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Dissertation Award Winner: Jessica Lougheed

Interpersonal emotion dynamics in mother-daughter dyads in adolescence.
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By Jessica Lougheed, PhD

Summary of the Dissertation

I received my PhD in developmental psychology from Queen’s University in 2016, mentored by Tom Hollenstein, PhD. In my dissertation, “Interpersonal Emotion Dynamics in Mother-Daughter Dyads in Adolescence,” I studied emotion dynamics in parent-child interactions and how they relate to psychosocial adjustment (e.g., symptoms of depression and anxiety, the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship). I focused specifically on mother-daughter relationships in adolescence because we know surprisingly little about how emotions unfold moment-to-moment between parents and teens and because the mother-daughter relationship specifically is one of the most emotionally-intense parent-child relationships across the lifespan. 

In Study One (Lougheed, Koval, & Hollenstein, 2016), I examined emotional load sharing (i.e., the distribution of the burden of emotional distress among relationship partners; Beckes & Coan, 2011) during adolescent social stress as it related to physical and relationship closeness. Dyads were randomly assigned to either have physical contact or no physical contact during the social stress elicitation. Evidence of load sharing was observed among dyads who were in physical contact, independent of relationship quality. However, without physical contact, load sharing was only evident among dyads with higher relationship quality. Thus, emotional load sharing occurred at higher levels of physical and/or relationship closeness in mother-daughter dyads.

In Study Two (Lougheed & Hollenstein, 2016), I examined individual differences in dyadic socioemotional flexibility — the ability to adjust emotions according to situational demands — across positive and negative emotional contexts. Higher flexibility within emotional contexts and moderate levels of flexibility across positive and negative emotional contexts were associated with higher mother-daughter relationship quality and lower maternal internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety and social anxiety).

In Study Three, I examined mother-daughter arousal transmission — the extent to which mothers and daughters “pick up” on each other’s’ physiological arousal — across positive and negative emotional contexts. Daughter-to-mother arousal transmission decreased between a positive context and a negative context, but otherwise daughter-to-mother and mother-to-daughter arousal transmission did not vary across contexts. Contrary to expectations, relationship quality was not associated with arousal transmission.

How did you come up with the idea for your dissertation research?

Research on emotion regulation in developmental psychology has been evolving over the last two decades. Current emphases are on incorporating a focus on emotion regulation as embedded in social relationships and a dynamic perspective of emotions unfolding over time. Both of these new directions in emotion regulation research have been valued in theoretical and conceptual perspectives for some time, but there have been a number of challenges in the pragmatics of incorporating these ideas into research. This gap between theory and method is in part because of the challenges of implementing the advanced statistical methods required for dyadic and/or time series approaches. Other challenges relate to how best to observe emotion dynamics in parent-adolescent interactions.

I came up with the ideas for my dissertation research because I was interested in digging deeply into the dynamics of parent-adolescent interactions that are related to psychosocial adjustment. Naturally, this involved diving into the methodological challenges of observing and then analyzing interpersonal emotion dynamics, which have since become one of my favorite types of challenges to work on. For me, my dissertation was just as much about learning something new about mother-daughter interactions as it was about working on methodological problems. For example, while working through these challenges, I developed a new method for observing parent-adolescent emotions in lab settings with the Emotional Rollercoaster Task (Lougheed & Hollenstein, 2016). 

How did you fund your dissertation research?

I was supported by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The studies in my dissertation were supported by Tom Hollenstein’s Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

What advice would you give graduate students who are proposing or working on their dissertation research?

If you haven’t yet proposed your dissertation research, it can be helpful to consider gaps in methods (e.g., in terms of study paradigms, measurement, statistical approaches) in your field in addition to gaps in knowledge when brainstorming your topic. If you are currently working on your research, one piece of advice is to keep in mind that research is hard and that everyone struggles with it at some point (or a lot of points). Try not to get too discouraged when you reach those struggles — you might be on the verge of learning something.

What are you working on now?

I am currently a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Pennsylvania State University. As I mentioned above, one current challenge in developmental psychology research is the gap between theory and methods. Advances in statistical techniques do not always get picked up by the research community more broadly, even though many of these methods would enable researchers to directly test their theoretically-driven research questions. One of my current projects is a series of methods papers geared towards developmental researchers that make some of these advanced statistical techniques more accessible to researchers who might not otherwise learn about them. I also have the exciting opportunity to be involved in a project that will make important contributions to the study of self-regulation (i.e., delaying gratification, resisting impulses) in early childhood. My mentors, Pamela Cole and Nilam Ram, have developed theoretical and statistical models of self-regulation that unify the many processes that occur (e.g., behavior, emotion, psychophysiology, parental scaffolding) in the moments when children experience situations that challenges their ability to self-regulate. I am also getting ready for my transition to the role of assistant professor in the department of human development and family studies at Purdue University in August 2018. I am excited to start up my own lab where I can continue to work on methodological challenges and contribute to research on family dynamics in adolescence.

References

Lougheed, J. P., & Hollenstein, T. (2016). Socioemotional flexibility in mother-daughter dyads: Riding the emotional rollercoaster across positive and negative contexts. Emotion, 16(5), 620-633doi: 10.1037/emo0000155 

Lougheed, J. P., Koval, P., & Hollenstein, T. (2016). Sharing the burden: The interpersonal regulation of emotional arousal in mother-daughter dyads. Emotion16(1), 83-93. doi: 10.1037/emo0000105 

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