Carnegie Mellon University

Research Interests

I have two main research interests:

  1. how people adjust to chronic illness
  2. the implications of gender and gender role socialization for relationships and health

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. The focus of my most recent research is on the implications of communal coping for adjustment to chronic illness. Communal coping is defined as an interpersonal approach to illness that involves a shared illness appraisal (“our” illness versus “my” illness) and collaborative efforts to manage the illness. We recently had a paper accepted that outlines our theoretical framework toward communal coping in Personality and Social Psychology Review. We are examining the implications of communal coping for adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Communal Coping Theory paper

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.