Theses Doctoral

Relationships as Regulatory Systems

Zee, Katherine Starr

Interpersonal relationships are among the most important contributors to health and well-being. This dissertation investigates how and why relationships confer such benefits and proposes that relationships function as dynamic regulatory systems that enable people to cope effectively with challenging situations and pursue important goals. Across five Chapters, this work reveals the role of relationships in scaffolding effective individual self-regulation, dyadic coregulation (how partners dynamically modulate each other’s responses and regulate as a unit), and developmental regulation (adaptation to age-related challenges across the lifespan), particularly in the context of social support interactions.

Chapter 1 introduces past research on the importance of social relationships, summarizes the rationale for focusing on social support interactions as a key context in which interpersonal regulation occurs, and presents an overview of the research and methods discussed in this dissertation.

Chapter 2 investigates the role of social support in promoting effective self-regulation by conceptualizing, validating, and testing a new theoretical construct, Regulatory Effectiveness of Social Support (RES). RES proposes that recipients benefit from social support to the extent that it addresses their motivations to understand and manage their situation. In eight studies and a meta-analysis, this chapter reveals that receiving social support higher on RES predicts downstream outcomes that are important for effective self-regulation.

Chapter 3 examines how social support interactions give rise to dyadic coregulation—dynamic coupling of partners’ physiological states. Results from this chapter demonstrate that social support interactions may be a context in which such coregulation is especially likely to occur, in order to help partners return to an equilibrium of responding, and underscore the importance of considering how dyads regulate as a single, interdependent unit.

Chapter 4 presents preliminary evidence for how coregulation among older couples might influence developmental regulation. This chapter shows how between-dyad differences in coregulation processes in turn predict individual self-regulation processes in the face of a stressor.

Chapter 5 synthesizes findings across chapters and highlights new avenues for future research. Overall, these findings suggests important self- and coregulatory implications of social support interactions, which may be a crucial mechanism through which interpersonal relationships influence health and well-being over time.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bolger, Niall Paul
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 25, 2021