Frontal EEG Asymmetry and Communication Patterns During Discussion of Disagreements in Romantic Partners
AuthorKogan, Anya V.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractRelationship conflict puts individuals at risk for emotional distress and physical illness. Although many studies in the field have focused on examining cardiovascular, endocrine, and immunological changes associated with relationship conflict, the role of central nervous system processes in relationship functioning remains vastly underexplored. The present study examined frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) alpha asymmetry during discussions of disagreements in romantic partners. Asymmetrical brain activity over the frontal cortex has been conceptualized in the literature as both a trait and state indicator of approach and withdrawal behaviors, with relatively greater left than right frontal activity corresponding to approach behaviors and relatively less left than right frontal activity corresponding to withdrawal behaviors. It was hypothesized that during discussions of disagreements in romantic partners, relatively greater left than right frontal activity would be associated with approach of discussion whereas relatively less left than right frontal EEG asymmetry would be associated with avoidance of discussion. It was also hypothesized that partners would engage in higher level of approach behaviors and exhibit relatively greater left than right frontal activity during discussion of the issue in the relationship that they chose to discuss relative to the issue chosen by their partner. Fifty heterosexual college couples in romantic relationships for at least two months came to the laboratory for a 2.5-hour experimental session, during which self-reported measures were administered, EEG activity was recorded continuously from both partners, and interactions were video-recorded. Participants were asked to engage in 2 discussions of topics on which they disagreed, in counterbalanced order, and each partner was given an opportunity to select an issue to be discussed (Her Issue vs. His Issue). After each discussion, participants were asked to watch a video-recording of their discussions and rate themselves continuously, using a computer mouse, on how much they approached and avoided the discussion. After excluding left-handed participants and data unusable due to equipment failure, data from 25 couples were analyzed. Consistent with the study hypothesis, during discussion of Her Issue, in female partners, greater self-reported rating of approach of discussion was associated with relatively greater left than right frontal activity at F4-F3 and F2-F1 EEG leads. However, there was no significant association between rating of approach of discussion and frontal EEG asymmetry at any of the sites in males during Her Issue, and no effects of rating of approach of discussion on frontal EEG asymmetry at any of the sites during His Issue in either males or females. Consistent with the study hypothesis, both female and male participants evidenced greater rating of approach of discussion during the issue they chose to discuss relative to their partners' issue. Additionally, consistent with the study prediction, males evidenced relatively greater left than right frontal activity measured by the overall asymmetry across 4 regions as well as at F6-F5, F4-F3, and F2-F1 during His Issue relative to Her Issue, and females exhibited greater relative left frontal activity at F8-F7 during Her Issue relative to His Issue. However, there were no significant differences in level of frontal EEG asymmetry measured at other EEG sites. There was a significant positive association between own approach of discussion, as derived from a self-report measure of Demand-Withdraw, and relatively greater left than right frontal activity at F8-F7, F6-F5, and F4-F3 during Her Issue but not His Issue. The current study provided partial support for the association between approach and withdrawal interactions and frontal EEG asymmetry during discussions of disagreements in romantic partners. Future studies should establish whether patterns of changes in frontal EEG activity associated with these interactions have an effect on relationship quality and satisfaction, partners' ability to resolve disagreements, and partners' psychological and physical health.
Degree ProgramGraduate College