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Reading the Secret Language Of Divorce

If you're seeking divorce advice in Pasadena but trying to put on a brave face for your friends and family, a new study from the University of Arizona suggests you shouldn't bother. According to the study, how we are coping with a divorce is revealed not so much by what we say but how we say it.

The study, "Thin-Slicing Divorce: Thirty Seconds of Information Predict Changes in Psychological Adjustment Over 90 Days, " examines how people cope with emotional stress when a marriage ends. Ashley Mason, a University of Arizona doctoral student, conducted the study.

"We wanted to know how much information people actually need in order to know how another person is coping," says Mason. "There's been a lot of person perception research in terms of perceiving a stranger's personality or intelligence. And data have shown that we really don't need much."

So little information, in fact, even complete strangers were able to determine how people were handling their emotions using just tidbits of information. Newly-divorced and separated couples were used in the study to complete a series of questionnaires and to record thoughts and feelings about their former partners. Thirty-second snippets of the recordings were saved as sound files and written transcripts. A select number of the participants were asked to fill out the same questionnaire three months later. Then students were enlisted to judge how the subjects were coping with divorce. Based on the short transcripts and brief audio recordings, the students were able to accurately predict how the subjects were feeling without any actual contact with the subjects.

Mason points out that how the subjects were talking was more important than what they were saying, which gave real insight to how they were dealing with the life-altering changes of divorce. The study, she says, "gives us insight that may affect how we interact with these people. Do I need to call more often or provide more social support? Should I recommend psychotherapy? Not everyone has an organized social support system, and these data shed light on how we interpret what others need from us."