My research interests focus on intra- and interpersonal processes that allow people to initiate and maintain mutually supportive close interpersonal relationships generally as well as on obstacles to so doing. An overlapping interest is in the nature of emotion and the interpersonal functions it serves.
What contributes to (or detracts from) the quality of a normatively close relationship such as a friendship, romantic relationship, and family relationship? Ideally, and normatively, these relationships are communal in nature meaning that members track one another’s needs and desires, strive to understand and to validate partners, are responsive to partner needs and desires, include partners in mutually enjoyable and beneficial activities, and provide purely symbolic support for partners as well. Equally important to the success of such relationships, they are willing to risk dependency on partners, express their emotions and seek and accept support when necessary.
How are people's networks of communal relationships organized? Most people have multiple communal relationships that vary in terms of the degree to which they assume responsibility for their partners’ welfare How do people organize these sets of relationships in hierarchies (e.g. whose needs take precedence over whose?). Where does felt responsibility to the self fall within these hierarchies? How do people make trade-offs between attending to their own welfare and attending to that of others? How do matches and mis-matches in the structure of partners' respective hierarchies influence relationships? How do individual differences in trust of others relate to the nature of these hierarchies?
What are the social functions of emotion? We are interested in two general types of emotions and the social functions of each: Many emotions (e.g. sadness, fear, anger, happiness) are indicative of the needs and desires of the person feeling that emotion. When expressed these convey that information to relational partner. We are interested in people’s willingness to express these emotions, how relational contexts shapes people’s willingness to express emotion and how choices to express or to suppress emotions ultimately influence well-being. Other emotions (e.g. embarrassment, guilt, hurt, gratitude) are indicative of the welfare of relationships. We are interested in people’s experiences and expressions of these emotions and the implications of feeling and expressing these emotions for the initiation, maintenance and repair of close relationships.
How do people initiate relationships? We investigate how self-protection, self-promotion and partner evaluation intertwine and contribute to the initiation of close relationships.
Other issues. In collaboration with graduate students and other faculty I also investigate other topics relevant to close relationships. Some recent foci of research including how merely sharing experiences influences the felt intensity of those experiences, how reliance of conscious reasoning influences one’s ability to pick up on the emotion cues others give off, the impact of being cute on partner reactions to a person, and the nature of individuals’ interdependent identities.
Lemay, E.P., Overall, N.C., & Clark, M.S. (2012). Experiences and interpersonal consequences of hurt feelings and anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 982-1006.
Clark, M.S., Greenberg, A., Hill, E., Lemay, E.P., Clark-Polner, E. & Roosth, D. (2011). Heightened interpersonal security diminishes the monetary value of possessions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 359-364.
Clark, M.S., Lemay, E.P. Jr., Graham, S.M., Pataki, S.P. & Finkel, E.J. (2010). Ways of giving benefits in marriage: Norm use, relationship satisfaction, and attachment-related variability. Psychological Science, 21, 944-951.
Lambert, N.M., Clark, M.S., Durtschi, J, Fincham, F.D., & Graham, S.M. (2010). Benefits of expressing gratitude: Expressing gratitutde to a partner changes one’s view of the relationship. Psychological Science, 21, 574-580.
Beck, L.A., & Clark, M.S. (2010). Looking a gift horse in the mouth as a defense against increasing intimacy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 676-679.