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Families as Interconnected Systems

Families and couples make up interconnected systems, where the emotions, behaviors, and physiological states of one family member impact the emotions, behaviors, and physiological states of other family members. Attachment to caregivers serves as the basis for emotion regulation capacity. Research indicates that people in close actually relationships “coregulate,” or show moment-to-moment links in their levels of emotional and physiological arousal over time. We try to understand the benefits and risks of interpersonal connectivity by studying the ways in which relationships help or interfere in regulating our stress levels and maintaining autonomic homeostasis.

Relationships, Stress, Physiology, and Health

How do relationships get “under our skin” to affect our physiology and health? Chronic stress activation can spark inflammatory processes that cause wear-and-tear on our bodies over time. Heightened reactions to stress may protect us against immediate environmental threats but may also put us at risk for later health problems. Thus, our bodies must balance the short- and long-term consequences of mounting physiological stress responses. We try to understand the complex interplay between our biological functioning and environment and how these factors interact to impact physiological set points, reactivity to stress, and our mental and physical health.

Adversity and Pathways of Risk and Resilience

We focus on naturally-occurring developmental windows of opportunity and risk, such as pregnancy, early childhood, adolescence, and when young adults first form romantic relationships. We try to understand factors that contribute to disruptions or continuations in the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment and aggression. We are especially interested in studying these processes in children from under-resourced and under-served communities because these populations are at increased risk for exposure to trauma and adversity.