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Married couples sought for affectionate research


November 16, 2010

There is still time for married couples to help Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences unlock the relationship between physical touch and good health.

“We are making great progress, and the information we have been provided by our participants has been invaluable,” said Mary Burleson, a New College associate professor of psychology. “There is more work to do, and for this reason we are still inviting additional married couples to participate in the research.”

Burleson and Mary Davis, an ASU professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus, are working on the Healthy Couples Project under a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate the possibility that one of the mechanisms by which social contact enhances health and well-being is simply physical affection.

“We are studying the types of interactions couples have and how these interactions affect the rest of their daily experience,” said Mary Burleson, who conducts lab sessions in the Emotion, Culture, and Relationships Laboratory on the West campus in northwest Phoenix.  A part of the New College Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to research and features graduate and undergraduate students who serve as research assistants. Burleson says 8 to 10 students will be working on the Healthy Couples Project at any given time.

“In addition to the lab work we have been conducting, there is a diary element to the research. Our couples complete a very short survey at home each morning and night for a two-week period, which helps ground the study in the real world, rather than only in the lab.”

Couples who have been married for at least six months and whose ages range from 21-48 for wives, and 21-52 for husbands, are being sought to take part in one or both phases of this two-part study.  Along with the diaries described above, the study involves one 3-hour lab session with brief computer and social interaction tasks. Participating couples will be paid up to $160 for their time. To encourage people to help spread the word about the study, a system is in place to provide incentives (e.g., gift cards) to those who refer eligible couples.

“What we are seeking to discover is what kinds of daily experiences take place between spouses and how they impact a couple’s ability to cope successfully with external stressors,” said Burleson, referring to such challenges as financial woes, job troubles, relationship hiccups, everyday traffic stresses and more.

“We know that social connection is beneficial to health and that research supports the idea that happily married individuals are healthier and live longer than their unmarried counterparts,” Burleson reported.

Burleson, who received her doctorate in psychology from ASU in 1994 and has taught at the West campus since 1997, said couples interested in participating in the study will attend a single lab session of two to three hours; the daily diary takes approximately five minutes in the morning and less than 10 minutes in the evening.  Couples can earn as much as $160 for participation in both phases.

To determine eligibility and apply to participate in the Healthy Couples Project, visit http://www.healthycouples.net or call 602-492-2789.