Self-Control and Relationship Maintenance

Sustaining relationships requires managed effort over time, but also the ability to overcome conflicts of interest that crop up in the moment. Overcoming these conflicts of interest often draws upon our ability to control our behavior and resist tempting courses of action. These efforts can take the form of relationship maintenance practices such as sacrifice, constructive conflict negotiation, forgiveness, and fidelity. This project explores how relationship commitment shapes the way we frame the conflicts of interest that occur in intimate relationships, and how various framings support (or undermine) relationship maintenance behaviors.

Mental Representation in Long-Distance Relationships

In today’s digitally connected world, long-distance relationships are more common than ever. We have a pretty good understanding of the strategies partners use to stay connected across distance (e.g., texting, video calling, social media). However, we know considerably less about how the psychological experience of physical separation shapes the way partners conceptualize one another and their relationship as a whole. This project examines whether there are fundamental differences in how long-distance vs. geographically close partners communicate about one another and the types of attributes they draw upon when thinking about each other. Such differences should importantly shape why certain kinds of relationship maintenance activities are more effective in long-distance (vs. geographically close) relationships, and why transitions to and from proximity are so tumultuous for many romantic partners.

Measurement of Relationship Attributes

In psychology, we frequently use surveys or questionnaires to capture people’s reports of their own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Many of those measurement tools ask participants to reflect on other people. By using such tools and phrasing items in specific ways, we are inevitably shaping how participants call to mind what it is we’re asking them about (particularly when that is another person such as a close other). To avoid falling into the trap of equating the concept we are measuring with the responses provided on the measurement tool itself, it is valuable to determine whether other means of measuring a concept are similarly valid to the traditional tools. In today’s world, technology pervades nearly all aspects of social life, and has been harnessed for psychological measurement as well (e.g., online surveys). Furthermore, such tools allow us to incorporate more than just static text into our measures, such as the inclusion of visual stimuli, interactive prompts, or other imagery. This project examines the consequences of using pictorial representations of other people to ask about our thoughts and feelings about these others. Such a methodological shift should help to validate longstanding measurement approaches; however, it can also serve as a more ecologically valid means to capture thoughts and feelings about other people, with whom we so often interact digitally with available visual cues about their appearance.

Student Projects

Undergraduate students working in the SPARC Lab not only help to guide the direction of lab projects, but can also take ownership over a research question and pursue independent projects as well. Previous students have explored such topics as:  the effects of different social media practices on the way social networks are relied upon to meet interpersonal needs, how the mental representation of long-distance romantic partners differs in tone and abstraction at varying levels of accessibility, and how conflicts between romantic partners demonstrate different forms of emotional synchrony.