Wrapping up the Summer: Conflict in Romantic Relationships

hidden camera

Hidden camera used in the experiments

As the summer portion of my research project comes to a close, I am thrilled with how far my research has come. This summer I was able to nearly finish the data collection phase of my research. I recruited and tested forty couples this summer, which contributed to the 105 couples run since this project began, which I feel is a huge accomplishment. Despite the difficult task of recruiting participants, I was able to recruit, schedule, and manage forty couples to participate in the study. I had an average of three couples participating per week, which kept the rate of participation steady. In addition to the recruitment phase being completed, I am also wrapping up the observational coding element of the project. Each member of couples 1 thru 95 have now been coded by two independent coders and checked for inter-rater reliability. With only a few couples left to code, the data collection is nearly complete. I am incredibly excited and relieved that, along with my team of research assistants in the lab, I was able to complete the most arduous, labor-intensive steps of the research project.

Having the data collection phase of the study completed will be an invaluable asset as I work throughout the school year. Now that this difficult, time-consuming aspect of the research is finished, I can devote my time and energy to entering the data collected from the power questionnaires and analyzing the data. This fall, I can statistically analyze the associations between the behaviors coded in the conflict discussion videos and the perceived power expressed in the questionnaires. I am thrilled to be so close to finding results! Having completed a great deal of the project this summer, I will have more time this fall to delved into the background literature, which help me to write a solid, well-informed research paper. Assuming I find results, I am hoping to submit my paper to a number of psychology journals this winter to get published. This would not have been possible had I not had the summer to work on the project.

The experience of working full time on my own was both overwhelming and exciting. There were times when I felt so stressed I thought my head might explode. This summer felt like a race against the clock in some ways, which made the experience fast-paced and quite stressful. Despite the stress, this was the most valuable experience of my undergraduate career. Having the opportunity to build my own research project from the ground up taught me to think like a scientist. I now have a refined skill set and knowledge that I did not have when I began this endeavor. With the support and guidance of Dr. Feeney, I was able to learn and accomplish so much this summer. I am so grateful to Dietrich College and Dr. Feeney for giving me this opportunity to learn and grow as a researcher. I feel like more than a psychology student now- I feel like a real scientist, which is an exciting feeling.


Image of the lab where experiments are conducted

I highly encourage any future students interested in working on a thesis project in the summer months to pursue that goal! It is an amazing experience that will set you apart as a scholar in your field. Undergraduate studies are focused on learning and observing. The Dietrich Summer Honors Fellowship program gives students the opportunity to learn in a much more hands-on way than they are able to in the classroom. Here, students can channel their own creativity and innovation to accomplish things of which they did not know they were capable. Furthermore, having the experience of developing and seeing through a research project from start to finish gives students a unique skill set. This newly acquired knowledge provide the opportunity to thrive in future research endeavors, and perhaps graduate school, should students be interested. This program has been a unique, wonderful growing experience for me, and I’m sure it will be for the future scholars as well.


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Updates on Data Collection and Data Entry

My research project is examining the relationship between perceived power and conflict behaviors in romantic relationships. I am interested in how perceived power affects people’s tendencies to display different affects, demanding behavior, criticizing behavior, contemptuous behavior, and several other behavioral tendencies. I am currently in the data collection and data entry phase of the research.

Project Update:

blog1It is so exciting to see how my ideas and research goals change and grow as the summer progresses. When I am not conducting my research on the participating couples or using my observational coding system to collect data from videotaped material, I end up just thinking about my hypotheses and procedures. The more I ponder, the more my ideas develop and transform. I find that whenever I take the time to just sit back and think about my research, I come up with something new I would like to incorporate. I think of new observational codes to add and small edits and additions to my collection of hypotheses. I didn’t expect a research project to be such a dynamic experience.

