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Some current domains of research in the Clark Relationship Laboratory
What we study in our laboratory is constantly evolving. The best way to get a feel for our work is by reading the publications that emerge from the laboratory.
Listed below are some of the areas of research in which we are currently engaging.
1. Intra- and interpersonal processes that promote personal relationships in which individuals’ and the relationship’s well being.
A long-standing and broad focus of our research has been on identifying both intra- and interpersonal processes that characterize high quality personal relationships including friendships, romantic relationships and family relationships. Some of these processes include: a) giving and accepting benefits within the relationship non-contingently (that is giving benefits without expectation of a repayment and accepting benefits without feeling indebted), b) expressing emotions individual of needs and desires, c) keeping track of partner needs and desires, d) being able to flexibly shift one’s relational foci of attention between thinking of the self and what a partner can do for the self, thinking of the partner and what one can do for the partner, thinking of the activities in which one is engaged along with the partner (with self- and other- focus fading to the background.)
2. The functions that experiences and expressions of emotion serve in close relationships
Within the category of research focused upon understanding intra- and interpersonal processes that impact the quality of close relationships is a special interest in the functions that experiencing and expressing emotions serve in relationships. We focus both on how experiencing and expressing emotions that convey individual needs (fear, anxiety, sadness, happiness) influence close relationships and on how experiencing and expressing relational emotions (embarrassment, gratitude, guilt, hurt feelings) influence close relationships.
Research is current focusing upon such topics as a distinction between reactive and reflective gratitude, differences between what verbally and non-verbally conveyed emotions signal to relationship partners, people’s stable beliefs about whether expressing emotion to relationship partners is good or bad, the malleability of emotions, tendencies to project one’s own emotions onto relationship partners as well as accuracy in such perceptions and how feeling empathic emotion (or not) influences self-perceptions.
3. The initiation of close relationships (subsequent to initial attraction).
Much is known about the factors that influence whether people are attracted to one another in the first place as well as about how close relationships function once they are established. However, how people negotiate the path between initial attraction and an established close relationship is a relatively neglected area of research.
We have a model of relationship initiation that includes how people balance self-presentation to potential partners, protecting the self from possible rejection by potential partners, and continuously evaluating partners. That model is being further developed and tested in our laboratory.
4. Sharing experiences.
Recently we have added the study of the impact of merely sharing experiences on the quality of those experiences to topics being studied in our laboratory. Merely sharing experiences refers to two people participating in the same experience at the same time in one another’s presence. We have found that merely sharing activities amplifies those experiences making pleasant experiences more pleasant and unpleasant experiences less pleasant.
Some new research has focused on the nature of perfectionism and how it influences people’s experience of positive and negative emotion in day-to-day life as well as their willingness to express those emotions to others. Ultimately
we’re most interested in how perfectionism influences how people relate to friends and family.