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Contextual influences on depressed interpersonal behavior

Girard, Jeffrey M. (2018) Contextual influences on depressed interpersonal behavior. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Clinical theories converge in hypothesizing that depression is linked to reduced interpersonal agency, which often manifests in an increase in submissive behavior. There is mounting support for this hypothesis from studies using dispositional measures of interpersonal style. However, numerous questions remain about how depression influences actual interpersonal behavior both within and across real-life situations. In particular, relatively little is known about how situational context influences depressed individuals’ interpersonal behavior.

The current studies used a “multi-tiered” approach to address this gap in the literature, combining dispositional, cross-situation (i.e., ambulatory assessment), and within-situation (i.e., observational) measures of interpersonal behavior. The interpersonal dimensions of agency (i.e., dominance–submissiveness) and communion (i.e., affiliation–separation) were examined across all tiers in a large sample of clinical and community participants.

Analyses revealed a more nuanced picture of depressed interpersonal behavior than a simple reduction in agency. When dispositional measures were examined, most depressed participants did endorse one of two submissive styles (i.e., submissive affiliation or submissive separation). However, a non-trivial proportion of depressed participants (e.g., those with “Cluster B” or dramatic/erratic personality traits) endorsed more dominant interpersonal styles. Thus, depression is often, but not always, linked to submissive dispositional traits.

Mean differences between depressed and non-depressed participants were also subtle when cross-situation and within-situation measures were examined. Depression was associated with more negative affect during interactions and more bias when interpreting romantic partners’ behavior in terms of agency. However, significant effects of depression on participants’ overall agency and communion were not found. Rather, depressed participants were subject to most of the same interpersonal processes as non-depressed participants and differed only subtly in terms of perceptions and reactivity.

Depressed or not, participants tended to match with their interaction partners on communion and mismatch on agency. They found their interaction partners’ separative behavior to be unpleasant and tended to respond to partners' negative affect with separative behavior. These results underscore the importance of understanding depressed behavior within its broader interpersonal and affective contexts. Depression may be related to a general decrease in interpersonal agency, but different situations can easily draw out different behaviors.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Girard, Jeffrey M.jmg174@pitt.eduJMG1740000-0002-7359-3746
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWright, Aidan G.
Committee CoChairCohn, Jeffrey
Committee MemberSilk, Jennifer
Committee MemberStepp, Stephanie
Committee MemberPilkonis, Paul
Date: 26 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 13 June 2017
Approval Date: 26 September 2018
Submission Date: 16 February 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 87
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: depression, interpersonal, circumplex, ambulatory assessment, observational
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2018 23:26
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2018 23:26


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