            My original goals for this summer were to finish running couple participants so that the stage would be set for statistical analyses at the beginning of the fall semester. While I am still optimistic that this goal can be accomplished, I have found that recruiting participants does require a great deal more effort than expected. Hanging a few flyers and waiting for the phone to ring simply does not work. I have had to make numerous posts on my Facebook timeline as well as in every Facebook group of which I am a part, and I have had my team of experimenters and coders do the same. I have posted on Craig’s list on multiple occasions. I have even gone as far as to reach out to peers I know are in relationships in order to give them participant information. While my efforts may be a bit pesky, they have been effective! I have been running couples in a steady, consistent rhythm for the past few weeks now, and I think because of persistence, it will be very possible for me to finish running my fifty couples by the end of the summer period.  blog2

Dr. Brooke Feeney, my thesis advisor, and Meredith Van Vleet, PhD student, have been my two most valuable resources. They are both incredible sources of knowledge and support. I work very closely with Meredith, in particular, as our research projects are overlapping in data collection. My research project would not be possible without her guidance and cooperation. Meredith and I worked closely in developing the conflict codebook. With her wealth of knowledge and experience, she was a great person with whom to work in developing the codebook. She really helped me to focus my ideas and definitions within the codebook. Furthermore, wherever Meredith and I had trouble, Dr. Feeney was able to step in and help. Whenever we hit a wall or were unsure of an element of the developing coding system, Dr. Feeney was able to give clear guidance. I am so grateful to have such a strong, wonderful collection of mentors this summer.

My work week is very structured. I always spend my Monday mornings doing the same task: I file through all of the research assistants’ coding sheets, make sure that all of the week’s assignments have been completed, and enter the data from the coding sheets into my data entry file. Then, I assign each research assistants new couple members to observationally code for the week. The rest of the week is comprised of my own coding, recruiting and scheduling new participants, meeting with both Meredith and Dr. Feeney, and reviewing as much background literature as possible on conflict in romantic relationships as well as power in romantic relationships. Despite the structure to my work week, it is never dull because I am always developing and discovering new information and new nuances of my research project. I can’t wait to continue working, and to eventually see what results my labor-intensive research project yields.

Project Update: Finalizing the Theory

My anticipated work will combine a thorough analysis of historiography, assembled this semester in preparation for the more dedicated nature of the formal project. I will combine this segment with direct historical analysis supplemented by the statistical excavation of empirical trends in my period of study, oriented toward the theoretical formulation of the relationship between state and society in achieving practical legitimacy. The ambition of the project gives me great cause consider the value of this early summer start.


My work this summer is entering its final stage; I have completed the revised write-up of my theory of institutions and political agents and supplemented it with illustrative examples and disambiguating glossary entries. These documents represent the culmination of many weeks’ reading into the thicket of related theoretical material and the development of my own nucleus of ideas into a fuller conceptual spectrum built on revision and adaptation. Though each element has been exciting to undertake and satisfying to complete, the core theoretical piece has certainly been the most important and fulfilling component of my work. At this juncture, the only remaining item from among the objectives that my adviser and I devised for this summer period is the comparative orientation of the original theory I have produced within the existing scholarship. I look forward to adding this final dimension to the theoretical stage of my thesis.

My thesis will be a composite product; fundamentally, it is a work that proposes a political and social theory whose salient claims are applied with the sensibilities of a historian to a demonstrative instance. This summer has been reserved for establishing the theory, leaving essential time in the upcoming year for the historical project of assessing the theory through the lens of the reign of Francis I. The opportunity to focus entirely on the theory has enabled me to adopt a more conceptually contained working style whose clear objectives enable depth without sacrificing the intended scope of the project and which have produced a workable theory ready for implementation within a distinctly subsequent phase demanding a refocused mindset as much as an appreciation of the running threads of the thesis.

I find the greatest challenge of work of this nature, reading and constructing theory, to be the marshalling of sometimes disparate inspirations into a cohesive (and coherent) work. A firm concept of the project is indispensable to this effort, and I continue to find great value in the clarity provided by the weekly meetings I began holding with Dr. Modell before the beginning of the summer.

Working during this time on a topic of my choosing has been a liberating process of welcome rigor and novelty, and the development of new understanding has been complemented by the mentorship of a knowledgeable and experienced adviser nonetheless party to the project as a learning enterprise. In this respect, I felt considerably greater ownership over the thesis as an object of scholarly innovation rather than a demonstration or reinforcement of current learning. I near the conclusion of this first experience with independent research enriched by my work and excited by plans and possibilities for the next year.

