However, the effects of PREP can be inconsistent with some people benefiting more than others. Previous studies have shown that
Therefore, the researchers set out to explore whether differences in an individual’s sensitivity could explain the varying responses observed with the program.
150 couples completed questionnaires to assess communication, bonding, marital satisfaction, and the likelihood of divorce both before and after treatment, and then at six-month intervals over a two-year follow-up period.
Researchers found that an individual’s genetic sensitivity had more impact in the years following treatment than in the short term.
They also assessed an individual’s genetic sensitivity using two different measures, one based on looking at a small number of known genes related to sensitivity, and another that used genome-wide data with thousands of genetic variations.
Whilst both approaches showed that people’s responses to PREP depended on their genetic make-up, the results suggest that genetic sensitivity was best captured using the broad, genome-wide approach. Importantly, these findings were replicated in an independent sample included in the study.
Individuals with low genetic sensitivity who did not take part in the program showed similar positive responses concerning marital satisfaction over time as individuals with higher sensitivity who were involved in the program.
These findings suggest that whilst individuals with low sensitivity don’t respond as well to treatment, in general, they could be less vulnerable to typical relationship stressors experienced by couples. The findings were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Professor Michael Pluess, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the Queen Mary University of London, said: “Our findings show that an individual’s genetic make-up can influence how they respond to couple’s therapy. As we know that not everyone who takes part in relationship programs like PREP benefits in the same way, in future it could be helpful to identify people with low sensitivity, that might benefit less from these standard treatments, and potentially offer them an alternative”.
This study used genetic data to determine an individual’s sensitivity, but this is not the only way to do it as an individual’s sensitivity is also influenced by environmental factors.
It may be more practical to use sensitivity questionnaires that can be quickly and easily completed to capture these differences.