matchbox lab

Larree Strickland, Baton Rouge Community College business management freshman, and Bruce David Lagrone II, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office mechanic, chat Tuesday night in Coates Hall as part of a couple interaction study.

Students sit on a brown leather couch with their heart rates monitored and expressions recorded. Complete with fake plants, a magazine-strewn coffee table and landscape oil paintings, research in this facility has shown evidence that Mozart's music encourages argument, speech coincides with music tempo and women are more likely than men to bring up uncomfortable topics. James Honeycutt, communication studies professor, created the Relation Station Matchbox Interaction Lab, located in 151 Coates Hall, in 2007. Furnished from Honeycutt's late uncle's estate, the testing area of the lab is designed to keep participants comfortable enough to have a sensitive conversation as if they are not being monitored. When the lab was created, communication studies students submitted names for the facility. "Matchbox Lab" and "Relation Station" were the two finalists, so Honeycutt said he simply combined the two suggestions. "Relation Station" refers to the lab's observation of intimate relationships, including those of dating, engaged or married couples. "Matchbox" plays off the communication department's "Black Box Theater," but also because the lab has a tendency to "spark" heated arguments."We don't have a problem ... creating conflict," Honeycutt said. "It's already there."Participants indicate which areas of their relationship are problematic on a pre-study survey, Honeycutt said, and are then asked to discuss these issues.Some of the most common areas of disagreement include communication, housework and drinking, according to Stephanie Spry, communication studies graduate student.Graham Bodie, communication studies professor and Matchbox Lab assistant director, said the department has spent up to $10,000 on computer and camera equipment. The lab is funded by University and department funds.The lab, Honeycutt said, is modeled after John Gottman's "Love Lab," a research facility that is used to study marital health.Researchers find participants mainly from referrals and volunteers, Honeycutt said. Kelly Guilbeau, psychology senior, and her fiance Jeremy Fleenor, accounting senior, participated in a relationship communication study.Guilbeau and Fleenor said that if the lab were more typical of a research lab, talking about personal matters and arguing would be more difficult."It's not an interrogation — it's a conversation about our most intimate relationship," Guilbeau said of her discussion.Participating in the study and having the conversations prompted by the researchers gave her more insight into their relationship, Guilbeau said."Jeremy and I could go home and remember, ‘Oh, she said cleaning was an unpleasant topic — so maybe I'll do the dishes tonight,' or be reminded of the positive aspects like we both agreed that our communication was in tip-top shape, so we should keep doing what we're doing," Guilbeau said.Participants leave with a better understanding of communication techniques, Honeycutt said. The lab consists of the control room, a waiting area and the living room, which seats up to six people.In the living room, a small camera is mounted opposite from the couch, allowing researchers in the control room to zoom in and out from the couple. Researchers can      also observe participants through a one-way mirror separating the two spaces.Most of the case studies involve couples discussing pleasing and displeasing topics about their relationship, Honeycutt said. Participants wear an elastic polar chest belt to measure heart rate. The researchers can then study the relationship between heart rate and topic discussion, he said.Physiological arousal accompanies emotion.  If arousal is moderate, then it may be labeled as positive, but if arousal is intense, negative emotions such as fear, disgust or anger are more common, Honeycutt explains in his book "Scripts and Communication for Relationships."Heart rate variability is attributed to adrenaline. A normal resting rate is between 80 and 90 beats per minute. One woman's heart rate reached 140 beats per minute during an argument with her boyfriend, indicating a strong negative emotion, Honeycutt said.Physiological data such as heart rate and blood pressure helps researchers detect participants' emotions, Spry said. "A conversation that appears positive on the surface could be the product of two angry people putting on their best performance," Honeycutt wrote in his book.It's easy to tell who's in a good or bad relationship by looking at verbal and nonverbal behaviors, Spry said.Using the word "we" indicates couple that see themselves as a unit and is generally indicative of a good relationship, Honeycutt said.Partners in good relationships also use complaints rather than criticisms, Spry said. A complaint, she said, is a general statement that something is wrong within the relationship, while criticism attributes all the blame to the other partner. "‘We aren't spending enough time together,'" Spry said, "versus ‘You don't spend enough time with me.'"Next week, Spry will conduct mock interviews to study the effects of imagined interactions, those that occur when a person predicts a conversation before it actually happens, in a corporate setting. In the spring, Bodie will research the importance of listening in initial interactions, conversations people engage in when they first meet someone.- - - -Contact Olga Kourilova at

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