Research Themes and Current Studies

Some of the questions we are studying:

Research tells us that social connection is crucial to human mental and physical health, but many questions remain about the pathways by which these effects occur.

  • How do people regulate their own and each other's emotional experiences and behavior?
  • Does affectionate touch from a social partner have immediate effects on stress responses and emotion regulation processes?
  • Are daily changes in physical affection and sexual relations related to daily changes in emotion experiences and physical symptom reports?
  • How do cultural and social norms affect all of these processes?

Emotion and stress are complex phenomena incorporating multiple layers of behavioral, subjective, and physiological processes.  How do they fit within an evolutionary framework?

  • How does the autonomic nervous system contribute to emotion and stress responses -- or, put another way, how do emotion and stress affect the autonomic nervous system?
  • How do sex hormones adaptively influence emotion, cognition, attention, and the autonomic nervous system?
  • How and why do physiological effects of stress and emotion impact physical health?



We use tasks such as partner interactions, relived emotions, and stress performance tasks such as speech and arithmetic to evoke “real time” psychophysiological responses.  We also employ daily online diary studies to learn about our participants' lived experiences, which we can then link to their physiological responses in the lab.

We measure multiple aspects of psychophysiology and related cognitive processes:

  • Nonverbal behavior, particularly facial behavior (via observational coding and facial electromyography)
  • Autonomic nervous system physiology (psychophysiological measures include heart rate and impedance cardiography, blood pressure, skin conductance, respiration rate, and skin temperature)
  • Subjective experience, including quantitative ratings and qualitative responses
  • Neuropsychological measures, particularly tests of executive function