Problems with Problem-solving: Novel Findings from Experimental and Intensive Longitudinal Research with a Young Adult Sample at Risk for Suicide

Roberto López Jr.

Advisor: Christianne Esposito-Smythers, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sarah Fischer, Seth Kaplan

Online Location, Online Location
April 24, 2023, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Suicide is a significant public health concern among young adults ages 18-24. A large body of literature has reliably linked problem-solving deficits to suicide risk and emotional distress. Theoretical work suggests that problem-solving abilities may fluctuate over time in relation to intraindividual and contextual factors, such as interpersonal sensitivity and environmental stressors. Yet, research conducted to date has largely examined problem-solving deficits as time- and/or context invariant and employed cross-sectional designs. This dissertation addressed these gaps in the problem-solving literature using a multimethod approach with a sample of 50 young adults reporting past-month suicidal ideation. Using a combination of self-report measures and an experimental, social rejection task, Study 1 examined relations between lifetime discrimination, rejection sensitivity, negative affect, and problem-solving abilities. After accounting for several covariates, results suggested that individuals with greater (versus less) lifetime discrimination and rejection sensitivity demonstrated greater problem-solving decrements, but not negative affect, following social rejection. Study 2 examined whether a tendency to avoid problems (i.e., avoidant problem-solving style) and interpret everyday problems in a negative fashion (i.e., negative problem orientation) moderated the real-time relation between social rejection and negative affect. Specifically, participants completed 28 days of ecological momentary assessment that assessed their day-to-day experiences of social rejection and negative affect. After controlling for relevant clinical and sociodemographic factors, results suggested that avoidant problem-solving style, but not a negative problem orientation, strengthened the real-time relation between social rejection and negative affect. Clinical implications and future directions are discussed.