Research Interest-Gender, Relationships, Health Lab - Carnegie Mellon University

Research Interest:

I have two main research interests:

(1) how people adjust to chronic illness

(2) the implications of gender and gender roles for relationships and

Adjustment to Chronic Illness

I am interested in how people adjust to chronic illness.  A key feature of chronic illness is that it does not disappear—it is characterized by recurrences, relapses, and progression of disease.  I have studied people with heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.  Interestingly, not all people faced with chronic illness become distressed.  I study the role that cognitive distortions play in enabling one to successfully adjust to chronic illness.  Such distortions include being overly optimistic, exaggerating perceptions of personal control, and finding something good in the bad (i.e., benefit-finding).  I also study the role that the social environment plays in facilitating adjustment to disease.  I have conducted a number of support interventions that focus on how peers may be helpful in this regard.  These interventions examine what kind of support is most effective and for whom.  My current research focuses on both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.  In the REACH study, I am examining how youth with type 1 diabetes navigate emerging adulthood.  In the CHOICE study, I am examining the role of spouse support in helping persons with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes adapt to their illness.

Gender, Relationships and Health

I study the psychology of “gender” rather than the psychology of “sex” because I am interested in the ways that we socialize males and females to behave differently.  The two domains that interest me are relationships and health, partly because these are domains where there are some clear-cut sex differences.  Sex differences in many other domains are controversial.  One cannot argue with the fact that men in the United States die younger than women, commit suicide more frequently than women, and suffer greater ill effects upon divorce and widowhood than women.  By contrast, women suffer twice the rate of depression as men and have more illness and disability than men.  Biology alone cannot explain these sex differences.  

My work examines how gender-role socialization influences relationships and health.  In particular, I am interested in the effects of two personality characteristics on health:  unmitigated agency, which is a focus on the self to the exclusion of others (i.e., self-absorbed; negative attitude toward others), and unmitigated communion, which is a focus on others to the exclusion of the self (i.e., overinvolvement in others’ problems, neglect of the self).  I have studies of healthy children and adults, adults with heart disease and cancer, and children with diabetes that examine the hazardous consequences of these personality characteristics.  I am currently conducting a longitudinal study of children with and without diabetes over the transition to adolescence, in part to study the emergence and consequences of these traits.