Jessica Fales

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Douglas W. Nangle

Second Committee Member

Cynthia A. Erdley

Third Committee Member

Sandra T. Sigmon


The present study explores whether certain social processes, when employed in the context of developmentally salient relationships, contribute to relationship problems and low mood (Coyne, 1976a, 1976b; Hammen, 1991). The study also considers HPA-axis reactivity as a biological pathway through which interpersonal stress might contribute to depression. Given adolescent females’ greater risk for depression, the present study primarily focuses on girls; however, their boyfriends’ perspective is considered throughout major study hypotheses. Participants included 152 adolescents (76 dating couples) who completed a three-hour laboratory session. All participants responded to a set of questionnaires assessing features of their close relationships, the extent to which they engage in excessive reassurance seeking (ERS), negative feedback seeking (NFS), and co-rumination (CR) in general and with their romantic partner, and the extent to which their partners engage in ERS and NFS with them. Couples then participated in a recorded conflict negotiation. A digital video-recall procedure was used to assess both couple members’ perceptions of their and their partners’ behavior and affect during the interaction. Throughout the laboratory session, salivary cortisol samples were obtained to assess the participants’ physiological reactivity and recovery to the stressor. Results partially supported major study hypotheses. Engagement in NFS and ERS with one’s partner was generally associated with depressive symptoms and poorer relationship quality. As expected, CR appeared to have adjustment trade-offs for females, in that it was associated with both depression and social support. Females with greater depressive symptoms were also more likely to report greater perceived negative interactions in their romantic relationship, though their boyfriends were not likely to report the same. Females with greater depressive symptoms did not experience greater negative emotionality during the conflict task, nor did their partners; however, females’ ERS was associated with boyfriends’ negative emotionality during the conflict task. Similarly, males who reported that their girlfriends engaged in ERS and NFS rated their partners as more frustrated, annoyed, and hostile during the conflict task. Hypotheses related to cortisol/stress reactivity were not supported.