My research interests fall in the areas of close relationships, emotion, and the intersection of those two areas.
I've long been interested in the normative nature of interpersonal processes as they occur within family relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships. Much of my early work was devoted to demonstrating that the norms governing the giving and receiving of benefits in such close relationships are distinct from those governing the giving and receiving of benefits in other relationships. In particular, I have proposed and shown that it is normative (and beneficial) for people who desire and who have intimate relationships to attend to others' needs, desires and welfare and to give benefits, non-contingently to promote partner welfare (Clark, Ouellette, Powell & Milberg, 1987; Clark & Taraban, 1991; WIlliamson & Clark, 1989; 1992). They do this, I've suggested and shown, while eschewing keeping track of individual inputs and outcomes and resisting calculating fairness on an exchange basis in these relationships (Clark & Mills, 1979; Clark, 1984; Clark, Mills, & Corcoran, 1989).
More recently, I've studied factors influencing people's ability to adhere to communal norms while establishing and then engaging in established ongoing, intimate, relationships -- including marriages, romantic relationships, friendships and family relationships. People do, overwhelmingly, follow communal norms not only when establishing but also within established intimate relationships and they and their partners feel best when they do so (Clark et al., 2010). In high quality intimate relationships they express emotion, which conveys need states, as they do (Clark & Finkel, 2004) and they give and receive responsive care and feel good when they do. However, people low in trust of others experience many difficulties including: reluctance to enter socially diagnostic situations (which is crucial in order to start such relationships) (Beck & Clark, 2009), biases against perceiving that partners truly do care for them (Beck & Clark, 2010) as well as an absence of biases favoring perceptions that partners care when one desires communal relationships( Lemay & Clark & Feeney, 2007; Lemay & Clark, 2008). They also experience difficulties in responding to partner's negative emotions constructively (Yoo, Clark, Lemay, Salovey & Monin, 2011), harmful tendencies toward idealizing or villifying partners rather than seeing them in the more balanced, ways that form a necessary base for giving and seeking responsiveness (Graham & Clark, 2006) and difficulties in resisting shifts to more exchange oriented ways of interacting during troubled times (Grote & Clark, 2001; Clark, Lemay, Graham, Pataki, & Finkel, 2010). .
Another recent and active research focus is on the nature of relationship initiation (Clark & Beck, 2011; Beck & Clark, 2009; 2010).
In particular I am interested in how people negotiate their way from initial attraction to a potential romantic partner or friend to the existence of an established, committed relationship with such a person. In studying this process I have focused on the nature and roles of self-presentation, self-protection, and partner evaluation during the initiation of close relationships.
My current views on the nature communal responsiveness (and factors that promote interfere with responsiveness and the initiation of relationships) a a review of much relevant research are covered in a number of recent review articles (Clark, 2011; Clark, 2012, in press; Clark & Lemay, 2010; Clark & Reis, in press; Reis, Clark & Holmes, 2004).
I have had a long term and continuing interest in the nature of emotion, emotion regulation and links between emotion and social behavior. I am especially interested in how relational context shapes people's willingness to express emotions indicative of needs (Clark, Fitness & Brisette, 2001; Monin, Matire, Schulz, & Clark, 2009) and responsiveness to partners who express emotions (Clark, et al., 1987; Clark & Taraban, 1991; Clark & Finkel, 2005). I am also interested in the ways in which willingness to express emotions elicits responsiveness in partners and builds relationships (Graham, Huang, Clark & Helgeson, 2008) as well as in the nature of "relational emotions" such as embarrassment, gratitude, hurt, guilt, empathic happiness and empathic distress, and, most recently, on how relational context can shape the likelihood of experiencing emotion and it's very nature (Lambert, Clark. Durtschi, Fincham, & Graham, 2010). Finally, I am interest in ways in which relational context and the social functions of relationships shape the very nature of emotion perception and experience.
