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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
March 4, 2003

Carnegie Mellon Researchers' Proposal Wins Social Science Experiment Competition

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. candidate Steven Graham and his faculty advisor, Psychology Professor Margaret S. Clark, were one of nine research teams whose proposals won a competition by Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences, or TESS.

Last year, TESS, which is based in Michigan and is supported by the National Science Foundation, put out a call for scholars to propose innovative survey-based experiments. The winners were announced last week.

Graham and Clark proposed a study on self-esteem and feelings toward relationship partners. They believe that a person's self-esteem is closely connected to their tendency to view relationship partners as "all good" versus "all bad" at a given point in time. People high in self-esteem seem to have stable, well-balanced conceptions of close partners, including knowledge of both faults and virtues. People low in self-esteem seem to store positive partner information separately from negative information and to be able to access only one type of information at a timečall good information when things are going well; all bad information when things are going poorly.

TESS will run the winning experiments, free of charge to the scholars, as part of a national survey of 2,000 respondents. After the data are collected, the scholars who proposed each experiment will have a nine-month window in which only they can analyze the data. Then, the data will be made available to the public.

Graham and Clark's initial work, presented in February at a conference in Los Angeles, was laboratory based and utilized computer-presented tasks. Participants made quick judgments about whether each of a set of positive and negative adjectives applied to a close partner. High self-esteem people did this quickly no matter how the positive and negative adjectives were presented. Low self-esteem people were just as fast as the high self-esteem people if all the adjectives were positive or all negative, but when adjectives were mixed they were substantially slowed down. In the TESS project, similar ideas will be tested using a sample of married people who will be asked to make judgments about their spouses.

"Steve Graham is a terrific scientist. He prepared and submitted this grant and he did a great job. We're both delighted to be able to test our ideas using a true, national, random sample," Clark said.


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