Building on previous work on the role of attention deficits associated with the regulation of executive control in psychiatric disorders, we examine whether these attention deficits are related to an interpersonal disturbance, the experience of divorce.
Attentional capacities of 95 randomly selected couples from the general population were measured with a well-established task, the Attentional Network Task, which assesses the efficiency of 3 attention networks (that is, alerting, orienting, and executive control). Among the 190 participants, 32 had experienced a divorce in the past. ANCOVAs were used to compare divorced people in marital or cohabiting unions with people in first unions in their performance on this purely cognitive task.
Our findings indicate that divorced people who are currently living in a cohabiting relationship show significantly lower executive control than other adults living as couples, after controlling for sex, age, income, and education. This subgroup of divorced people not only exhibit greater difficulty in responding to some stimuli while ignoring irrelevant ones but also manifest cognitive deficits in conflict resolution.
This study highlights the links between attention and the long-term maintenance of intimate relationships. Our results may have important implications for the identification of people at risk for divorce.