The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) Professors of Cariology and Comprehensive of Care, Amy Slep, PhD, and Richard Heyman, PhD, a $780K grant to build upon their existing research on the roles corrosive couple conflict (CCC) and parent-child coercion can play in disease outcomes.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) Professors of Cariology and Comprehensive of Care, Amy Slep, PhD, and Richard Heyman, PhD, a $780K grant to build upon their existing research on the roles corrosive couple conflict (CCC) and parent-child coercion can play in disease outcomes.

Coercive conflict is a specific conflict pattern common in families where two parties, whether a couple or parent and child, find themselves in a cycle of escalating unpleasant, angry, or even violent behavior until one party ultimately concedes to stop the conflict.

“Such domestic hostility constitutes a potent and destructive—but modifiable -- interpersonal poison to upstream and downstream health,” says Dr. Slep. Several studies have documented significant impairment in patients’ adherence to medical regimens as a result of CCC, including those for diabetes.

“Patient non-adherence to medical regimens is one of the major barriers to the successful treatment of both diabetes and oral health,” adds Dr. Slep. “Corrosive couple conflict and coercion complicate and impede adherence,” notes Dr. Heyman. For example, following intense conflict, a parent may be more preoccupied with her or his own emotional state than with enforcing limits on sweets or on a bedtime brushing routine, and their child is likely to experience elevated stress reactions.

In their proposal to the NIH, “Targeting Corrosive Couple Conflict and Parent-Child Coercion to Impact Health Behaviors and Regimen Adherence,” Drs. Slep and Heyman establish a framework for developing interventions to reduce specific elements of CCC and coercion, including the experienced emotion and behavioral observations.

In the next phase of the proposed study, the team will test whether reduction in these targets results in improvement in adherence and other health behaviors pertaining to diabetes and oral health, such as eating, drinking, and self-care.

While diabetes and oral health were selected because they share overlapping medical regimens, the role of CCC and coercion in disease outcomes surpasses the two conditions and Drs. Slep and Heyman believe the findings of their study can provide highly generalizable, actionable knowledge.

This study is supported by the NIH Science of Behavior Change Common Fund Program and by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) through an award administered by the NIDCR. Award number UH2DE025980.

Drs. Slep and Heyman co-direct the Family Translational Research Group at NYUCD. The Family Translational Research Group consists of more than 20 research staff and students focused on translating basic knowledge into prevention and treatment and on improving adoption of evidence-based practices.


About New York University College of Dentistry Founded in 1865, New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) is the third oldest and the largest dental school in the US, educating more than 8 percent of all dentists. NYUCD has a significant global reach and provides a level of national and international diversity among its students that is unmatched by any other dental school.

About Professor Amy Slep, PhD
Amy Slep received a PhD. in clinical psychology from Stony Brook University in 1995. She is now Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at NYU.

Dr. Slep’s research focuses on many different aspects of conflict and violence in families, including the development of dysfunctional parenting, the connections between parenting and partner conflict, the dynamics of conflict escalation and de-escalation in productive and destructive conflicts, what facets of exposure to violence impact children’s functioning, and how these impacts can be buffered, and how to best prevent family violence.

Dr. Slep’s work on definitions of maltreatment has resulted in definitions that are now being used through the military. She has published over 100 scientific articles and book chapters and has received more 50 federal research grants. She is a licensed clinical psychologist.

About Professor Richard Heyman, PhD
Richard E. Heyman is Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care. He earned a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Oregon.

Dr. Heyman has received more than 50 grants and contracts from major U.S. funding agencies on a variety of family-related topics, from anger escalation in couples to the impact of family violence on children to community-level prevention of family maltreatment, substance problems, and suicidality to social determinants of health.

Dr. Heyman has published over 125 scientific articles/chapters focused on the risk factors and consequences of couple dysfunction, intimate partner violence and child maltreatment. In addition to translational research on preventing couple and family problems, Dr. Heyman's treatment and prevention work also targets suicidality, alcohol misuse/drug use, and dental fear.

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