My current research focuses on two topics in applied social psychology: Happiness and subjective well-being; and health psychology. I have also published books and papers on the development and use of new statistical methods in social psychology (round robin ANOVA, time series and spectral analysis), and several studies focused on micro-analysis of rhythm and coordination of behaviors and physiological responses during face to face social interaction.
HAPPINESS AND SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING
Positive psychology examines factors that predict happiness; these include personality traits, relationship quality/ social support, everyday behaviors, and other variables. While personality seems to be the strongest predictor of happiness, there is growing evidence that behavior change can lead to lasting increases in subjective well-being. My new research in this area focuses on the following questions. First, How can we characterize the different types of everyday behaviors that may contribute to happiness? There is much overlap among concepts such as flow and savoring; prosocial behavior, kindness, and gratitude. Factor analyses are conducted to assess how many distinct dimensions are needed to describe types of behaviors that are related to happiness. Second, How is happiness related to the quality of close relationships? Most past research has only examined the correlation between happiness and global perceptions of social support. We are examining how the quality of specific relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners may be related to happiness. Happiness may promote the formation and maintenance of good quality relationships; and relationship quality may influence happiness. We are also currently analyzing data on autobiographical memories of peak experiences.
Social psychological factors are related to physical health in several ways. First, happiness, social support and subjective well-being are predictive of physical health outcomes; second, the quality of communication in patient-practitioner interactions is predictive of patient adherence to medical recommendations, satisfaction with health care, response to placebo, and medical outcomes; and third, chronic health problems (such as back pain) have an impact on people’s plans, goals, behaviors, and emotional well-being. Qualitative methods such as analysis of personal projects (based on methods developed by Brian Little) provide a description of the way chronic illness impacts a person’s life. Recent studies have focused primarily on this last issue:
Vroman, K., Warner, R. M. & Chamberlin, K. (2009). Now let me tell you in my own words: Personal descriptions of acute and chronic lower back pain. Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation, 31, 976-987.
MICROANALYSIS OF SOCIAL INTERACTION DATA
Time series and spectral analysis can be used to evaluate rhythm and coordination of vocal activity, heart rate, and blood pressure during conversations. Participant and observer evaluations of the quality of social interaction are related to the degree of rhythm and coordination in behaviors; other researchers (Jaffe, Feldstein) have shown that infant attachment is related to the degree of behavioral coordination in early infant-caregiver interactions. The 1998 spectral analysis book provides an accessible introduction to these analytic methods.
STATISTICS IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
I have published an applied statistics textbook for SAGE (see Publications tab for links to it and other publications); this book reviews basic concepts and provides coverage of advanced topics such as multiple regression, MANOVA, repeated measures, and binary logistic regression. In addition, early work on round robin Analysis of Variance was a first step toward the later development (by David Kenny) of the Social Relations Model.