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My lab investigates several basic questions regarding emotion, using a multi-method approach that integrates physiological, behavioral, cognitive, narrative, and questionnaire measures of emotional experience and its implications for social interaction. Core themes of this research are:
POSITIVE EMOTION DIFFERENTIATION. Emotion researchers have long distinguished among several functionally distinct negative emotions, such as sadness, fear, and anger, but empirical research on potentially "discrete" positive emotions is more recent. My lab takes an evolutionary approach to defining multiple positive emotion constructs, and studies the extent of overlap and differentiation among these states. We use the proposed adaptive functions of each emotion as a basis for predicting various aspects of emotional responding, including profiles of autonomic nervous system reactivity, facial expressions, and implications for social cognition and behavior.
AWE. A rich body of research suggests that positive emotions tend to increase our use of internal knowledge structures, such as stereotypes, heuristics, and schemas, in processing new information from the environment. Functional theories of awe, however, propose that this emotion has the opposite effect. Awe has been defined as the positive emotion one may experience when facing a stimulus that is unaccounted for by one's current knowledge. Awe should then promote cognitive and behavioral changes that facilitate taking in new information from the environment, or cognitive "accommodation," rather than relying on what one already knows to interpret the situation (cognitive "assimilation"). With funding from the Templeton Foundation we are now conducting a three-year program of research on the cognitive implications of awe.
EMOTION REGULATION. One of the great features of human psychology is the capacity to regulate our emotions - to use our attention and our thoughts to alter our feelings, and to control the way we express feelings to others. We regulate emotions using a wide range of strategies, some of which are more conducive to health and well-being than others. My lab is particularly interested in the use of positive emotions to regulate emotional experience in stressful or upsetting situations. Specific strategies include positive reppraisal, or thinking about positive aspects of upsetting situations as well as the negative aspects, and creating positive events, or making time for islands of healthy enjoyment in the midst of an ongoing stressor. We are also interested in the ways that people help each other to regulate their emotions - the co-regulation of emotion.
EMOTIONAL PROCESSES IN CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. Although emotions can feel like intensely personal experiences, they are also profoundly important for our interactions with other people. We form impressions of new people, build and maintain close relationships, and coordinate dyadic and group action all with the help of emotions. My lab investigates some of the mechanisms by which emotions support close relationships. In a current study we are asking how shared emotion between close friends relates to behaviors while discussing one friend's current concerns and positive events, and how the presence of a close friend affects an individual's stress responding during a difficult task.
We review applications for new volunteer research assistants each semester, and I am accepting graduate student applications for Fall 2012.