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Keith Sanford, Ph.D. - Baylor University . Waco, TX, US

Keith Sanford, Ph.D.

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience | Baylor University


Dr. Sanford studies interpersonal relationships, married couples and the development of assessment instruments.






Keith Sanford, Ph.D., psychology and neuroscience loading image loading image




Dr. Sanford joined the Baylor faculty in 2000. Prior to coming to Baylor, he earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Michigan State University, and he earned his B.A. in psychology, with a second major in religion, from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Sanford is a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas, and a former associate editor for the Journal of Family Psychology. He enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, and composing and performing music.

Dr. Sanford's research interests include: (a) studies of married couples and other close interpersonal relationships, (b) the development and validation of assessment instruments, (c) use of the Internet in assessment and clinical work, and (d) use of statistical methodology to analyze dyadic data and model processes involving change over time.

Dr. Sanford developed two Internet-based programs for couples that provide on-line assessments and feedback to participants and collect data for ongoing research. One program is called www.pairbuilder.com and it is designed to help couples build strong skills in communication and conflict resolution. The other program is called "Parting Parent" (located at www.Parting.PsyBU.com), and it is designed to help parents who are going through a separation or divorce establish plans for co-parenting their children.

Some studies in Dr. Sanford's lab focus on the development and validation of assessment instruments for use with couples. These have included instruments assessing two types of underlying concern that people experience during conflicts (perceived threat and perceived neglect), three types of negative emotion (hard emotion, soft emotion, and flat emotion), four types of conflict communication (adversarial engagement, collaborative engagement, withdrawal, and passive immobility), two types of cognitive appraisal (blaming attributions, and negative expectations), and also scales measuring several different perceptions and concerns experienced by divorcing parents.

Dr. Sanford is currently conducting a series of studies investigating couple resiliency. Couple resiliency is defined as the extent to which a couple's relationship has characteristics that help each member adapt and maintain high wellbeing during stressful life situations. Recent studies have investigated resiliency in a range of different populations, from parents who have a child with a medical condition to firefighters.

Areas of Expertise (9)



Parents who have Children with Medical Conditions

Couples and Power

Couples and Conflict

Social Psychology

Clinical Psychology

Interpersonal Relationships


Education (3)

Michigan State University: Ph.D., Psychology 2000

Michigan State University: M.A., Psychology 1996

Seattle Pacific University: B.A., Psychology 1993

Media Appearances (10)

Why a strict sense of justice hinders progress toward a fairer society

The Well  online


Recent research by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Baylor, found that refraining from negative behaviors, such as arguing or emotionally withdrawing, can actually do much to save relationships during contentious times. It isn’t just performing the act of kindness that matters, but also not returning bad behaviors that helps build lasting relationships, through thick and thin, with others.

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Your Relationship Is Doomed If Your Partner Does This, Experts Say

Best Life  online


Research conducted by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology, is cited in this article about relationship challenges and certain behaviors that have been proven to lead to a relationship’s failure.

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Four Relationship Remedies for Quarantined Couples: Paths to intimacy when you're on each other's last nerve

Psychology Today  online


Research by Baylor psychology and neuroscience professor Keith Sanford, Ph.D., is cited in this article about relationship remedies for quarantined couples

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Baylor University Researcher Develops Questionnaire to Assess Patient Attitudes About Adherence to Medical Treatment Plans

Media and Public Relations  online


Preventing serious medical conditions typically requires patients to follow treatment plans, which may involve taking medication, exercising or following a diet. Although the effectiveness of these plans often depends on patients adhering to their treatment plan, around 50 percent of patients fail to adequately use those plans, studies show.

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Do You Worry That Your Husband Won’t Be There for You?

Psychology Today  online


How a couple works together in stressful life events is associated with their individual well-being as well as with relationship satisfaction, according to Baylor research by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Alannah Shelby Rivers, doctoral candidate in psychology and neuroscience, both in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. The research also found that negative behavior has more influence than positive — in effect, that refraining from bad behavior such as betrayal or abandonment is more strongly associated with a good outcome than simply displaying positive behavior toward one’s partner.

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10 Steps to stop fighting with your spouse

The Asian Parent  online


This article about how couples can resolve arguments effectively cites research from 2013 by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, which found that the most common thing that couples want from each other during a conflict is not an apology, but a willingness to relinquish power. Sanford’s study was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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Be the Change You Wish to See in Your Marriage

The Good Men Project  online


Keith Sanford, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, is quoted about his research into how couples perceive one another’s emotions in the midst of conflict — in particular, perceived threat or perceived neglect. “What you perceive your partner to be feeling influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in yourself, whether or not what you perceive is actually correct,” said Sanford, who developed a free online interactive program for couples titled the “Couple Conflict Consultant.”

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Baylor psychology prof mixes original music into lectures

Washington Times  print


Structure and creativity may seem to be clashing concepts, but Baylor University associate psychology professor Keith Sanford embraces both as he indulges a passion and helps his students. With a keyboard, drum set and loop station, Sanford created “Variance and Covariance,” a song about formulas in psychology. Sanford has shown the song to classes as a learning tool for about a year ...

