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Physical contact study seeks insight into stress

February 25, 2010

Arizona State University is looking for a few good married couples.

In an ongoing research project exploring the effects of human touch, married couples could be the key to unlocking the door that will help ASU faculty and students understand how physical contact produces health benefits.  Qualified 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 the two-part study.

“We want to understand how people interact, what types of interactions they have, and how these interactions affect the rest of their daily experience,” says Mary Burleson, an associate professor of psychology in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.  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 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 attention.

“In addition to the lab work we have been conducting, we have created a diary element to the research,” says Burleson, who received her doctorate in psychology from ASU in 1994 and has taught at the West campus since 1997.  “Our couples complete the 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.”

The lab sessions are conducted in the interdisciplinary Emotion, Culture and Psychophysiology Laboratory on the West campus in northwest Phoenix.  The lab also studies the role of emotion in clinical and neurological disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder seizure disorders, and brain injury) in decision making, and in how parents communicate with children about risky decisions.  Graduate and undergraduate students assist faculty and learn how to conduct research.  The lab boasts collaborations with other universities and local communities, including St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Dial/Henkel Corporation.”

“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,” says Burleson, referring to such challenges as financial woes, job troubles, relationship hiccups, average traffic stresses and more.

The associate professor says 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 participate, or for more information, call the “Healthy Couples Project” phone at 602-492-ASUW (602-492-2789) and leave a call-back number.