Timothy J. Sullivan
by Rob Peeler Oct 06, 2015
Timothy (TJ) Sullivan is a junior undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and French with a minor in Dance. He is a research assistant and lab coordinator for the Relationships and Stress Lab and Dr. Louis Castonguay's Lab in the Department of Psychology. He spends a good portion of his time as a crisis hotline counselor and training instructor for the Community Help Centre as well as being an active member in the Penn State Outing Club, University Dance Company, and National Honor Society for Dance Arts. His research interests pertain to understanding and better treating the interpersonal effects of trauma, violence, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Upon graduation from Penn State, TJ plans to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology.
TJ's honors thesis will investigate the role of decreased expression of emotion, or emotional inexpressivity, in the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration. This project stems from prior work indicating that emotional inexpressivity is associated with higher PTSD symptoms (Moore, Zoellner, & Mollenholt, 2008) and higher levels of relationship aggression (Maldonado, DiLillo, & Hoffman, 2014; Tull et al., 2007). Moving past a dichotomous perspective of IPV perpetration, he hopes to build upon this prior research by examining both individual and partner characteristics among this relationship to understand how both partners' inexpression could predict IPV within the context of PTSD. His investigation will come from a study of rural community couples in which at least one partner met screening criteria for probable PTSD. By coding the quality of emotional inexpression among videotaped discussions regarding relationship issues between couples, his work aims to understand how emotion is operating at the communicative level in potentially influencing IPV perpetration. An additional focus of the project is to elucidate how these interactions may differ by gender. Overall, the goal of this research is to identify an important component of communication in relationships to better inform treatment approaches and prevention efforts in targeting particularly harmful and costly consequences of PTSD.