Professor of Psychology
Areas of Expertise
Social Psychology, Health Psychology, Lifespan Social Development
My research addresses the general question of how close relationships, and specific social behaviors and social interactions occurring within those relationships, facilitate or hinder human thriving. This work involves detailed observations and assessments of social interactions (in particular life contexts and across the adult lifespan) to examine the immediate and long-term impact of specific social behaviors and social interaction patterns (and related biological processes) on important thriving outcomes. These thriving outcomes include mental health, physical health and life expectancy, relationship health and stability, personal growth and development, goal progress and accomplishment, learning/discovery/productivity, resilience and successful coping with adversity, happiness and life satisfaction, and prosocial orientation (compassion and concern for community and society).
Much of my work examines questions about how close relationships help people to thrive through adversity and through the pursuit of life opportunities and challenges. These questions are addressed using large samples of community dyads and a variety of research methods including video-recording and coding of dyadic interactions and simultaneous assessments of underlying physiology. We consider the impact of both non-verbal and verbal behaviors, as well as dyadic synchrony of behaviors and related biological processes. My lab has developed methods and extensive observational coding systems for coding a wide range of social behaviors occurring during specific types of social interactions (e.g., interactions when coping with stressors or fears, conflict interactions, play interactions, interactions surrounding the pursuit of goals and opportunities).
Some of this research is longitudinal in nature, following large samples of relationship partners over long periods of time (over a decade) to examine long-term consequences of social interactions for the interacting individuals and the relationship itself, and to examine changes in interaction patterns over time. My current work focuses on a variety of relationship types (e.g., marriages, friendships, parent-adolescent/adult-child dyads) and 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 elderly couples and how their relationships and social behaviors can impact health and life expectancy. In some of my experimental work, we focus on isolating and showing the powerful effects of specific social behaviors (e.g., interpersonal touch and specific social support behaviors).
This work has been funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Science Foundation.