I am interested in cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and emotional phenomena relevant to the self and interpersonal relationships. Rather than studying these topics in isolation, I am especially interested in how self and relationships connect. My current research addresses (1) processes that contribute to achieving or failing to achieve the sense that one is valued and cared for by close relationship partners, including processes involving subjective construction and interpersonal interactions; (2) the etiology and consequences of communal motivation in close relationships; (3) interpersonal functions of emotions such as anger and hurt feelings; and (4) memories of close relationships.
This research utilizes a combination of experimental, survey, longitudinal, and daily-diary methodologies, incorporates self-report, behavioral observation, and reaction time measures, and often involves sophisticated statistical analyses such as multilevel modeling and structural equation modeling. In addition, much of this research seeks to identify generalities across relationship types (i.e., romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships). Two examples are described in detail below.
Projection of Interpersonal Sentiments and Motivation
How do people know that a close partner cares for them? Conversely, why do some people doubt a partner’s care? Although the obvious answer is that people gauge care on the basis of a partner’s actual care (as expressed during social interaction), our research suggests that egocentric perception has a strong influence. That is, people often “project” their own feelings of care and concern onto their specific relationship partners, seeing partners they care for as being caring in return and seeing partners they do not care for as being similarly apathetic in return. Moreover, our research suggests that these subjective constructions of a partner’s care substantially influence feelings of satisfaction within close relationships as well as willingness to invest in close relationships and depend on partners. Recent research suggests that the classic “beautiful is good” effect may be explained by this projection process; people see attractive targets as especially socially receptive and responsive because they desire relationships with attractive targets and, as a result, tend to see those targets in a way that is congruent with this desire. This research puts a new spin on pop psychology and folk wisdom that promises positive outcomes for kind behavior. Many of those positive outcomes may be in our minds, due to strong tendencies to assume reciprocity of our kindness.
Authenticity and Suspicion in Close Relationships
People who feel insecure about others’ regard and affections often behave in ways that express their insecurities to others; they make “mountains out of molehills” by seeing events more negatively than warranted, frequently seek reassurance regarding their personal merits and others’ affections, and are generally emotionally volatile in the presence of others. Our research suggests that these reactions are not merely consequences of insecurity. Rather, they also serve to maintain that insecurity over time. In particular, once people know that they have expressed their insecurities to their partners, they may become suspicious that their partners are being “fake.” After all, it seems to be common knowledge that fragile, insecure people are treated with “kid gloves” – served exaggerated positive feedback and protected from more honest but negative feedback. Once these insecure individuals believe that others are “walking on eggshells” in this manner, they may have a reason to question the validity of others’ positive acts and to imagine the presence of hidden thoughts and feelings that are more negative. Hence, people who incessantly express insecurities undermine their own interpersonal well-being by giving themselves a reason to presume negative regard and rejection, despite the often contradictory behavioral evidence. Meanwhile, recent research suggests that partners may respond to emotionally volatile individuals by actually “walking on eggshells” around them, which may benefit insecure individuals.
- Close Relationships
- Communication, Language
- Emotion, Mood, Affect
- Interpersonal Processes
- Motivation, Goal Setting
- Person Perception
- Personality, Individual Differences
- Research Methods, Assessment
- Self and Identity
- Social Cognition
Research Group or Laboratory:
- Self and Interpersonal Processes Laboratory
- Clark, M. S., Greenberg, A., Hill, E., Lemay, E. P., Jr., 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 and attachment-related variability. Psychological Science, 21, 944-951.
- Cohen, S., & Lemay, E. (2007). Why would social networks be linked to affect and health practices? Health Psychology, 26, 410-417.
- Feeney, B. C., & Lemay, E. P., Jr. (2012). Surviving relationship threats: A theory of emotional capital. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1004-1017.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., & Ashmore, R. D. (2006). The relation of social approval contingency to trait self-esteem: Cause, consequence, or moderator? Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 121-139.
- 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.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., & Clark, M. S. (2008). “Walking on eggshells”: How expressing relationship insecurities perpetuates them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 420-441.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., & 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. P., Jr., & Clark, M. S. (2008). “You’re just saying that”: Contingencies of self-worth, suspicion, and authenticity in the partner affirmation process. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1376-1382.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., Clark, M. S., & Feeney, B. C. (2007). Projection of responsiveness to needs and the construction of satisfying communal relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 834-853.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., Clark, M. S., & Greenberg, A. (2010). What is beautiful is good because what is beautiful is desired: Physical attractiveness stereotyping as projection of interpersonal goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 339-353.
- Lemay, E. P. Jr., & Dudley, K. L. (2011). Caution: Fragile! Regulating the security of chronically insecure relationship partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 681-702.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., & Dudley, K. L. (2009). Implications of reflected appraisals of interpersonal insecurity for suspicion and power. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1672-1686.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., & O’Leary, K. (2012). Alleviating interpersonal suspicions of low self-esteem individuals: Negativity as honesty credentials. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31, 251-288.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., Overall, N. C., & Clark, M. S. (2012). Experiences and interpersonal consequences of hurt feelings and anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 982-1006.
- Lemay, E. P., Jr., Pruchno, R. A., & Feild, L. (2006). Accuracy and bias in perception of spouses’ life-sustaining medical treatment preferences. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36, 2337-2361.
- Yoo, S. H., Clark, M. S., Lemay, E. P., Jr., 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.
- Clark, M. S., & Lemay, E. P., Jr. (2010). Close relationships. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology (5 ed., Vol. 2, pp. 898-940). New York: Wiley.
- Multivariate Statistics
- Research Methods
- Seminar in Social Psychology and Relationships
- Social Psychology
Edward Lemay, Jr.
Department of Psychology
University of Maryland at College Park
Biology/Psychology Building Room 3147F
College Park, Maryland 20742
- Phone: (603) 862-4305
- Fax: (301) 314-9566