Paula Pietromonaco is a social psychologist whose work focuses on how people think, feel and behave in the context of their closest relationships. Her particular interest lies in how couple members influence each other’s ability to manage their emotions, and how these relationship processes are connected to emotional and physical health over time. Her current work, funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute, examines how newlywed spouses’ expectations and beliefs about relationships, together with their physiological stress reactions (e.g., cortisol reactivity and recovery) and behavior patterns when discussing disagreements, predict later risks for depression and anxiety.
Initial research from this project has demonstrated that the interplay between spouses’ attachment styles predicts distinctive cortisol and behavioral patterns in response to stress. Pietromonaco and collaborators (including former CRF director Sally Powers) have found that attachment insecurity in romantic partners predicts distinctive physiological stress responses (cortisol patterns) and behavioral disengagement during a conflict negotiation task. Ongoing longitudinal research will determine how spouses’ cognitive, physiological and behavioral processes evolve over time and, in particular, the extent to which cortisol responses to stress predict spouses’ later emotional and physical health outcomes.