- Dr. Lydon's Research
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The Lydon Lab in the Psychology Department at McGill University in Montreal is devoted to the study of interpersonal relationships from a motivated cognition approach. As social psychologists, we are interested in how aspects of the social environment are processed, resulting in thoughts and feelings that influence behavior and well-being. Our research focuses on intimate social bonds and has examined (1) how attachment bonds regulate stress and well-being; (2) how relationship commitment motivates an individual to expend effort to overcome relationship adversities, and (3) how the social environment impacts on maternal well-being in ways that affect the maternal-infant bond and child development.
First, our work on adult attachment synthesizes both theory and empirical research on social support and social cognition. One curious finding in the social support literature is that the belief that support will be available if one needs it has a protective effect against stress. We theorized that this belief is rooted in secure attachment bonds with significant others. However, contrary to the prevailing view at the time that people have just one attachment model that regulates all their significant relationships, our lab espoused the social cognitive view that individuals can and often do have more than one attachment model of relationships available in memory. For example, an individual who had a harsh, critical father, a nervous, unreliable mother, and a warm, consistently loving best friend or romantic partner would have at least three distinct attachment models available in memory. If this were true, then it would be possible to experimentally activate different attachment models in different contexts. This is what we did, showing that there are causal effects of positive versus negative relationship bonds on responses to stress in a controlled lab setting (Pierce & Lydon, 1998). Building on these findings, we then showed that: (1) an individual’s general attachment style in a self-report questionnaire is not a simple composite of attachment to significant others, (2) individuals typically have distinct attachment models for their various significant relationships, (3) attachment to specific others can influence changes in global attachment over time, and (4) the two levels of attachment models (global and relationship-specific) interact to predict well-being in daily social experiences (Pierce & Lydon, 2001). Our more recent work on attachment has focused on the ambivalence of anxiously attached individuals who long for closeness, but fear rejection. We have shown how these individuals alternate between striving for closeness and engaging in self-protective behavior, depending on situational cues (Bartz & Lydon, 2006; Bartz & Lydon, 2007).
Second, our theorizing and empirical work on commitment is derived from the idea that while pursuing a close relationship or other significant life goal, one is likely to encounter difficulties, stressors, obstacles, etc., which we summarize as adversity (Lydon, 1996; 1999). Commitment represents the motivation to sustain energy and effort in the pursuit of a goal despite adversity. Our research on commitment has examined the underlying bases of commitment (Lydon & Zanna, 1990, Lydon, Dunkel-Schetter, Cohan, & Pierce, 1996), the conditions under which commitment is activated (Lydon, Meana, Sepinwall, Richards, & Mayman, 1999; Lydon, Fitzsimons & Naidoo, 2003; Gagne & Lydon 2001), the more proximal cognitive and behavioral effects of commitment that sustain goal pursuit over time (Gagne & Lydon, 2003; Menzies-Toman & Lydon, 2005; Pierce, Lydon, & Yang, 2001), and the success of close relationships and other life goals over time (Burton, Lydon, D’Alessandro, & Koestner, 2006; Gagne & Lydon, 2001; Lydon, O’Regan, & Pierce, 1997). Pregnancy and childbirth has been an excellent context to examine properties of attachment and commitment. First, we demonstrated that psychological commitment and its correlates predict the decision to continue versus terminate an unplanned pregnancy (Lydon, Dunkel-Schetter, Cohan, & Pierce, 1996). Moreover, among women who decide to terminate a pregnancy, even low levels of commitment compared to no commitment predict changes in feelings of depression, anger, and guilt, but not anxiety. Our more recent research has examined stress and commitment as predictors of birth outcomes (Kramer et al., 2009; Kramer, et al., 2001) The stress pathway examines how chronic and acute stressors lead to psychological distress, resulting in a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, assessed in terms of levels of cortisol and CRH. The commitment pathway examines commitment as a motivation to engage in health behaviors that promote fetal growth.