Research Themes and Current Studies
Stresses on the Emotion System
In our first core line of research, we study how stress, broadly construed, disrupts emotional processing in individuals and couples. We examine a range of potential stresses and their consequences for emotional reactivity and regulation, from effects of job stress on couple interactions to emotion in individuals with functional neurological disorders, specifically functional seizures (also called psychogenic nonepileptic seizures). Depletion of executive resources and emotional suppression or avoidance have emerged as key themes in these studies.
Specific projects include:
- Emotional responses among individuals with functional (psychogenic nonepileptic) seizures*
- Sleep quality and daily mood in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder
- Traumatic brain injury and emotion
- Emotion and communication among spouses of deployed military service members
- Job stress, emotional behavior, and emotion control values in police couples
- Relationship between executive function and emotion regulation
- Cognitive and emotional responses during decision-making
*Funded through the Institute for Mental Health Research
In addition to stresses on the emotion system, we examine ingroup bonds, humor, and affection as processes that potentially counteract adverse effects of depletion, suppression, and stress. We also evaluate clinical interventions that target these underlying affective processes.
Specific projects include:
- Effects of affectionate touch on stress, physiology, and emotion in couples
- Effectiveness of psychoeducational interventions (“Brain Boosters” groups) for miliary veterans with functional memory impairment
- Strategies for effective parent-child communication about risk
Culture and Emotion
In our second core line of research, we examine emotion as a function of cultural context. Our work goes beyond an examination of ethnic group differences to investigate how processes such as cultural ingroup match, values and beliefs about emotion, and implicit racial attitudes shape emotion processing. We consider culture in terms of race/ethnicity, as well as in terms of other subcultures such as police and military.
Current and past projects include:
- Emotional responses to ingroup/outgroup members based on race, gender, and political orientation
- Emotional responses to ingroup/outgroup humor
- Black Americans’ physiological and experienced responses to laboratory studies
- Ethnic and cultural differences in emotion suppression and in attitudes toward help-seeking
- Ethnic and cultural influences in attitudes about social touch and regarding emotion regulation in romantic relationships
Our studies evoke actual or “real time” emotions using tasks such as partner interactions, relived emotional memories, emotional pictures/films, acoustic startles, decision-making, and simply making participants sit and wait. We augment this work with online surveys from larger samples. We measure multiple aspects of emotion and related cognitive processes:
- Nonverbal behavior, particularly facial behavior (via observational coding and facial electromyography)
- Autonomic nervous system physiology (psychophysiological measures including heart rate and impedance cardiography, blood pressure, skin conductance, respiration rate, and skin temperature)
- Subjective experience, including from questionnaire and daily diary ratings and qualitative responses
- Neuropsychological measures, such as tests of executive function.
Together, these studies reveal how cultural and biological forces shape emotional responses. They point to areas of the emotion system that are fairly inflexible to change, as well as those that may be more vulnerable to disruption—yet also amenable to intervention.
Sample Student Conference Poster
- March 2020: Specificity of Hiding Feelings and Relationship Satisfaction Among Law Enforcement Officers