Hierarchy in Social Interactions

Centuries of theoretical development and studies among non-human species indicate that hierarchy is a foundational aspect of social life. Rank within non-human social groups determines desirable outcomes, including increased reproductive opportunities and grooming partners. Human social interactions are suffused with social hierarchy – it is rank within social interactions that shapes the life course, the attainment of one’s goals, and the pursuit of happiness and well-being. In the CSI lab, ongoing research projects examine the many facets of human social hierarchy – including social class, power, physical dominance, and respect – and their relationships to a variety of social outcomes. In particular, specific projects examine how current social class position shapes perceptions of economic mobility, how social power enhances the expression of one’s core traits, how status is signaled in nonverbal behavior, and how physical dominance displays predict aggressive or pro-social behaviors.

The Social Functions of Emotion

Emotions have been called the grammar of social life – people use expressions of emotion to communicate internal states to others both rapidly and accurately. Emotions serve particularly crucial functions during social interactions because they leak information, sometimes unintentionally, about our own internal goals and motivations. Without the ability to accurately read others’ emotions, social interactions would break down. In the CSI lab, ongoing research projects examine how discrete positive (e.g., compassion) and negative (e.g., shame, anger) emotions shape the trajectory of social interactions. In particular, specific projects examine how physical touch can enhance empathy and cooperation between teammates, how linked physiological responses in interactions can lead to more harmonious social relationships, and how individual differences in empathic responses can both improve and disrupt close relationships.

Close Relationships and the Social Self

Our social selves develop throughout the life course and are fundamentally shaped by relationships with close others – romantic partners, parents, and siblings. One of the ongoing research programs in the CSI lab involves understanding how these models of the social self – shaped by past experiences with close others – are re-experienced in new social interactions. In particular, specific projects examine how new interactions benefit positively or negatively based on the similarity of an interaction partner to a past romantic partner, how past romantic partners shape the relational goals we pursue in new romances, and how past relationships influence patterns of psychophysiology and empathy – even during interactions with complete strangers.