Project Update: Examining the Effects of Volunteering on Cognitive Functions

My primary initial goal for the early summer weeks was to finish the first round of interviews by mid-June. However, attracting the last few participants proved to be a more difficult task than I had expected. After a CMU alumnus connected me with a representative from another Pittsburgh organization, I was able to schedule the remaining participants for interviews during the week of the 16th. If all goes well, I will complete the first round of interviews by June 20th (only one week behind schedule).

Read the Project Description Here

Accordingly, the most valuable resources for my work have been the organizations from which most of my participants have come from (i.e., the Osher programs at CMU and Pitt, and AgeWell Pittsburgh). These organizations have advertised my study to their members, and as a result, close to (if not more than) 40 of my 50 participants were members of one of these organizations.

As I continued to work independently on my project, I was most surprised by the range of existing research about volunteering. I have read an article about volunteerism’s effect on fMRI-measured brain activity as well as articles about volunteerism’s effects on generic aspects of well-being. As I begin to write the introduction of my Senior Thesis, I will draw upon this literature as a foundation of my own research.

Recently, my workdays have been structured around any scheduled interviews. If interviews were scheduled for the morning, I would spend the morning interviewing participants and entering the interview data into SPSS, then the afternoon reading and outlining articles (and the opposite would be true if interviews were scheduled for the afternoon).

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The Beginning: Students Discuss Their Research Projects

In this video, the four students participating in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program’s inaugural year discuss their projects, which range from relationship research to anthropology and ethnography studies.

For more information on the program, the projects and how to get involved or provide support, visit http://hss.cmu.edu/honorsresearchfellowship/.

What I’m doing over the summer – Minnar Xie

Minnar Xie

Minnar Xie

As the semester winds down I am more and more excited about summer starting. My thesis began last semester (though I didn’t know it then) as a final paper for a class I took with Judith Schachter entitled “Trafficking Persons.” I wrote this really long 30-page paper and by the end of it I still somehow felt like I had only just begun to scratch the surface of what I wanted to know. I have since been itching to delve back into the literature as well as continue spending time talking and asking questions to Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh.

My first plan of order after finals are over is to read Michael Hutt’s wonderful book Unbecoming Citizens: Culture, Nationhood, and the Flight of Refugees from Bhutan. I have it currently checked out on interlibrary loan and I hope to be getting a copy soon with the help of the fellowship’s research funds. I have been waiting to read this book since I started to really look into the history of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees last semester. Honestly, when I’ve been too exhausted to think about or work on my classwork this semester, I’ll sit in bed a read a couple page of Michael Hutt’s book and it makes me invigorated again. He is, from my understanding right now, the only researcher to have published a book about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee situation and probably the most extensive researcher about Bhutanese/Nepali refugees. From my preliminary research, the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees are really not written about or researched as much as other refugee populations (ie: the Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, etc). Part of that owes to Bhutan’s opaqueness when it comes to research and public records (Michael Hutt wasn’t ever able to visit Bhutan himself, and had his visa denied twice!), and part of it is probably international attention drawn to more war-torn and devastating refugee crises.

I have also been really looking forward to reconnecting to Bhim and Yadhu, two Bhutanese/Nepali refugees who are students at the University of Pittsburgh. They have been so instrumental in inspiring my research, providing direction both in terms of feedback as well as just conversing with me about their lives. They are both excited for me to be doing research about their community and that is incredibly encouraging. It has been difficult for me to overcome the awkwardness of doing research about a community that I care so much for on a personal level, especially since this project forces me to bridge my relationships from that of a volunteer teacher to someone who has some kind of other motive as a researcher. I’ve talked about this with my project advisor and professor Judith Schachter, and it seems to be that this is a dilemma that all cultural anthropologists encounter and never fully get over. But, nothing is more reassuring than hearing positive feedback from members of the community like Bhim and Yadhu. My hope in the first 4 weeks is to meet with them at least twice for extensive conversations, and to set up lunch or coffee meetings with as many of their friends as possible. In my head I can probably prattle off at least 10 Bhutanese/Nepali refugee youth I hope to speak to as soon as I get the chance.

