Why do people take risks? Why do certain people grab our attention? Why do some people desire power, and what are they willing to do to get it? Research in our lab addresses questions like these, examining ways in which fundamental social motives influence a range of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological processes.
Our research integrates social psychological and evolutionary approaches by examining the proximate, goal-driven features of adaptive social cognition. We use a variety of empirical tools, such as eye-tracking, hormone assessment, and implicit measures of cognition. Most of our current research falls into four basic domains: power and status, self-protection, romantic attraction and close relationships, and social affiliation.
Power and Status
Many people desire power and status. Our research is aimed at understanding how motives for power and status interact with situational factors to guide psychological and interpersonal processes. For example, our work has helped identify factors that lead powerful people to abuse their power and to act in corrupt ways. Some of our current work is demonstrating that, whereas people with a desire for dominance often respond to power with self-serving behavior, those with a desire for prestige respond in ways that benefit the group. Other studies in our lab are examining psychological processes that explain the link between power and sexual attraction.
Aversive experiences are an inevitable feature of human existence. People encounter many different types of threat including threats to their physical safety and threats posed by contagious disease. We use a variety of social psychological and evolutionary theories to understand how people respond functionally—and sometimes dysfunctionally—to various forms of threat. Current work is exploring some of the basic cognitive processes involved in protecting ourselves from harm, as well as the implications of self-protective motivation for interpersonal processes such as intergroup prejudice.
Romantic Attraction and Close Relationships
Reproductive success is the engine that drives evolution, and no challenges are as central to reproduction as those involved in mating. Our work focuses on two sets of questions: 1) What processes help people seek out and procure new romantic and sexual partners; 2) How do people protect their long-term relationships from forms of threat? Our studies have shown, for example, that mating-related motives can influence how we attend to, remember, and implicitly evaluate many of the people around us (e.g., potential relationship partners, romantic rivals, attractive relationship alternatives).
Humans are an ultra-social species. Our work seeks to understand the psychological and hormonal processes that help people maintain an adequate degree of social acceptance. Some of our current work focuses on people’s responses to rejection and social exclusion. We are interested in why some people respond resiliently to rejection (by seeking out sources of compensatory social affiliation) whereas others tend to respond more antisocially to rejection (with aggression or social withdrawal).