Divorce in mid-life: Mechanisms of biopsychosocial adaptation over time

Project: Research project

Grant Details


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This application seeks funding to implement and refine two novel and exploratory approaches for better understanding adults' biopsychosocial adjustment to marital dissolution. Divorce is consistently rated among life's most distressing experiences, one that can exact a lasting negative toll on both psychological and physical well-being. Little research, however, has attempted to understand mechanisms of recovery across multiple levels of analysis. Consequently, an integrative account of how individuals move toward or away from mental distress and physical illness following the end of marriage remains to be developed. To address these limitations, self-report and physiological data will be collected from 90 recently separated adults at four points in time over 3 months (a pre-intervention laboratory assessment, a post-intervention home visit follow-up, and two post-intervention laboratory visits). Close friends also will report on participants' social functioning. Aim 1 examines the effects of a novel three-day expressive writing (NEW) intervention designed to promote cognitive organization about one's divorce experience. The NEW intervention, developed for the present study, builds on Pennebaker's (1997) traditional expressive writing (TEW) paradigm. Relative to the TEW and control groups, it is hypothesized that individuals randomly assigned the NEW condition will evidence the greatest short-term cognitive-emotional adjustment, as well as the lowest levels of autonomic physiological reactivity during a divorce-related mental activation task at the one-month laboratory follow-up and significantly better friend- reported functional status. Changes in cognitive organization (spurred by the NEW writing condition) are expected to statistically mediate the association between writing group membership and physiological reactivity. Aim 2 examines change over time and evaluates the utility of newly established data analytic techniques for examining the coupling of psychological and biological response patterns in a single statistical model. Latent difference score structural equation modeling will be employed to examine changes in self- reported cognitive organization, subjective emotional experience, and autonomic physiological reactivity during the divorce-related mental activation task over the 90 day study period. It is hypothesized that models including coupling parameters will improve upon non-coupled change models, and, more specifically, that changes in psychology will lead changes in biology over time. Finally, it is expected that intervention group membership will moderate trajectories of change within these models, such that individuals in the NEW condition will evidence the quickest rates of psychological and physiological adjustment to the divorce experience. Findings from this study will be of immediate translational value for aiding in the treatment of divorce and preventing the exacerbation of divorce-related stress. Mechanistic studies of this nature will provide a more detailed understanding of how divorce gets under the skin to impact physical health functioning. Divorce is among the most stressful life events a person can experience, and a significant proportion of adults develop diagnosable mental and physical health problems following marital dissolution. Using a brief writing intervention and novel statistical methodologies, this research examines the factors contributing to better or worse adjustment over time with a specific focus on the interaction between psychology and biology as adults recovery from divorce. A better understanding of the associations between divorce, psychological organization, and physical health is critical for developing improved prevention and treatment programs.
Effective start/end date4/1/073/31/10


  • National Institutes of Health: $184,056.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $149,941.00


  • Medicine(all)


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