Tucson, AZ

UArizona research team will begin a new study to learn risk of depression in romantic couples

Scott Murdoch

TUCSON, AZ—With the help of the National Institute of Mental Health, UArizona psychology professors Jessica Andrews-Hanna and David Sbarra will conduct neuroimaging research about the risk of depression in romantic couples.

The support of a $2.9 million grant makes it possible for the research team to conduct a study that later will aid academics in better understanding how romantic relationship problems impact mental health and well-being.

According to Sbarra, the basic idea of this study is simple. Romantic relationships may offer a lot of joy and satisfaction for people. However, when it become strained, the danger of emotional anguish and suffering will skyrockets. The relationship strain was especially highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We didn't plan this to be a COVID-related study, but after a year in lockdown, loneliness and disconnection are very relevant – now more than ever," Sbarra adds.

The study will focus on mechanisms that might explain why and how relationship problems have such a detrimental influence on mental health.

The researchers will utilize MRI while participants are thinking about their partner to look at activations in brain areas related to emotions and empathy.

In addition, they utilize two smartphone applications developed by their team to examine how couples interact regularly. Participants will also be asked to participate in a support task when they come to the lab.

UArizona researchers Erin Maresh, John Allen, and Matthias Mehl, along with Emily Butler from the university's Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, will join Sbarra and Andrews-Hanna in the study.

Couple recruitment for the new study will begin in late July. The research team is looking for couples who have been living together for at least six months, whether they are married or not. The selected participants will be compensated during their time in the research for the next four years.

Those interested in being participants in the study can contact the organizers via email at couplesresearch@email.arizona.edu

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