What does your research focus on?
I have a number of research interests related to interpersonal relationships. One line of research examines motivated cognition within the context of relationships, especially how motivation may bias perceptions of partners’ care, commitment, and regard. In a related line of research, I am examining the motivation to be valued by partners and its impact on interpersonal behavior. Finally, in a third line of research, I am examining how people manage relationships with chronically insecure and emotionally unstable relationship partners.
What drew you to this line of research and why is it exciting to you?
I have always been intrigued by social interaction and wondered why some relationships seem to work and others seem so problematic. As an undergraduate, I read The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson and was fascinated and excited to learn that these issues are legitimate targets of scientific inquiry. This is an exciting field for me because I believe interpersonal relationships are enormously important for understanding psychological functioning, and that many of the ways in which our functioning depends on interpersonal relationships still await discovery. In addition, with a focus on the interplay between two individuals (i.e., interpersonal processes examined in dyadic studies), the study of interpersonal relationships demands a complexity that I find captivating.
Who were/are your mentors or scientific influences?
As an undergraduate at Worcester State University, Pearl Mosher-Ashley initially involved me in research and helped me see research as a feasible career. I don’t know what I would be doing today if we didn’t cross paths. At Rutgers, where I earned my master’s degree, I worked with Richard Ashmore, who was an attentive mentor and taught me the importance of diligence, creativity, and theoretical thinking. For my dissertation, I worked with Peggy (Margaret) Clark at Carnegie Mellon University and then at Yale University. I couldn’t have hoped for a better graduate advisor. Working with Peggy was perhaps the biggest lucky break of my career. She was generous with time, data, money, authorship, and space. She taught me how to think big and how to conduct programmatic research. She supported and cultivated my ideas, even when they were only tangentially related to her own work. She was warm and approachable, despite being a luminary in the field. Although they were not formal advisors, Sheldon Cohen, Jack Dovidio, and Brooke Feeney have been supportive mentors as well.
In addition, many other psychologists have influenced my thinking. Some of the most notable influences include John Holmes, Dave Kenny, Sandra Murray, Harry Reis, Caryl Rusbult, Jeff Simpson, and Bill Swann. Their work inspires me.
What’s your future research agenda?
There are many things I would like to do. I plan to continue to study motivated cognition in interpersonal relationships, distinctions between interpersonal confidence and interpersonal desire, effects of interpersonal goals on interactions and relationships, and effects of partners’ personality on relationship maintenance strategies. I find all of these areas to be captivating. In the long-term, there are many areas of psychology that would profit from a greater consideration of interpersonal relationships, and I would like to contribute to that theoretical and empirical integration.
What publication are you most proud of?
Lemay, E. P., Jr., & Dudley, K. L. (2011). Caution: Fragile! Regulating the interpersonal security of chronically insecure partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 681–702.
This publication presents and tests a model of the interpersonal regulation of chronically insecure and emotionally volatile relationship partners. Multiple research methods were used to demonstrate that people “walk on eggshells” around insecure partners, and that this strategy may help maintain those partners’ perceptions of acceptance. I feel proud of this work because it underscores the importance of taking a dyadic approach. Personality dispositions that are traditionally thought to result in relationship insecurity (e.g., low self-esteem, attachment anxiety, proneness to anger and hurt feelings) do not predict insecurity when partners actively work to disconfirm negative expectancies and maintain interpersonal harmony.