My research interests focuses upon: (a) close relationships, and (b) emotion.
At the broadest level I am interested in answering two questions: First, 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, we believe, these relationships are communal in nature. This means that they are characterized by members' non-contingent responsiveness to one another's welfare. We seek to identify and understand both interpersonal processes that support such responsiveness (e.g. open expression emotions may facilitate responsiveness to needs) and interpersonal processes that impede such responsiveness (e.g. giving benefits on an exchange basis may signal that the donor does not really care about one's welfare but is, instead, concerned only with his or her own welfare). We also examine individual differences between people insofar as they moderate the processes in which we are interested. For instance, low self-esteem and insecurity appears to impede people's ability to focus on partners' needs rather than on their own needs.
Second, 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 the partner's welfare (communal strength). We are interested in questions such as how people organize these relationships in hierarchies (e.g. whose needs take precedence over whose?), where felt responsibility to the self falls within these hierarchies, how matches and mis-matches in the structure of partners' hierarchies influence relationships, and how individual differences relate to the nature of these hierarchies.
We are interested in functions which emotions serve within interpersonal relationships. Some research focuses on how our emotions influence the nature of our interactions with others. For instance, does our sadness lead us to seek help from others (to alleviate our sadness), to provide help to others (as Cialdini's negative state relief model might suggest), or to withdraw from others (as they might make us feel worse)?
Other research focuses on people's willingness to express emotions such as anxiety, distress and fear which simultaneously reveal vulnerabilities (which might be exploited) and needs (which might be met). Finally, we are interested in the nature and functions of interpersonal emotions such as hurt, guilt, gratitude, and jealousy. These emotions tend to arise only within the context of close relationships and, we believe, they serve important functions in building, maintaining, and repairing relationships.
Clark, M.S. & Finkel, E.J. (in press). Type of relationship, relationship orientation, and their interaction as determinants of willingness to express emotions. Personal Relationships.
Reis, H, Clark, M.S., & Holmes, J. (2004). Perceived partner responsiveness as an organizing construct in the study of intimacy and closeness. In D. Mashek & A. Aron. (Eds.), The handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 201 - 225). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Mills, J., Clark, M.S., Ford, T., & Johnson, M. (2004). Measuring communal strength. Personal Relationships, 11, 213 - 230.
Clark, M.S. & Finkel, E. J. (2004). The benefits of selective expression of emotion within communal relationships. In L. Tiedens & C. W. Leach (Eds.), The social life of emotions. Cambridge University Press: England.