breaks up than it has been for most men.

    Becoming emotionally attached to someone other than themselves has therefore been more threatening to women than to men.

    Clear gender differences

    Researchers conducted the survey with 92 heterosexual couples. These were young students who answered questions about imagined sexual or emotional infidelity by their partner and themselves.

    Whether these responses would apply to all heterosexual relationships is of course a question. Those asked were young, perhaps inexperienced and idealistic, starting their adult lives, so they could more easily find a new partner than others, and we can assume they knew they would talk to each other about the answers afterwards.

    But the conditions were the same for both sexes, and gender differences are nevertheless clear.

    Infidelity is named as the most common cause of divorces in Norway, although other reasons often other underlie it. Women initiate divorce much more often than men do.


  6. Study links risk factors for heart health in men to marital ups and downs

    October 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BMJ press release:

    The available research points to an association between marital status and health, but it’s not clear whether this observed link is influenced by the health of people entering into marriage or the protective effects of the marriage itself.

    But most studies that have looked at marital quality and the risk of cardiovascular disease have focused on single point in time, rather than examining the potential impact of changes over time.

    In a bid to rectify this, the researchers tracked changes in cardiovascular risk factors for 620 married fathers taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which began in 1991.

    The dads completed a 12-item validated questionnaire (measure of intimate bonds scale) to assess the quality of their marital relationship when their child was nearly 3 and again when their child was 9.

    Relationship quality was defined as consistently good; consistently bad; improving; or deteriorating.

    The researchers assessed the dads’ blood pressure, resting heart rate, weight (BMI), blood fat profile, and fasting glucose levels between 2011 and 2013 when their child was nearly 19, on the basis that it would take some time for changes in cardiovascular risk factors to occur after any corresponding changes in relationship quality.

    The results showed little change in cardiovascular risk factors for men whose relationships with their spouses were consistently good or bad.

    But a more distinct pattern emerged for those whose relationships had either improved or deteriorated during the study period, although the effects in absolute terms were small.

    After taking account of potentially influential factors, such as age, educational attainment, short stature, and household income, improving relationships were associated with lower (0.25 mmol/l) levels of low density lipoprotein (‘bad’ cholesterol) and relatively lower weight (around 1 BMI unit lower) when compared with consistently good relationships.

    And they were more weakly associated with improved total cholesterol (0.24 mmol/l lower) and improved diastolic blood pressure (2.24 mm Hg lower)

    Deteriorating relationships, on the other hand, were associated with worsening diastolic blood pressure (2.74 mm Hg higher).

    “Traditionally, beneficial effects of marital status were thought to be mediated by either health selection, confounding by socioeconomic status, or psychosocial mechanisms,” write the researchers.

    “The latter argument has been used to support the observation that men appear to gain more benefit than women, as women have larger social networks and are less dependent on their partner than men,” they add.

    By way of an explanation for the lack of change in risk factors among men whose relationships were consistently good or bad, the researchers suggest that this could be down to some degree of ‘habituation’ over time or differences in individual perception of relationship quality.

    This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which a large number of participants dropped out of the study and the findings only applied to men, caution the researchers.

    Because the study participants are still relatively young, it isn’t clear whether the patterns they found will be reflected in actual rates of disease in future, they say. Further monitoring of the participants would be required.

    They conclude: “Assuming a causal association, then marriage counselling for couples with deteriorating relationships may have added benefits in terms of physical health over and above psychological well-being, though in some cases ending the relationship may be the best outcome.”


  7. Study suggests possible genetic component to divorce running in families

    October 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Virginia Commonwealth University press release:

    Children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced when compared to those who grew up in two-parent families — and genetic factors are the primary explanation, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

    “Genetics, the Rearing Environment, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce: A Swedish National Adoption Study,” which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, analyzed Swedish population registries and found that people who were adopted resembled their biological — but not adoptive — parents and siblings in their histories of divorce.

    “We were trying to answer the basic question: Why does divorce run in families?” said the study’s first author, Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU. “Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce.”

