Couples engage in two 10-minute conflict discussions (e.g., one from each partner; top two important topics for couple). To generate topics for the two 10-minute conflict discussions, each participant completes a questionnaire about things they had unsuccessfully tried to get their partners to do, do differently, or change in the preceding year. Participants rate a list of possible desired changes, and then rate whether they have engaged in discussions about that change in the past year and how important the change is to them. If more than one topic is similarly rated as of greatest importance, one is chosen via a random number generator. The most important change(s) that have been discussed in the past year is selected. Participants are not told which topic has been selected until immediately prior to the relevant conversation. Prior to the conversation, the following instructions are given: “You had indicated that you would like your partner to ___[topic]___. For this first conversation, we’d like you to have a conversation with each other about this topic for 10 minutes and try to get somewhere with it. We’d like you to deal with the issue the way you typically would at home. In other words, what we’re interested in is seeing how this kind of thing usually goes with you guys, so we’d like you to bring up the topic and talk about it however you usually would. When I leave the room you should start discussing it. After 10 minutes, I’ll knock and let you know that it’s time to stop. Any questions?” The assessor then positions the couple appropriately for the cameras (and attaches lavaliere microphones if not in a room equipped with microphones). The assessor leaves the room for 10 minutes, during which the couple converses uninterrupted. The most fundamental property of a coding system is the sampling strategy for behavior, otherwise known as the coding unit. Major sampling strategies are event, duration, interval, and time. Coding systems can be molar/global (i.e. makes summary ratings) or molecular/microbehavioral (i.e. codes behavior as it unfolds over time). Investigators may use scores to analyze means, variability, or sequences.
Coercive Family Process Theory (Coercion Theory; Patterson, 1982) is one of the most highly developed and influential interpersonal models of dyadic family conflict (Dishion & Snyder, 2016). Coercion Theory builds off of Social Learning Theory, the foremost cognitive-behavioral approach to behavior. Coercion Theory explains how, despite their unpleasant and destructive qualities, hostile escalation sequences are reinforced for both persons. Patterson posited that people learn coercive behavior through the ways in which conflicts are resolved. Over time, if Person A responds to Person B’s escalating aversive behavior by giving in (thus ceasing his/her own aversive behavior), B learns to escalate to get his/her way. Importantly, both persons’ behaviors are maintained through reinforcement. B is negatively reinforced for escalating (via A shutting up) and may be positively reinforced as well (via A doing what B was asking for in the argument). A is negatively reinforced for giving in (via the termination of B’s aversive behavior). Over time, these conflicts serve as learning trials. Of course, B does not always win. Sometimes, B backs down in response to the A’s aversive escalation. Thus, once a coercive process takes hold, both members of the dyad are faced with an unfortunate choice: (a) give in and lose the battle, or (b) win via out-escalating the other. This process leads to ever darker, bitter battles. In Patterson’s (1976, p. 1) exquisite phrasing, each person is both “victim and architect of a coercive system.”
[+] PMCID, PUBMED ID, or CITATION
Text Citation: Robles, T. F., Slatcher, R. B., Trombello, J. M., & McGinn, M. M. (2014). Marital quality and health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 140. doi:10.1037/a0031859
Text Citation: Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family processes. Eugene, OR: Castilla Press.
Text Citation: Dishion, T. J., & Snyder, J. J. (Eds.). (2016). The Oxford handbook of coercive relationship dynamics. Oxford University Press.
The external validity of the standard couples observational paradigm has been established in several ways. First, Gottman (1979) compared home and laboratory observations of couples and found substantial similarities, with lab discussions overall being less negative. Lab-home behavioral similarities were later replicated for husbands but not for wives (Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). Second, Foster, Caplan, and Howe (1997) had couples rate the typicality of their partners’ behavior following a 15-min conflict videotaped at home. About half of the time, the partner was judged to be acting typically. When not acting typically, partners were far more likely to be judged as being more supportive and less undermining than usual. Thus, if anything, laboratory observations understate the differences between couples by reducing the variability of negativity. Third, spouses’ self-consciousness and reactivity while being observed are relatively low (Christensen & Hazzard, 1983; Jacob, Tennenbaum, Seilhamer, Bargiel, & Sharon, 1994). Finally, Vincent, Friedman, Nugent, and Messerly (1979) demonstrated that even when couples are instructed by the researcher to “fake good” or “fake bad,” observers can still reliably discern happy from unhappy couples, suggesting that unhappy couples "leak" negative affect even when they are trying to behave as if they were happy. To summarize, even if typical interaction samples researchers have collected are not quite as negative as they are at home, they still reveal detectable differences in affect, behavior, physiology, and interactional patterns and processes (Gottman, 1979; 1994; 1999).