In my head I am constantly orchestrating possibilities and thinking about contacts I have in Pittsburgh to gather another perspective in my fieldwork. I hope to eventually meet with people from a number of Pittsburgh area organizations that work directly to benefit Bhutanese/Nepali refugees (ie: Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, which offers free ESL classes to refugees in Pittsburgh; Squirrel Hill Heath Center, the primary health clinic for refugee clients in Pittsburgh; and Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the largest resettlement agency for Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh). At this stage of research however, I hope to focus mostly on the way that history and international organizations has written about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees, as well as conversations with Bhutanese/Nepali refugees themselves.

I am so excited and ready for summer to begin! As a Bachelor of Humanities and Arts student with an additional major in Human-Computer Interaction, my experiences over the summer have been really diverse and different from what I envision this one to be. I spent the summer after my freshman year doing two part-time internships, one at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the other as a visual display intern at the Anthropologie store near my house. Both experiences taught me a lot about the world of what it means to be a working artist, but in two very different contexts: a non-profit, experimental gallery and a retail setting. Last summer I took a Chinese language course at a community college and had a part-time internship at UCLA in their Research in Engineering, Media and Performance (REMAP) Center. I was working on their Google glass team, prototyping a non-linear, audio-based storytelling experience for Google glass. What excites me more than anything else this summer is the chance to really focus on understanding and contributing to other people’s understanding of a group of people in Pittsburgh who have truly changed my life. There are pockets of people in Pittsburgh who really know a lot about the refugee population here, but on the whole they aren’t known about or are misunderstood in some way. Ultimately I hope that my research this summer and through the next year contributes meaningfully to bring awareness to both the humanity and the complexity of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee population here in Pittsburgh.

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What I’m doing this summer – Christophe Combemale

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The poster I used to present my research project at the Heart of the Matter event on Monday April 21.

Christophe Combemale

Christophe Combemale

I undertake this summer phase of my Senior Honors thesis with great enthusiasm (and an appropriate measure of trepidation) at the prospect of work largely novel to my undergraduate experience. While I have already conducted historical research and presented my results in an academic forum, the interdisciplinary reach of this project demands an altogether different appreciation for scale.

My anticipated work will combine a thorough analysis of historiography, assembled this semester in preparation for the more dedicated nature of the formal project. I will combine this segment with direct historical analysis supplemented by the statistical excavation of empirical trends in my period of study, oriented toward the theoretical formulation of the relationship between state and society in achieving practical legitimacy. The ambition of the project gives me great cause consider the value of this early summer start.

In order to achieve the intended features of my thesis, I will divide the overarching process into distinct but by no means independent stages. Though I will characterize them by a certain preliminary ordering, the elements of this progression are not necessarily linear, and they may develop in parallel rather than in strict sequence.

As an immediate continuation of the preparatory work I began upon receiving this Fellowship, I will refine my understanding of modern academic perspectives on the reign of Francis I to best situate the historical dimension of my thesis in identifying its most substantive implications for current understanding of the period. My research to date reveals a strongly biographical tendency in the historiography, entirely expected given the intensely personal nature of governance in Early Modern France.

This feature of the period influenced my own decision to use the reign of Francis I as the focus of my analysis of the mechanisms of state legitimacy, using the lengthy continuity of the personality (Francis ruled for 32 years) presiding over the Kingdom of France to properly account for the variations of character which naturally affect the direction and functionality of the state. In a sense, I will both internalize the characteristics of Francis and other dominant domestic and foreign figures affecting his Kingdom as providing the motives which drive high-level state policy (either proactively or in response to pressure on these personal interests) and “reduce” them to more closely analyze the general mechanisms of state operation in evidence.

The advantages of my chosen period bring me to the next facet of my summer tasks. The increasingly sophisticated and centralized state of Francis’s France provides ample primary sources in the form of official records, some available by order from the French Bibliothèque Nationale and others directly online from academic databases. A record of the royal treasury during the period and a collection of every royal edict issued by Francis I are among the most promising examples; in the first weeks of my summer thesis work, I intend to conduct a statistical analysis of the data provided by these sources to evaluate the relationship between the quantitative dimensions of treasury income and allocation and the categorical incidence of royal edicts.

