The Bulk of my research has focused on Emotion Perception, Partner Perception and Emotional Reactivity. I am curious about how certain motivations pull valuable attentional resources away from one's partner during live social interactions. We show that self-protective motives (i.e. anxious and avoidant attachment), a focus on the self, and even a motivation to reason about what is transpiring during an interaction, can change the perceiver's perceptions of his or her partner and that person’s emotional state. Subsequently this changes the perceiver's emotional engagement and responsiveness to that interaction partner. Since we have found these motivations can actually interfere with getting a full sense of one's interaction partner, we hypothesize that this interference may have downstream negative consequences for perceived interaction and relationship quality.
Also in this area of person perception, we recently investigated boundaries to a widely studied mechanism in empathic responses. In humans, mirror neurons are considered to react ubiquitously to observed movement, in the same way as though the observer had moved himself. This gives the perceiver an intimate understanding of another’s movements and is thought to be integral in empathetic responses. However, there are instances where mirroring another for the sake of empathy must cease. Consider a boxer in the ring who must strike his opponent. He cannot emotionally connect with his target. This example suggests that it could be maladaptive to empathetically connect indiscriminately. We have found that mirroring ceases when the desire to affiliate is low, thereby disconnecting the perceiver from the target, and disconnecting the empathetic response.
Relationship Initiation. With Margaret Clark, and Lindsey Beck, I investigate the trajectory of self-presentation, partner evaluation and self-protection in relationship initiation. This research has been conducted with longitudinal paradigms. We have found that it is normative for self-presentation, partner evaluation and self-protection to be higher at the onset of relationships, but that these behaviors drop off over weeks as relationships progress. Holding onto these strategies over time is linked to anxious and avoidant attachment styles and also to negative relationship initiation outcomes. I also have a special interest in the differences in relationship initiation outcomes when one self-presents their accomplishments, versus self-presents in a relational way, meaning displaying that one will be a good partner.
Nonconscious Emotion Regulation. Another topic of interest to me is non-conscious emotion regulation. What are the things that we do outside of our awareness that help us to keep a comfortable emotion state? It has long been thought in psychology that we have mechanisms such as cognitive dissonance reduction, self-deception, self-justification, and positive illusions (just to name a few) that work best outside of our conscious awareness to shield us from feeling bad, or as I would add, also shield us from feeling too good. For instance, is there a tipping point at which the positivity of a stimulus becomes so intense that it automatically generates negative behavioral responses? Consider a teenage fan screaming as if in pain at a Justin Bieber concert, a beauty queen crying as the crown is placed on her head, or someone aggressively exclaiming that something is so cute that they have to squish it. These are seemingly negative responses to positive situations. I suggest that the same way that we use positive behaviors to buffer us from very high negative affect (i.e. humor at a funeral), that we may also use negative behaviors to buffer us from high positive affect. Research using “cute” stimuli suggests that this is indeed the case.
In a second line of research I investigate behavioral manifestations of another non-conscious emotion regulation mechanism. It appears that individuals unwittingly place objects that are pertinent to active emotion goals to a particular lateral side relative to their body. This finding has held across over 20 experiments and is consistent with the idea that our approach and withdrawal mechanisms may be lateralized as well. It seems that we place things in our environment to a particular side, based on that object's importance and our approach toward that object. This also appears to be a mechanism that is particularly powerful with emotion goals. If we desire to be sad, and we are handed a stimulus that evokes sadness, we are likely to place it to a particular side. On the other hand, if we desire to be happy, and we are handed a stimulus that evokes happiness, we are likely to place that also, to that same particular side.
Educational Psychology. With Margaret Clark, we investigate students’ feelings of being understood, accepted and cared for by their teachers (advisors) and how that relates to students’ academic outcomes. We have found positive relationships between a student’s sense that their teacher understands, accepts and cares about their academic abilities, goals and concerns and how much effort that student will put into their work.See research interests to read more.