Perceptual change and alcohol use during couples' conflicts.
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Backer-Fulghum, Lindsey M.
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The current project sought to understand why previous studies have sometimes failed to find associations between alcohol and conflict behavior, how alcohol use is associated with relationship conflict, and whether alcohol and relationship functioning variables are associated with a new variable regarding perceptual changes during conflict interaction. In order to answer these questions, it was necessary to recruit a broad sample of alcohol consumers to increase drinking variability and to develop a new instrument measuring the extent to which couples experience perceptual change during conflict interaction. Perceptual change occurs when a person modifies the way he or she is thinking or feeling about a conflict interaction with a partner. Perceptual change is also theoretically important for understanding conflict behavior (Gottman, 1998, 1999; Gottman, Swanson, & Jurray, 1999). The current project included three studies. Study 1 was an exploratory study asking participants to give open-ended responses to questions on perceptual change during conflict. These open-ended responses were used to create a new measure of positive perceptual change. Study 2 analyzed the new measure, tested the factor structure identified in Study 1, and revised the positive perceptual change instrument using Item Response Theory. Finally, Study 3 implemented recruitment techniques to obtain a sample of alcohol consumers with a wide range of drinking behaviors, and tested convergent validity of the new positive perceptual change instrument. In the present studies, alcohol use was found to be negatively correlated with relationship satisfaction and positively correlated with adversarial communication, negative emotion, and perceived threat. Regarding the new perceptual change measure, more positive perceptual change predicted greater satisfaction and collaborative communication, while more negative perceptual change predicated more angry emotions as well as perceived neglect, partner sadness, and partner apathy. In addition, results demonstrated that the extent of perceptual change, regardless of change in valence, predicted less satisfaction and more adversarial engagement, angry and sad emotions, and perceived neglect. Overall, the results suggest the importance of including a sample of people with a full range of alcohol behaviors and that a new perceptual change instrument may be a promising measure to use in couples’ conflict interaction research.