The statistical component of the project will provide a dimension of empirical rigor with which to enrich the conclusions enabled by other primary sources, such as Francis’s prolific letters (with which I intend to construct an evolving image of his motives as a ruler) and the valuable chronicles of the diplomatic meetings which profoundly marked the monarch’s foreign policy. These materials will provide the core of the historical stage of my thesis, and the last essential part of the first weeks of my summer work. I will begin research under the Honors Fellowship shortly after the end of my final exams, and my anticipation grows each day.

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What I’m doing over the summer – One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

Over the summer, I will continue to recruit and interview participants until 50 older adults have been interviewed in total. Then, I will run preliminary analyses on the data acquired from this first set of interviews. I will also develop and implement a procedure to code the volunteer responses in preparation for in-depth analyses (e.g., categorizing the responses). All of this will contribute to the design of the second interviews. Toward the end of the summer, I will begin the second set of interviews (of the same people from the first interviews) and write the introduction to my Honors Thesis; to accomplish this, I will further research the existing literature pertaining to the effects of volunteering and social participation/interactions on health outcomes, specifically cognitive functioning.

Since the first four weeks of the summer will be primarily spent finishing up the interviews and running preliminary analyses on the data, the only physical resource I will work with is the interview room. In terms of personnel, the participants could be considered a resource, as well as my advisor, Dr. Vicki Helgeson.

Regarding the summer work, I am most excited about being able to focus on my research without having to balance it with the stresses of academic coursework.

As I get started, I am somewhat anxious about the preliminary data findings. I know it will only be correlational data, but I’m afraid to see no positive correlation between time spent volunteering and greater health outcomes (cognitive functioning, specifically).

This summer’s work will be different than any of my previous experiences at Carnegie Mellon University. This is the first major independent research project I have undertaken as an undergraduate. Again, I have not been able to focus completely on research without having to worry about academics, so this summer fellowship is most different in this regard.

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What I’m doing this summer – Jaclyn Ross

Jaclyn Ross

Jaclyn Ross

I am so honored and ecstatic to be developing my research in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship program. I am very excited to see my project come to life this summer. Thus far, it has only been an idea that I formulated based on my past experience within the Relationships Lab as well as my examination of the past literature regarding romantic conflict and power dynamics. I am looking forward to viewing the conflict interactions and systematically coding the couple member’s behaviors. I am thrilled that I will soon be able to see people’s tendencies and behaviors during these conflict discussions.

Throughout this summer, I plan to run my experiment using roughly 50 couples in order to complete the data collection phase of my research project. I am also planning to use this summer to code the videotaped conflict discussions. Finally, I will be completing the simple data entry for the systematic coding of conflict behaviors. If I am able to run all 50 couples in a reasonable amount of time, I will also begin my statistical analyses of the data. I will be using the facilities and technological resources of the CMU Relationships Lab in order to run the experiment and perform the subsequent coding.

Despite my enthusiasm, I do have a few anxieties as well. I am nervous that some participants may not take the conflict discussion seriously, and therefore, not participate fully, which would compromise my data. I am contemplating adjusting the protocol of the experiment in order to emphasize the significance of fully participating in the conflict discussion. I am also a bit anxious about performing the statistical analyses of my data, assuming there is time this summer to begin doing so. I definitely need to refine my skills while working with SPSS. However, I think performing the statistical analyses for my research will provide me with a wonderful opportunity for growth. Working so intensely with SPSS will make me a stronger and more skillful researcher.

I am so excited to take on a very hands-on, managerial role this summer. During my past experiences at CMU, I have completed tasks I was assigned without a very deep knowledge of the research. For instance, in the Relationships Lab, coders can only know certain details about the research in order to remain unbiased while coding. During my research project, I will be completely knowledgeable and informed throughout the whole process, which will allow me to have a greater appreciation for the procedure and results. It will be very exciting to have a research project that is entirely my own. I am so excited to be the expert on my research, who can direct and lead others in helping me carry out my research goals. This will be the most hands-on research experience I have ever had, and I could not be more excited. Finally, it will be an invaluable experience to see a research project through from start to finish. I am so excited to be involved the data collection phase all the way to the results analyses phase.

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