Feeling at the mercy of a given situation or of other people can often leave people feeling powerless to making changes that can improve the quality of their lives. A simple but powerful assumption provides the foundation for my research: people create what they experience through the goals and beliefs that drive their behavior. As a social psychologist, I draw from the close relationships literature and use a combination of methodological approaches to explain the very basic, but often overlooked issue of how people’s intentions toward others affect their relationships and the consequences of these processes for the self and others. I examine these processes across various types of relationships, including in roommates, friends, coworkers, married and dating couples, and in interactions between strangers and acquaintances.
My program of work shows that people’s goals or intentions toward others have powerful consequences for close relationships and personal well-being. When people have compassionate goals to support others, they and their relationships flourish: they give to others and others reciprocate, leading to better relationships and enhanced personal well-being for both people. People with self-image goals to manipulate others’ views of the self focus on meeting their own needs and view others as a means to get what they want or need. As a result, they and their relationships function poorly: they give less and others reciprocate, leading to poor relationship functioning and diminished personal well-being for both people (Canevello & Crocker, 2010; 2011; Crocker & Canevello, 2008; Crocker, Canevello, Breines, & Flynn, 2010; Mischkowski, Crocker, Niiya, Canevello, & Moeller, under review). More recently, I have begun to examine the ways in which interpersonal goals shape responses to adversity, including approaches interpersonal problems, forgiveness following relationship transgressions, and personal growth following traumatic events.
Broadly, my research attempts to answer big questions, such as:
When and how do we create upward and downward spirals in our relationships with others?
How do we contribute to what others experience?
What does it mean to have good relationships and how can we create them?
What are the benefits of giving vs. receiving?
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