Other, related, interests
Other current research pursuits (in collaboration with graduate students Oriana Aragon, Erica Boothby, Kate Von Cullin, Becca, Lauren Ruth, & Jacqueline Smith) include automatic emotion regulation, how relationship attitudes influence tendencies to suppress and amplfy expressions of emotion, cognitive factors that interfere with reading partner emotion, the impact of sharing experiences with others on cognition and emotion, and relational foci of attention.
- Close Relationships
- Emotion, Mood, Affect
- Interpersonal Processes
- Personality, Individual Differences
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- Clark, M.S. & Boothby, E. (in press). A strange(r) analysis of morality: A consideration of relational context and the broader literature is needed. Brain and Behavioral Sciences.
- Beck, L., & Clark, M.S. (2009). Providing more support than we seek. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 267-270.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lambert, N.M., Clark, M.S., Durtschi, J, Fincham, F.D., & Graham, S.M. (2010). Benefits of expressing gratitude: Expressing gratitude to a partner changes one’s view of the relationship. Psychological Science, 21, 574-580.
- Lemay, E.P. Jr., & Clark, M.S. (2009). Self-esteem and communal responsiveness toward a flawed partner: The fair-weather care of low-self-esteem individuals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 698-712.
- Yoo, S.H., Clark, M.S., Lemay, E.P., Salovey, P., & Monin, J.K. (2011). Responding to partners’ expression of anger: The role of communal motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 229-241.
- Beck, L., & Clark, M.S. (2009). Choosing to enter or to evade socially diagnostic situations. Psychological Science, 20, 1175-1181.
- Graham, S.M., Huang, J., Clark, M.S. & Helgeson, V. (2008).The positives of negative emotion: Willingness to express negative emotions promotes relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34, 394-406.
- Lemay, E.P., & Clark, M.S. (2008). How the head liberates the heart: Projection of communal responsiveness guides relationship promotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 647-671.
- Lemay, E. & Clark, M.S. (2008). “You’re just saying that.” Contingencies of self- worth, suspicion, and authenticity in the interpersonal affirmation process. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 95, 420-441.
- Monin, J., Clark, M.S., & Lemay, E. P. (2008). Expecting more responsiveness from and feeling more responsiveness toward female than toward male family members. Sex Roles, 59, 176-188.
- Lemay, E.P. & Clark, M.S. (2008,). Walking on eggshells: How expressing relationship insecurities perpetuates them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 420-441.
- Graham, S.M. & Clark, M.S. (2006). The Jekyll and Hyde-ing of relationship partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 652-665.
- Clark, M.S. & Lemay, E.P. Jr. (2010). Close relationships. In S.T. Fiske, D.T. Gilbert, & L, Gardner (Eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol 2 (5th ed.), (pp. 898-940. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Clark, M.S. & Mills, J.R. (2012). A theory of communal (and exchange) relationships. In P.A.M. Van Lange, A.W. Kruglanski, & E.T. Higgins (Eds.) Handbook of theories of social psychology, Vol. 2 (pp. 232-250). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.
- Clark, M.S. & Beck, L.A. (2011). Initiating and evaluating close relationships: A task central to emerging adults. In F.D. Fincham & M.Cui (Eds.) Romantic relationships in emerging adulthood (pp. 190-212), New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press.
- Clark, M. S., & Fitness, J., & Brissette, I. (2001). Understanding people’s perceptions of relationships is crucial to understanding their emotional lives. (pp. 253-278) In G. Fletcher, & M. S. Clark, (Eds.), Interpersonal Processes. Volume 3 of the Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology. Blackwell.
- Clark, M.S., Graham, S.M., Williams, E., & Lemay, E. P. (2008,). Understanding relational focus of attention may help us understand relational phenomena. In J. Social Relationships: Cognitive, Affective and Motivational Processes. In J. Forgas & J. Fitness (Eds.) s. New York: Psychology Press.
Department of Psychology
New Haven, Connecticut 06520
- Phone: (203) 432-4500