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Power Struggle, More Trouble

KnowsWhy.com  online


This article mentions a 2013 study by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, who found that power struggles were the main reason for conflict among more than 3,000 couples

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Baylor psychology prof mixes original music into lectures

The Charlotte Observer  online


A catchy loop music video about statistical formulas has been created as a learning tool for students by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., a musician as well as associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. “There are a lot of rules in music theory, and there are a lot of rules in statistics,” he said. “But there’s a lot of creativity on both sides.” Also quoted is Charles Weaver, Ph.D., chair of psychology and neuroscience.

Articles (5)

Couple Resilience Inventory: Two dimensions of naturally occurring relationship behavior during stressful life events

Psychological Assessment

2016 A series of 3 studies using samples of married or cohabiting people were conducted to develop a new scale for measuring resilience in couples. Resilience involves the extent to which couples engage in behaviors that help each partner cope during stressful life events. In the first study, 525 people responded to open-ended questions, and a qualitative analysis identified 49 different potential types of resilience behavior that people naturally experience and notice in their relationships. In the second study, 320 people completed a questionnaire assessing the 49 resilience behaviors. Several items were correlated with measures of well-being and quality of life, and results suggested that the domain of resilience items could be reduced to 2 factors: 1 pertaining to positive behavior and the other to negative. In the third study, 18 items were selected to create a new measure of couple resilience, and the measure was tested with a sample of 568 people. The new measure fit an expected 2-dimensional factor structure. Scales measuring positive and negative behavior were nearly orthogonal, but both correlated with measures of quality of life and well-being, and most effects remained significant after controlling for relationship satisfaction. The resilience scales had moderate cross-partner correlations when 2 partners reported on the same stressful event. These results provide preliminary validity evidence for use of the new measure of couple resilience.

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The validity of retrospectively reported conflict interactions in couples.

Journal of Family Psychology

2015 This study investigated the extent to which researchers and clinicians can obtain valid retrospective self-reports of couples’ conflict interactions outside a laboratory setting. A distinction was made between relationship attribute variance, regarding a shared perspective of both partners, and informant-specific variance, regarding the unique vantage point of each partner. By examining convergent and divergent associations for each type of variance, this study clarified the risk that responses might be influenced by informant-specific biases related to levels of relationship satisfaction. This study also investigated potential moderators of validity. Participants included both members of 269 married and cohabiting couples (538 individuals) who completed online questionnaires. Results were analyzed using a correlated trait–correlated method minus one model. The total true variance included large components of both shared relationship attribute variance and informant-specific variance. Although the shared component was moderately correlated with relationship satisfaction, the informant-specific component was mostly distinct from satisfaction, suggesting minimal bias. Convergent correlations between partners were strong and mostly unrelated to potential moderating variables, albeit slightly smaller than reported in studies conducted in laboratory settings. The results generally support the validity for retrospective self-reports of conflict interactions, especially when reports are obtained from both members of a couple.

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Two types of disengagement during couples' conflicts: withdrawal and passive immobility

Psychological Assessment

2015 A series of 3 studies using nonclinical samples investigated validity associated with the Conflict Disengagement Inventory (CDI), a questionnaire developed to measure passive immobility and withdrawal as context-specific forms of disengagement in couples' conflicts. In the first study, 2,588 married participants completed the CDI, and an expected 2-dimensional factor structure was confirmed. Additionally, results demonstrated measurement invariance across racial/ethnic and gender groups. In the second study, 223 adults in committed romantic relationships completed the CDI along with measures of attachment, emotion, underlying concerns, withdrawal, relationship expectations, relationship satisfaction, and communication behavior. Although the disengagement scales were moderately correlated, the results provided consistent evidence of convergent and divergent validity. In the third study, a sample of 135 undergraduate students in romantic relationships completed the CDI and measures of emotion on up to 5 separate assessment sessions, with sessions spaced at least 2 weeks apart. Analyses of within-person effects using hierarchical linear modeling provide evidence that the CDI captures meaningful variance at the context-specific level. There was substantial variance within persons across different episodes of conflict and within-person changes in disengagement predicted corresponding within-person changes in emotion.

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A latent change score model of conflict resolution in couples: Are negative behaviors bad, benign, or beneficial?

Journal of Social and Personal Relationships

2014 This study used latent change score models to examine how couples make progress toward resolution when they experience conflicts. It examined why negative conflict engagement might sometimes predict increased resolution, and how this process might be moderated by relationship satisfaction. A sample of 734 people in heterosexual marriages or cohabitation relationships were asked to identify an episode of relationship conflict and complete a questionnaire measuring types of negative behavior, attributions, anger, and soft emotion as well as measures of current discord, peak discord, positive behavior, and types of conflict disengagement. Negative engagement predicted peak levels of conflict discord, but for people in satisfying relationships, this effect was benign because large conflicts predicted large resolutions regardless of negative engagement levels.

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Emotion and underlying concerns during couples' investigation of within-person change

Personal Relationships

2010 This study investigated how emotion changes within persons across different episodes of romantic relationship conflict. Presumably, changes in different types of emotion are linked to changes in the types of underlying adaptive concerns people have during conflict, which in turn are linked to changes in the types of emotion that one's partner is perceived to express. Over the span of 8 weeks, 105 college students in romantic relationships completed between 2 and 5 online assessments of a recent relationship conflict. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to distinguish within-person effects from between-person effects. Results confirmed expected differences between types of emotion and types of underlying concern, indicated that most effects occur at the within-person level, and identified mediating pathways.

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