Jaclyn Ross

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.


Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects.

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.

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 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.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects.