Our laboratory examines how social & emotional reasoning change during adulthood. As we grow older, our experiences help us to determine which strategies might work best for us when we are faced with emotional problems, social dilemmas, or everyday challenges that require us to balance our time & energy between multiple activities. At the same time, we undergo physical changes that can influence how quickly we react to the world around us as well as the kinds of information that we focus on while we are taking in our environment. Our research examines these two competing forces to explain how they interact to influence the judgments and decisions that individuals make when faced with laboratory tasks that have been designed to capture the everyday social processes in which we are regularly engaged.
Currently, the lab is investigating how adults decipher the emotions expressed on the faces of friends and strangers. Recognizing emotions in the faces of others is important to interpersonal communication, both for accomplishing one's own personal goals as well as for determining the intentions of others. Additionally, there are a number of factors (e.g., emotion regulatory skills, personality characteristics, personal beliefs, symptoms of psychopathology, etc.) that can impact this discrimination process. The lab is attempting to identify the unique impact of each factor as well as the role that the aging process plays in either enhancing or impairing our sensitivity to emotional cues found in our environment. Recently, the Psychology Department acquired dense array EEG equipment, so the lab is also working on projects to examine how the brains of younger and older adults react to emotional stimuli. Neurocorrelates associated with emotion recognition can be valuable in explaining why differences emerge in younger and older adults' perception of emotion in faces.
In addition to our work on emotion recognition, the lab is also investigating how changes in our priorities in the latter half of life can influence the ways that we may interact with people who are experiencing emotion or causing emotions in others. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie goal activation & implementation are vital to determining why age differences in social problem solving emerge as individuals grow older.