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Reactions to stress and trauma can vary widely. When confronted with tremendous challenges, we often turn to those closest to us. Intimate relationships cannot only be an incredible source of strength and support, but also a source of significant strain - particularly in the context of stress and trauma.

The Couple Adjustment to Stress and Trauma (CAST) Laboratory broadly aims to advance our understanding of the impact of stress and trauma on intimate relationships. More specifically, the research concentrates on (1) identifying risk and protective factors of individual and relationship distress following exposure to acute stress and trauma, (2) developing and evaluating couple-based interventions for populations at greater risk for trauma exposure, and (3) evaluating psychometric concerns related to the assessment of couple functioning including cross-cultural equivalence. 

Couple functioning has an important impact on individual emotional, behavioral, and physical well-being. Thus, this work incorporates diverse methods of assessment including observational, physiological, biological, and self-report measures in community and military couple samples. 

Graduate students in the CAST Lab are involved in all aspects of ongoing research activities and are encouraged to bring their own interests to enrich existing projects as well as initiate their own independent investigations. 

Projects and Grants

  • Community Couple Acute Stress and Trauma Study - This study aims to identify individual and relational risk and protective factors of adverse reactions to acute stress. We are currently in the data processing and analysis stage of this study.
  • "Up-armoring" At-Risk Military Couples - This is a prospective study funded by the Department of Defense Military Operational Medicine Research Program designed to improve our understanding of the longitudinal course of young military couples from enlistment to their first duty station. Data collection is ongoing. 
  • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Couples in the Military - This study is funded by the Department of Defense Army Medical Research and Material Command and aims to understand the unique experiences of LGB military couples and factors affecting their individual, relationship, and occupational health. Researchers are preparing for recruitment. 
  • Integrated Brief Alcohol and PTSD Intervention for Veterans in Primary Care - This research, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, aims to develop and evaluate an integrated brief intervention for those Veterans suffering from comorbid alcohol use and PTSD in a primary care setting. Researchers are working on treatment development. 

Upcoming projects:

  • "Up-armoring" Military Couples: Early Intervention and Strengthening Military Families -  This study is pending funding from the Department of Defense Military Operational Medicine Research Program as a follow-on to the prospective study of military couples from enlistment to their first duty station. This study aims to adapt, implement, and evaluate a stepped, couple intervention on entry-level military couples. 

Please check out the additional exciting research projects conducted by the CAST Lab's current graduate students under our "People" page!

Research Methods

The CAST lab implements a variety of research methods to examine complex and systemic mechanisms impacting acute stress and trauma responses. Some of our current methods include: 


We gather measurements of impedance cardiography, respiration, and skin conductance using wearable, mobile devices. Our physiological data acquisition system is fully integrated with a video/audio system to synchronize across physiological and behavioral measures.  


Mindware Mobile




Our lab captures individual and couple-level behavioral measurements using a premium audio/video system that is fully integrated with physiological measurements.  


We collect saliva samples via passive drool methods to measure biological indicators of stress. We examine systemic cortisol levels and cytokine functioning such as interleukin 1 beta and interleukin 6. 

Passive Drool


Contact Information

CAST Lab Director: Christina Balderrama-Durbin, Ph.D.


Last Updated: 6/29/18