[+] PMCID, PUBMED ID, or CITATION
Text Citation: Gottman, J. M. (1979). Marital interaction: Experimental investigations. New York: Academic Press.
PubMed ID: 2487031
Text Citation: Foster DA, Caplan RD, Howe GW. Representativeness of observed couple interaction: Couples can tell, and it does make a difference. Psychological Assessment. 1997;9:285–294.
Text Citation: Christensen A, Hazzard A. Reactive effects during naturalistic observation of families. Behavioral Assessment. 1983;5:349–362.
Text Citation: Jacob T, Tennenbaum D, Seilhamer RA, Bargiel K, Sharon T. Reactivity effects during naturalistic observation of distressed and nondistressed families. Journal of Family Psychology. 1994;8:354–363.
PubMed ID: 528723
Text Citation: Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Text Citation: Gottman, J. M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically-based marital therapy. New York: Norton.
Text Citation: Wieder, G. B., & Weiss, R. L. (1980). Generalizability theory and the coding of marital interactions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48, 469-477.
Couples observation has been used in over 200 studies to obtain an independent assessment of couple behavior in analogue situations perceived to be important in understanding relationship functioning (see Heyman, 2001 for a comprehensive review).
This measure has not been influenced yet.
This measure has not been validated yet.
|Rapid Marital Interaction Coding System||Download File|
The Rapid Marital Interaction Coding System (more information available within Measures) is an event-based system designed to code observed dyadic behavior, like the Couples Conflict Task.
The Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) program seeks to promote basic research on the initiation, personalization and maintenance of behavior change. By integrating work across disciplines, this effort will lead to an improved understanding of the underlying principles of behavior change. The SOBC program aims to implement a mechanisms-focused, experimental medicine approach to behavior change research and to develop the tools required to implement such an approach. The experimental medicine approach involves: identifying an intervention target, developing measures to permit verification of the target, engaging the target through experimentation or intervention, and testing the degree to which target engagement produces the desired behavior change.
Within the SOBC Measures Repository, researchers have access to measures of mechanistic targets that have been (or are in the processing of being) validated by SOBC Research Network Members and other experts in the field. The SOBC Validation Process includes three important stages of evaluation for each proposed measure: Identification, Measurement, and Influence.
The first stage of validation requires a measure to be Identified within the field; there must be theoretical support for the specific measure of the proposed mechanistic target or potential mechanism of behavior change. This evidence may include references for the proposed measure, or theoretical support for the construct that the proposed measure is intended to assess. The second stage of validation requires demonstration that the level and change in level of the chosen mechanistic target can be Measured with the proposed measure (assay). For example, if the proposed measure is a questionnaire, the score on the measure should indicate the activity of the target process, and it must have strong psychometric properties. The third stage of validation requires demonstration that the measure can be Influenced; there must be evidence that the measured target is malleable and responsive to manipulation. Evidence relating to each stage includes at least one peer-reviewed publication or original data presentation (if no peer-reviewed research is available to support the claim) and is evaluated by SOBC Research Network Members and experts in the field.
Once a measure has gone through these three stages, it will then either be Validated or Not validated according to SOBC Research Network standards. If a measure is Validated, then change in the measured target was reliably associated with Behavior Change. If a measure is Not validated, then change in the measured target was not reliably associated with Behavior Change. Why would we share measures that are not validated? The SOBC Research Network values open, rigorous, and transparent research. Our goal is to make meaningful progress and develop replicable and effective interventions in behavior change science. Therefore, the SOBC sees value in providing other researchers in the field with information regarding measures that work and measures that fall short for specific targets. Further, a measure that is not validated for one target in one population may be validated in another target or population.
Want to learn more? For any questions regarding the SOBC Validation Process or Measures Repository, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Has the mechanism been identified as a potential target for behavior change? This section summarizes theoretical support for the mechanism.
Have the psychometric properties of this measure been assessed? This section includes information such as content validity, internal consistency, and test-retest reliability.
Has a study manipulation led to change in the mechanism? This section addresses evidence that this measure is modifiable by experimental manipulation or clinical intervention.
Has a change in this mechanism been associated with behavior change? This section addresses empirical evidence that causing change in the measure reliably produces subsequent behavior change.