Theses Doctoral

Smiling and Snarling- Contextual-responsivity in emotional expression as a predictor of adjustment to spousal loss

Connolly, Philippa Sophie

Why do some people experience more emotional distress than others after spousal-death? And can we predict who will struggle more than others? While many will exhibit resilience in the wake of a bereavement, a small but notable portion ranging from 7-10% (Maciejewski, Maercker, Boelen & Prigerson, 2016; Nielsen et al., 2017) experience a prolonged period of elevated symptoms and distress (Bonanno et al. 2007; Prigerson et al., 2009). Although there is marked individual variation in the grief course, little is yet known about the mechanisms underlying grief that endures, and why some people will struggle more than others after experiencing the death of a spouse. Compelling findings have linked deficits in emotion regulation with the development of psychopathology (Buss, Davidson, Kalin, & Goldsmith, 2004; Gehricke, & Shapiro, 2000), and the study of one particular form of emotion regulation, contextually responsive emotional responding, may be particularly promising in predicting divergent individual differences in the grief course following the death of a spouse (Bonanno & Burton, 2013).

Recent bereavement studies have provided preliminary evidence linking contextually responsive emotional expression to grief-related adjustment. However, these studies suffer from notable methodological limitations, such as the use of limited measures of emotional expression or cross-sectional design. The current study will use a longitudinal design to investigate whether individual differences in emotional expressions of happiness and contempt, across varied contexts, can predict long-term adjustment and psychopathology. In addition, we will employ a standardized facial coding system to investigate contextually unresponsive facial behaviors, which we operationalize as the mismatch between facial expression of emotion and four systematically varying idiographic contexts.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Clinical Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Bonanno, George A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 1, 2019