Current Projects

Ambulatory assessment of Personality, Ecological Context, and Stress Study (AAPECSS)

What processes account for the exacerbation, maintenance, and resolution of personality pathology?

Major theoretical models argue that personality disorders (PDs) reflect the maladaptive expression of personality traits via dynamic processes that are extreme, rigid, or mismatched to environmental cues.  Although these dynamic processes likely reflect the maintenance mechanisms of PDs, and despite the fact that they provide optimal targets for clinical interventions, they remain understudied and poorly understood.  It also seems likely these dynamic processes form a vicious cycle, in that they both predispose individuals to stressful experiences and arise from maladaptive self-regulation in response to stressors in the environment.  The goal of this project is to use ambulatory assessment techniques (smart phone administered surveys and smart watch assessed ambulatory psychophysiology) to study the daily dynamic processes of stress and responses to that stress, and how levels of PD traits amplify or dampen those processes.  Specifically, drawing on several concepts from the stress literature that mesh with theories of PD may provide insights into key maladaptive features of these debilitating disorders.  These include, stress generation, stress sensitivity, and maladaptive self-regulation.  Consistent with a dimensional perspective on PD, these processes will be studied in a large group of diverse individuals from the community, ranging from those with few interpersonal problems to those with significant difficulties. 

We have generously been granted support from the University of Pittsburgh's Central Research Development Fund for this study. 

EXAMINING THE EFFECT of Personality pathology on INTERPERSONAL BEHAVIOR IN ROMANTIC COUPLES 

Figure 1. Momentary ratings of interpersonal behavior during a 10-minute conflict task. Dark and light green and orange time-series pertain to the same individuals, respectively. 

Figure 1. Momentary ratings of interpersonal behavior during a 10-minute conflict task. Dark and light green and orange time-series pertain to the same individuals, respectively. 

In collaboration with colleagues in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry (Dr. Paul Pilkonis and the Personality Studies Laboratory), we are currently investigating the effect of personality pathology on dyadic interpersonal processes in romantic couples.  This includes naturalistic interactions assessed real-time in the individuals' daily lives using ambulatory assessment (i.e., smartphone surveys), as well as coding the fine-grained moment-to-moment behavior that occurs during conflict tasks in the laboratory.  We draw on the Interpersonal Theory of Personality to frame questions about the impact of personality pathology on normative interpersonal dynamics.  For example, Figure 1 includes plots of the time-series of interpersonal behavior (coded in terms of Dominance and Affiliation every half-second) for a couple during a conflict task.  Several potentially interesting dynamic features are readily observable from just these two plots.  For instance, notice how for dominance there is a high degree of synchrony across the two participants, such that as one partner increases their behavioral dominance, the other similarly decreases it (Dominance cross-correlation across partners is r = -.63), and this is true of the whole 10min of interaction.  In contrast, the pattern for Affiliation is not so simple.  Early in the time-series the partners are in sync, matching each other in terms of interpersonal warmth and coldness.  However, starting around 200 seconds, the patterns of Affiliation diverge, and although there is some match on the minor peaks and valleys across the series, there are major differences in overall level of Affiliation (Affiliation r = -.12).  These types of dynamics can be understood in terms of "Interpersonal Complementarity," and we are currently examining the effect of personality pathology features on these basic processes, as well as on interpersonal and affective patters in social interactions in daily life. 

Adapting Methods to Refine the Empirical Structure of Personality pathology

Figure 2. Diagram of the full Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME) solution for 7 variables assessed by daily diary over 100-days in a sample of individuals (N=35) diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.  Note, this model is preliminary, and is intended to demonstrate proof of concept, not provide definitive statements about the group, sub-group, and individual dynamic structures of daily behavior in borderline personality disorder. 

Figure 2. Diagram of the full Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME) solution for 7 variables assessed by daily diary over 100-days in a sample of individuals (N=35) diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.  Note, this model is preliminary, and is intended to demonstrate proof of concept, not provide definitive statements about the group, sub-group, and individual dynamic structures of daily behavior in borderline personality disorder. 

An enduring challenge to the empirical study and effective treatment of personality disorders is the lack of a scientifically supported "structure" of personality pathology.  That is to say, that although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides a summary of 10 personality disorder diagnoses, in fact these do a poor job of mapping the actual phenotypic diversity of this form of psychopathology.  An ongoing aim of the lab is to enlist quantitative methods to further clarify the empirical structure of personality pathology (and psychopathology more generally).  Past efforts in the lab have used a number of latent variable modeling techniques applied to psychiatric interview data and dispositional self-report measures (e.g., Wright et al., 2012; Wright, Hallquist, et al., 2013Wright, Krueger, et al., 2013; Wright & Simms, 2014in press; Sharp et al., 2015).  Currently, we are working with colleagues at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (Dr. Katie Gates) and Penn State University (Drs. Adriene Beltz and Peter Molenaar) to adapt Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME), developed for the study of connectivity networks in fMRI data, for the study of the structure of psychopathology.  GIMME fits individual structural equation models to multivariate time-series, and uncovers full-group, sub-group, and individual-specific paths among variables.  Developed for the study of individual differences in connectivity among regions of interest in the brain, we are studying the applicability of these models to behaviors sampled intensively and repeatedly in naturalistic settings (e.g., daily diaries).  Initial results (see Figure 2) are encouraging, and suggest the method holds unique promise for the simultaneous uncovering of shared (i.e., nomothetic) and person-specific (i.e., idiographic) psychological processes in samples of interest.  

EXAMINING INTERPERSONAL BEHAVIOR IN MOTHER-CHILD DYADS WITH DEPRESSION

Similar to the study described above, a graduate student affiliated with the lab, Marlissa Amole, is running a project that examines momentary interpersonal behavior in parent-child dyads during conflictual and pleasant interaction tasks.  Specifically, she is studying the effect of depression on interpersonal behavior and psychophysiological markers of stress in a group of mothers (half of whom have major depression) and their adolescent children.  This project is in collaboration with Drs. Holly Swartz and Jill Cyranowski

Upcoming Projects

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