Current Research

To find out more about the lab's work, please see these topics:

Studies currently underway:

Student-led Projects:

Research Topics

The Impact of Relationships on Interpersonal Dynamics and the Self

A portion of our work centers on how experiences in past relationships influence experiences in new and ongoing relationships. Accordingly, we have examined how individuals use working models of attachment relationships to guide their perceptions of new people via transference paradigms (Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2004; 2007). Interestingly, we have found that even when new individuals bear no resemblance to past partners, representations of past partners continue to impact reactions to novel people. These results suggest that working models may guide the interpretation of new people, regardless of the actual qualities of those people. These findings are also congruent with ideas that have been laid out by attachment theorists, namely, that representations of significant others bias perceptions of one's social surroundings in ways that are consistent with one's beliefs, even in the absence of appropriate information (Collins, 1996).

An online study that relates to our transference of attachment studies can be found here.
This on-line study will provide you with feedback on how your relationships with significant others (moms, dads, best friends, romantic partners) are organized in your mind.

In terms of relationships' impact on one's sense of self, we are examining how important relationship memories and representations can temporarily impact people’s contingencies of self-worth, or self-esteem that is derived from specific domains of life. Generally, this field of research has found that people can base their self-worth in a variety of life domains, such as academic competence, physical appearance, and approval from others (e.g., Crocker et al., 2003). Because there is evidence that attachment is linked to levels of self-esteem in adulthood (Collins & Read, 1990), as well as domain-contingent self-worth, we are currently studying how the activation of relational memories and significant other representations affects contingent self-worth, depending on one's attachment style.

The Function of Attachment Relationships

We are also interested in the functions that close relationships serve. In one project we examined the possible purposes and outcomes of so-called rebound relationships. A rebound relationship is generally defined as one that is initiated shortly after the dissolution of a prior romantic relationship, before the feelings of the previous relationship are resolved. Rebounds are typically viewed as a quick fix or substitution to avoid the emotional repercussions of a breakup. So far, our findings suggest that rebounding may have beneficial rather than negative consequences. We are currently conducting follow-up work in order to establish a more concrete definition of rebound relationships, as well as examine whether rebounds provide similar benefits to those documented in relationships more generally.

We have also examined the function of close relationships through the lens of evolutionary psychology. This work was driven by questions concerning why it is that adult humans pair-bond, while most other animals do not form close emotional bonds to mates. In order to examine the evolution of adult attachment (i.e., pair-bonding), we applied comparative methods to archival data collected on diverse samples of mammalian species (Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2006; Fraley, Brumbaugh, & Marks, 2005). When we reconstructed the evolution of adult attachment, we found that the association between paternal care and adult attachment may be functional, but the association between adult attachment and developmental immaturity is likely due to shared ancestry between species. These findings indicate that although paternal care and neoteny are both related to adult attachment, it is paternal care that appears to be functionally related to pair-bonding in humans.

We have also used evolutionary principles to examine how relational choices might be adaptive. My colleagues and I have found that not only do people become more agreeable with age, they also prefer more agreeable partners as they get older (e.g., Brumbaugh & Wood, 2013). We are currently extending this work on communal personality traits to get a better understanding of the mechanisms of this communal shift.

Dating Behavior and Attraction

Another focus of my research is aimed at determining how people select partners and how people portray themselves in new dating contexts as a function of their attachment style. Prior research has found that overall, both secure and insecure people explicitly report the strongest attraction to secure partners (Frazier et al., 1996; Klohnen & Luo, 2003). Much of my current work is driven by the following question: if people tend to report being most attracted to partners who are secure, why do a sizeable number of people nevertheless end up with partners who are insecure and make them unhappy?

One possible answer to this question is that insecurely attached people are not "all bad," but instead display desirable features in spite of their insecurities (Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2010). We are currently examining how insecure people portray themselves in online datings ads and how they are perceived by others in online dating contexts.

Another possibility is that people can have opposing feelings and desires for potential mates, some of which lead them to prefer well-adjusted mates and others that draw them to qualities that are destructive to relationships. If it is the case that people are drawn to partners with negative interpersonal characteristics when those partners are desirable in other ways, this would suggest that people are willing to dismiss undesirable features in partners regardless of the possible negative relational repercussions of those qualities.