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Relational uncertainty and cortisol responses to hurtful and supportive messages from a dating partner

Authors

  • JENNIFER S. PRIEM,

    Corresponding author
    1. The University of Texas at Austin
      Jennifer S. Priem, School of Human Ecology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, A2700, Austin, TX 78712, e-mail: jsp206@mail.utexas.edu.
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    • Jennifer S. Priem, School of Human Ecology, University of Texas at Austin; Denise H. Solomon, Department of Communication Arts & Sciences, Pennsylvania State University.

  • DENISE H. SOLOMON

    1. The Pennsylvania State University
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    • Jennifer S. Priem, School of Human Ecology, University of Texas at Austin; Denise H. Solomon, Department of Communication Arts & Sciences, Pennsylvania State University.


  • The study was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant M01 RR 10732 awarded to J.S.P. The services provided by the General Clinical Research Center of The Pennsylvania State University are appreciated. The authors are grateful to Rachel M. McLaren, who collaborated in the implementation of Study 1. The studies reported were conducted as part of J.S.P.'s dissertation, completed under the direction of D.H.S. Data from Study 1 also contributed to Priem, McLaren, and Solomon (2010, Communication Research, 37, 48–72).

Jennifer S. Priem, School of Human Ecology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, A2700, Austin, TX 78712, e-mail: jsp206@mail.utexas.edu.

Abstract

This article evaluates theoretical claims linking relational uncertainty to experiences of stress during interactions with a partner. Two observational studies were conducted to evaluate the association between relational uncertainty and salivary cortisol in the context of hurtful and supportive interactions. In Study 1, participants (N = 89) engaged in a conversation about core traits or values with a partner, who was trained to be hurtful. In Study 2, participants (N = 89) received supportive messages after completing a series of stressful tasks and receiving negative performance feedback. As predicted, partner uncertainty was associated with greater cortisol reactivity to the hurtful interaction in Study 1. Contrary to expectations, Study 1 results also indicated that self uncertainty was associated with less cortisol reactivity, when self, partner, and relationship uncertainty were tested in the same model. Study 2 revealed that relational uncertainty dampened cortisol reactions to performing poorly on tasks while the partner observed. As predicted, Study 2 also found that partner uncertainty was associated with less cortisol recovery after the supportive interaction, but neither self nor relationship uncertainty was associated with rate of cortisol change during the recovery period.

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