February 12, 2018
Psychology of the Heart
By Sarah Gutekunst
Media Inquiries: Shilo Rea
Like Andrew Carnegie, Psychology Professor Brooke Feeney’s heart is in the work.
In Carnegie Mellon University’s Relationships Lab, Feeney studies close relationships and how social interactions can affect the health and wellbeing of the people in the relationships and of the relationships themselves, both immediately and over time.
Her current work focuses on relationships in all stages of life, from a longitudinal study on newlyweds and the factors that predict their health and happiness to one that gives needed attention to retirement-age couples and how their relationships and social behaviors can impact health and life expectancy.
I love doing my research, but I also love working with such bright students, both graduate and undergraduate students, and training them in how to do good research. – Brooke Feeney
As an undergraduate, Feeney expected to pursue a career in counseling and treatment of psychological problems. However, after her first taste of research completing a thesis on how the presence of a loved one can buffer physiological reactivity in stressful situations, Feeney changed her path to follow her curiosity.
“That was when I discovered that I love research. I love the process of being able to ask interesting questions, develop methods for finding the answer, then analyze the data to discover and understand the answer,” Feeney said. “The more research you do, the more interesting questions arise. Each study brings about additional questions to answer in order to understand a process completely.”
The research is only part of what keeps Feeney excited about her work. The other half is the opportunity to mentor students.
"I love doing my research, but I also love working with such bright students, both graduate and undergraduate students, and training them in how to do good research. We usually have 15 to 20 undergraduates working in the lab each semester, and many go on to complete a thesis for the Senior Honors Program and attend highly-ranked graduate programs. It’s so wonderful to see them succeed,” Feeney said.
Alumna Jaclyn Ross (DC ’15), who is currently pursuing a graduate degree at University of California, Los Angeles, attested to Feeney’s dedication as a mentor.
“As my honors thesis advisor, Brooke dedicated many hours to meeting with me to help refine my research questions, teaching me sophisticated statistical methodology, and helping to shape my academic writing,” Ross said. “Working in Brooke’s lab shapes students into theoretically grounded researchers with a strong appreciation for methodologically rigorous research, and these are qualities that really come in handy in graduate school.”
Brittany Jakubiak, who just earned her Ph.D. studying under Feeney agreed, and said, “As a mentor, she is knowledgeable and a great academic resource as well as kind and encouraging. I have benefited immensely from this rare combination.”
Feeney’s most recent study showed that people with supportive spouses were more likely to take on potentially rewarding challenges and that those who accepted the challenges experienced more personal growth, happiness, psychological well-being and better relationship functioning months later.