Spatial proximity as a behavioral marker of relationship dynamics in older adult couples

Brian G. Ogolsky, Shannon T. Mejia, Alexandra Chronopoulou, Kiersten Dobson, Christopher R. Maniotes, Te Kisha M. Rice, Yifan Hu, Jaclyn C. Theisen, Carolina Carvalho Manhães Leite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Close relationships in older adulthood are characterized by heightened interdependence, which has implications for health and well-being as partners age together. Purpose: We describe a novel method that uses partners’ spatial proximity to examine the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Research Design: In a sample of 10 older adult couples over a 14-day study period, we linked a continuous measure of partners’ spatial proximity with partners’ heart rates—a physiological marker of arousal. Results: Cross-correlations showed that proximity was consistently associated with each partner’s heart rate, but the magnitude and sequence of the correlation varied from day-to-day, suggesting that the coupling of proximity and heart rate is a dynamic of the interaction, rather than the couple. Additionally, our predictive model showed that all three time-series were necessary for optimal prediction, demonstrating that proximity and partners’ heart rates are dynamically intertwined. Conclusion: Together, these results demonstrate meaningful and predictable variation in couple dynamics at the momentary level that consists of a complex association between physiological and spatial proximity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3116-3132
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • aging
  • closeness
  • couples
  • daily diary methods
  • distance
  • heart rate
  • physiology
  • proximity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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