The Role of Behavioral Flexibility in the Relation Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Intimate Speaker-Listener Behavior

Project Abstract

The Interpersonal Process View of Intimacy posits that intimacy in close relationships is a function of reciprocal verbal behavior (Kanter et al., 2020). Intimacy is derived from repeated patterns of reinforcement following vulnerable behavior, such as self-disclosure, and listener responsiveness. We hypothesized that repeated punishment of vulnerable behavior, such as those in adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) would decrease the likelihood of relationship closeness in adulthood. Further, we expected psychological flexibility to mediate this relationship. ACEs did not predict lower levels of relationships closeness. Using a student-based sample (n = 112), mediation analyses were run; results indicated that psychological flexibility did not mediate the relationship between ACEs and relationship closeness. However, in the presence of inflexibility, the relation between ACEs and relationship closeness became significant, a pattern suggesting suppression rather than mediation. This paper will also present findings from a second sample seeking to replicate these findings. In summary, this study could help elucidate a point of intervention to mitigate the effects of some adverse childhood experiences on adult relationship quality. Limitations and implications for future research will be discussed.


ResilienceCon 2022

April 3 - 5, 2022

Nashville, TN

Life Paths Research Center

Funding Type

Travel Grant

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts


General Experimental Psychology


Masters of Science




Esther Malm, Ph.D.

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

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