Melanie Sandy Fischer: Disorder-Specific Patterns of Emotion Coregulation in Couples: Comparing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Fischer, Melanie
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Impaired emotion regulation and maladaptive strategies to manage distress are central to psychopathology, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia nervosa (AN). Emotion regulation can be fostered or thwarted by romantic partners, and the tendency to rely on interpersonal emotion regulation may vary by disorder. The current study examined disorder-specific patterns of emotion coregulation in couples in which one partner suffers from OCD or AN. Research suggests that patients with OCD heavily rely on partners to regulate distress while patients with AN shut partners out. It was hypothesized that OCD is associated with exaggerated and AN with diminished coregulation, and that OCD patients show greater overall emotional arousal than AN patients. Greater symptom severity was expected to exacerbate these opposing tendencies. Following treatment, emotional arousal and coregulation were expected to decrease in OCD patients and increase in AN patients. Vocally encoded emotional arousal (fundamental frequency) was measured during couple conversations before and after couple-based treatment among 52 couples in which one partner suffered from either OCD or AN. Two indicators of emotion coregulation from a dynamic systems perspective (covariation and coupling) were analyzed using cross-lagged actor-partner interdependence and coupled linear oscillator models. OCD patients showed greater overall emotional arousal than AN patients, and emotional arousal further decreased in AN patients with treatment. Covariation differed in the opposite direction of the hypothesis (greater in AN compared to OCD); there was no difference in coupling. AN patients exhibited consistent coregulation, indicating high reactivity to partners` emotional arousal which may contribute to interpersonal avoidance. OCD couples showed limited predictability of patients’ emotional arousal over time, while partners were affected by the patients’ arousal; thus, symptom accommodation may in part be partners’ attempts at managing their own distress. Symptom severity was not associated with emotional arousal or coregulation. As expected, coregulation decreased in OCD couples after treatment, but was mostly maintained in AN couples. This was the first investigation of emotion coregulation in couples relative to psychopathology, which adds to a more comprehensive understanding of interpersonal factors in OCD and AN. Ultimately, future insights could serve to identify interpersonally oriented targets to optimize treatment.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Baucom, Donald
  • Abramowitz, Jonathan
  • Baucom, Brian
  • Castro-Schilo, Laura
  • Bulik, Cynthia
  • Youngstrom, Eric
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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