    In addition to Salvatore, the study was conducted with Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., professor of psychiatry and human and molecular genetics in the Department of Psychiatry at VCU’s School of Medicine, along with Swedish colleagues Sara Larsson Lönn, Ph.D.; Jan Sundquist, M.D., Ph.D.; and Kristina Sundquist, M.D., Ph.D., of the Center for Primary Health Care Research at Lund University.

    The study’s findings are notable because they diverge from the predominant narrative in divorce literature, which suggests that the offspring of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves because they see their parents struggling to manage conflict or lacking the necessary commitment, and they grow up to internalize that behavior and replicate it in their own relationships.

    “I see this as a quite significant finding. Nearly all the prior literature emphasized that divorce was transmitted across generations psychologically,” Kendler said. “Our results contradict that, suggesting that genetic factors are more important.”

    By recognizing the role that genetics plays in the intergenerational transmission of divorce, therapists may be able to better identify more appropriate targets when helping distressed couples, Salvatore said.

    “At present, the bulk of evidence on why divorce runs in families points to the idea that growing up with divorced parents weakens your commitment to and the interpersonal skills needed for marriage,” she said. “So, if a distressed couple shows up in a therapist’s office and finds, as part of learning about the partners’ family histories, that one partner comes from a divorced family, then the therapist may make boosting commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills a focus of their clinical efforts.”

    “However, these previous studies haven’t adequately controlled for or examined something else in addition to the environment that divorcing parents transmit to their children: genes,” she said. “And our study is, at present, the largest to do this. And what we find is strong, consistent evidence that genetic factors account for the intergenerational transmission of divorce. For this reason, focusing on increasing commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills may not be a particularly good use of time for a therapist working with a distressed couple.”

    The study’s findings suggest that it might be useful for therapists to target some of the more basic personality traits that previous research has suggested are genetically linked to divorce, such as high levels of negative emotionality and low levels of constraint, to mitigate their negative impact on close relationships.

    “For example, other research shows that people who are highly neurotic tend to perceive their partners as behaving more negatively than they objectively are [as rated by independent observers],” Salvatore said. “So, addressing these underlying, personality-driven cognitive distortions through cognitive-behavioral approaches may be a better strategy than trying to foster commitment.”


  8. Study suggests teens’ online friendships just as meaningful as face-to-face ones

    October 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California, Irvine press release:

    Many parents worry about how much time teenagers spend texting, sharing selfies and engaging in other online activities with their friends. However, according to a recent research synthesis from the University of California, Irvine, many of these digital behaviors serve the same purpose and encompass the same core qualities as face-to-face relationships.

    “Increased peer interaction in cyberspace has led to growing concern that today’s adolescent friendships are now less intimate and an inadequate substitute for those back in the day that took place in person,” said Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education and co-author of the study. “Many contacts between adolescents are mediated through technology and can provide additional opportunities for friends to spend time together, share thoughts and display affection than in offline spaces alone.”

    Reich, along with Ph.D. student and lead author Joanna Yau, identified six core characteristics of offline friendships — self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support, conflict and conflict resolution — and their digital parallels. For each quality, they noted ways in which online interfaces corresponded with or differed from in-person communication. The results are detailed in the May issue of Adolescent Research Review.

    Reich and Yau found that digital exchanges offer more benefits in some areas and carry increased risks in others. On the plus side, online contact enhances companionship between friends via conversations that can continue throughout the day and night without disrupting others, and it also allows more time to control emotions and calm down before crafting and sending a response to something upsetting. Conversely, friendships can be damaged by gossip and rumors, which spread much faster and farther through cyberspace.

    “Digital communication may increase the ramifications of conduct due to the permanence of information and the speed by which it travels, but at the core, friendships seem to have the same key characteristics,” Reich said. “The majority of adolescents interact electronically most often with individuals they consider friends offline. So rather than reducing intimacy in these relationships, technology-mediated communication may provide additional benefits to teens as connections occur both face-to-face and online.”


  9. Study suggests you can ‘pick up’ a good or bad mood from your friends

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    New research suggests that both good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from friends, but depression can’t.

    A team led by the University of Warwick has examined whether friends’ moods can affect an individual therefore implying that moods may spread across friendship networks.

    The team analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health which incorporates the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools. Their paper Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The team’s findings imply that mood does spread over friendship networks, as do various different symptoms of depression such as helplessness and loss of interest. However they also found that they also found that the effect from lower or worse mood friends was not strong enough to push the other friends into depression.

    Using mathematical modelling they found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of improving. They found the opposite applied to adolescents who had a more positive social circle.

    Public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre led the study. He said: “We investigated whether there is evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness and sleep) spreading through US adolescent friendship networks while adjusting for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood state over time.

    “Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion.

    “Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts.

    “Clearly, a greater understanding of how changes in the mood of adolescents are affected by the mood of their friends would be beneficial in informing interventions tackling adolescent depression.”

    The World Health Organisation has estimated that depression affects 350 million people across the world, impacting on individual’s abilities to work and socialise and at worse leading to suicide. This study’s findings emphasise the need to also consider those who exhibit levels of depressive symptoms just below those needed for a diagnosis of actual depression when designing public health interventions.

    The study also helps confirm that there is more to depression than simply low mood. At the individual level, these findings imply that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood, e.g. exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress, can help a teenager’s friends as well as themselves. Whilst for depression, friends do not put an individual at risk of illness so a recommended course of action would be to show them support.

    Their conclusions link in to current policy discussions on the importance of sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms and could help inform interventions against depression in senior schools

    Co-author, professor Frances Griffiths of Warwick Medical School said: “The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents. Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.

    “Understanding that these components of mood can spread socially suggests that while the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”


  10. Study suggests couples weather bickering with a little help from their friends

    by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Austin press release:

    Every couple has conflict, and new research finds that having good friends and family members to turn to alleviates the stress of everyday conflict between partners. In fact, according to the study led by The University of Texas at Austin’s Lisa Neff, social networks may help provide protection against health problems brought about by ordinary tension between spouses.

    In a paper published this week in the online edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science, Neff and other researchers in UT Austin’s Department of Human Development and Family Sciences found that “spouses who reported being more satisfied with the availability of friends and family, whom they knew they could connect with during times of marital conflict, experienced conflict as less physiologically stressful.”

    The paper is the first to look at the link between spouses’ cortisol levels, which are an indicator of physiological stress, and marital conflicts occurring in the home. At a time when more couples in the U.S. are living in communities separate from where their families and friends reside, the research suggests there is a strong correlation between relationships like these outside of a marriage and people within the marriage experiencing lower risk factors for health problems such as weight gain, insomnia, depression and even heart disease.

    “We found that having a satisfying social network buffers spouses from the harmful physiological effects of everyday marital conflicts,” said Neff, an associate professor. “Maintaining a few good friends is important to weathering the storms of your marriage.”

    The research looked at 105 newlywed couples who kept daily records of marital conflict in their home environment and completed questionnaires about the number, quality and characteristics of their connections with friends and family. In addition, the couples participating in the study collected morning and evening saliva samples for cortisol testing every day for six days. Cortisol levels over the course of the day are a measure of the stress response.

    The overall number of friends and family members that study participants reported having didn’t appear to affect couples’ ability to handle conflicts nearly as much as the quality of those outside relationships. Neff and her colleagues found that people who reported having even a few close friends or family members to talk to outside of their marriage experienced lower levels of stress when marital conflicts arose.

    “Even everyday conflict takes a toll on people physiologically,” Neff said. “But we found that the association between marital conflict and cortisol responses completely disappears when people are happy and satisfied with their available social network.”

    The other authors on the paper are Liz Keneski, a former graduate student in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at UT Austin; and Tim Loving, an adjunct faculty member in the department. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.