WHAT WE DO
We conceptualize “social stress” as experiences of stress rooted in real or perceived social interactions or evaluative judgments. Our research to date has included work on stereotype threat, ostracism, social evaluative threat, and discrimination. Below we describe active areas of study in the laboratory.
The dominant perspective in society is that stress is “bad for me” and has debilitating consequences for performance, wellbeing, and health. Given this cultural narrative, it is no surprise that stress regulation and wellness programs focus on avoiding stressors and reducing stress. However, stress is not inherently negative. Stressful experiences can lead to physiological and psychological thriving, and improve performance and wellbeing when stressors are perceived as growth opportunities and stress responses are appraised as functional and adaptive. Along these lines, researchers in the Social Stress Lab seek to develop regulatory tools to help people optimize their stress responses in motivated performance and skill acquisition contexts. Interventions developed in the lab, and in collaboration with other groups, invite individuals to (a) perceive stress responses as functional and adaptive, and (b) see opportunities inherent in stress. Past and on-going projects have developed and tested stress optimization approaches in myriad settings with diverse samples, including laboratory experiments with physiological measurement, field studies that incorporate daily diary methods, and double-blind classroom experiments with high school, community college, and 4-year university students.
Emotion regulation studies constitute a core line of research in the Social Stress Lab. Traditionally, emotion regulation processes have been studied by examining single regulatory approaches in an emotional episode. However, people frequently identify, select, and implement multiple regulatory strategies in real world contexts. For instance, during a job interview one might seek to suppress signs that they are feeling nervous, but also seek to reappraise their stress responses as functional. How might those suppression and reappraisal strategies interact? To answer such questions research in the Social Stress Lab takes an emotion polyregulation approach, which refers to the concurrent or sequential use of multiple approaches to regulate emotions within a single emotion episode as polyregulation. On-going research focuses on examining how oppositional and synergistic concurrent regulation approaches impact affective responses to social evaluative stressors.
Research in the Social Stress lab seeks to elucidate the effects of resource inequality on affective and physiological responses, and how these responses impact downstream decision-making outcomes. More specifically, our laboratory paradigms seek to create immersive experiences of inequality by manipulating resources in the context of competitive games (e.g. “lifelines” commonly found in trivia games or poker chips in Blackjack) to isolate proximal affective mechanisms. Outside the lab, we are exploring the impact of racial income inequality on targeted psychological processes and downstream race-based psychological outcomes. For instance, in one line of inquiry, we combine ZIP-code level variables (e.g. Black-White income differences) with individual self-report to assess how socio-demographic variables influence perceptions of interracial outcomes. We posit that racial income inequality breeds perceptions of interracial competition via social comparison processes and perceived resource threat.