How does someone’s personality affect their social environment? And how does the social environment affect personality? We study the dynamics of personality in social contexts from a variety of perspectives. We define “personality” broadly to include traits, identities, roles, emotions, and motivations; and we study personality in many social contexts, including among strangers, in couples, in small groups, and in online societies. We study what people do, how people perceive what people do, and how people perceive one another’s perceptions. We look at the dynamics of personality on time scales ranging from the first impressions people form in seconds to personality development that takes place over decades. And we use a variety of research methods to answer these questions, including laboratory experiments and observations, ecological assessments, longitudinal studies, surveys, and both laboratory-based and automated analyses of digital data.

Interpersonal perception in different relational contexts

In our research on interpersonal perception we are interested in the beliefs and knowledge people have about themselves and one another, ranging from quick, first-impression judgments to lifelong accumulated knowledge about the self and others. All of our work assumes that interpersonal perception is a multiply determined process that depends on the person being perceived, the person doing the perceiving, and the context(s) in which it occurs. Our research typically measures or manipulates all of these factors to better understand how they work together. In recent work we have been studying the intersection of status hierarchies and interpersonal perception, including how someone’s status and the nature of a group hierarchy affect interpersonal perception, and how people decide who gets status in groups. We have also recently been studying how people form impressions on social media and how they use their impressions to make important social decisions.

Emotion processes in social contexts

Our previous work has found that the ways people regulate their emotions have important consequences for social functioning. We are bringing this work into the lab to more closely study how emotion regulation affects the impression formation process. What impressions do people form of others based on how they regulate their emotions? How do people use both expressive behavior and contextual information to form judgments of others’ personalities, and what are the consequences of those judgments?

Lifespan personality development

Personality typically becomes more and more stable in adulthood, but it remains changeable throughout the lifespan. We draw on a number of different sources to study personality stability and change. This includes our own data from a recently completed NSF-funded longitudinal study, run in collaboration with Gerard Saucier’s lab, to look at how changes in personality traits interact with changes in social roles and values over time in adulthood; data from Jennifer Pfeifer’s lab looking at the development of traits like conscientiousness and empathy in adolescence; and other archival sources.

Personality, identity, and reputation in online societies

How do people form impressions of one another online? What information do people use? How do those impressions drive important individual decisions (who to follow, who to trust information from) and how do those decisions help explain the larger structure of networks? Sanjay Srivastava is a co-founder of the Oregon Networked Society Initiative (ONSI), a recently formed interdisciplinary team of computer scientists and social and behavioral scientists interested in online social networks. Together in collaboration with Reza Rejaie’s research group in the Department of Computer and Information Science, we recently received an NIH grant to study personality, mental health, and social behavior online.

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