People are powerfully affected by their social environments. However, people do not encounter environments randomly or passively. Our research examines the different ways that people select, change, interpret, and respond to their social environments, a set of processes collectively known as person-environment interactions.
In our work we study person-environment interactions using a variety of research paradigms, including laboratory experiments and observations, ecological assessments, longitudinal studies, and surveys.
This research brings together a variety of topics in personality and social psychology and related fields. Areas of specific focus in this lab are:
- Interpersonal perception and self-perception
- Emotions in social contexts
- Personality stability and dynamics
People are always trying to make sense of themselves and each other. Am I a good person? Am I happy in this relationship? Can I trust this person I just met? What do they think of me? The answers that we reach, consciously and unconsciously, play an important role in guiding our social behavior and contributing to our psychological and social well-being.
In our lab we take an integrative approach to understanding how different factors work together in producing interpersonal perceptions and self-perceptions, and how these perceptions affect social behavior and functioning. For example, we have looked at how others' perceptions affect self-perceptions (Srivastava & Beer, 2005), how optimism affects satisfaction in close relationships (Srivastava, McGonigal, Richards, Butler, & Gross, 2006), and how people form general impressions of a typical other (Srivastava, Guglielmo, & Beer, 2010).
Current research includes studies on how emotional processes shape the perceptions that people form of self and others, and how people infer other people's perceptions (sometimes called "reflected appraisals" or "meta-perceptions").
Emotions present a seeming contradiction. On the one hand, they are often experienced as private, personal experiences. On the other hand, emotions are profoundly social. We express our emotions in our faces, voice, posture, and words (and sometimes we try to hide them); we evoke or invite reactions from other people, as when we tell a joke or a sad story and in turn we are affected by the responses we receive; we try to manage and control our emotions when we are around other people; and our emotions change the ways that we interpret and make sense of our social interactions.
In ongoing work in the lab, we are trying to better understand the social nature of emotions -- how various aspects of emotions affect, and are affected by, our social environments. One important topic we are investigating is emotion regulation -- the various processes by which people use to try to alter their emotional experiences and responses. Using a wide range of research methods, we are investigating how the different ways that people regulate their emotions, including attentional, cognitive, and behavioral processes, affect their experiences in social interactions, their perceptions and feelings about themselves and others, and others' perceptions and feelings about them (e.g., Srivastava, Tamir, McGonigal, John, & Gross, 2009). Ongoing projects include investigations of the long-term contributions of emotion regulation to personal and social development, and the personality traits and social situations that cue people to use different emotion regulation strategies.
Does personality change? Is personality stable? The answer to both of these questions is "yes." Our personalities are neither fixed forever, nor are they constructed anew in every social interaction. Rather, it may be more productive to focus on understanding the biological and social processes that underpin personality, and to understand how these processes promote stability or change.
One important issue we have examined is documenting how personality changes during adulthood (Srivastava, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2003). Another question is whether different people follow different paths of adult development (Helson & Srivastava, 2001). We are currently running an NSF-funded longitudinal study, in collaboration with Gerard Saucier, to look at how changes in personality traits interact with changes in social roles and values over time.