Mindfulness during romantic conflict moderates the impact of negative partner behaviors on cortisol responses

Horm Behav. 2016 Mar:79:45-51. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.01.005. Epub 2016 Jan 19.


This study was designed to test whether romantic partners' mindfulness-present moment, nonjudgmental awareness-during a conflict discussion could buffer the effects of negative partner behaviors on neuroendocrine stress responses. Heterosexual couples (n=88 dyads) provided 5 saliva samples for cortisol assay during a laboratory session involving a conflict discussion task. Conflict behaviors were coded by outside observers using the System for Coding Interactions in Dyads, and partners rated their mindfulness during the task using the Toronto Mindfulness Scale. Interactions tested using multilevel modeling revealed that participants with higher levels of mindfulness during the conflict showed either quicker cortisol recovery or an absence of slowed recovery in the presence of more negative partner behaviors. Whereas the attitudinal component of mindfulness (curiosity) moderated effects of negative partner engagement in the conflict (i.e., attempts to control, coerciveness, negativity and conflict), the attentional component of mindfulness (decentering) moderated the effect of partner disengagement (i.e., withdrawal). These findings lend support to the idea that mindfulness during a stressful interaction can mitigate the physiological impacts of negative behaviors.

Keywords: Conflict behavior; Cortisol; Couples; HPA; Mindfulness.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Agonistic Behavior / physiology*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Mindfulness*
  • Negotiating / psychology
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone