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Personality and Social Contexts (P&SC)

Area Chair: Fiona Lee, Arthur F Thurnau Professor of Psychology

2023-24 P&SC area

The Personality & Social Contexts (P&SC) area is committed to the analysis and understanding of individuals with a focus on how social contexts affect people’s development and well-being. This simultaneous focus on the person and the social environment has a long history in the discipline of psychology, which has continually emphasized that this dual focus is necessary to understand the most important questions in the field. P&SC as an area takes up this dual focus by studying the intersection of persons and social context in multiple ways. P&SC faculty and students examine the person through multiple lenses such as hormones, traits, race, gender, sexuality, and social identities. In the same way, research in the area focuses on many different types of social contexts, including close/intimate relationships, families, schools, organizations, communities, history, economies, and cultures. This attention to both the micro and macro levels of analysis has been used to examine a range of issues such as social inequalities, stigma, and resilience.

While the theoretical orientations and research interests of area faculty range widely, much of their work can be subsumed under five broad themes: (1) inequality and social justice; (2) race/ethnicity, gender, and culture; (3) organizations and community; (4) sexuality and close relationships; and (5) identity, resilience, and well-being. These five themes structure our emphasis on the psychological study of individuals who are located in sociopolitical contexts, which are often unequal and have differential consequences. We express this emphasis in empirical research that focuses on how people survive, cope, and thrive in often discriminatory and sometimes changing contexts. These contexts might be felt as a result of race and racism, illness and aging, stigma and hate, as well as many other conditions that deeply affect how individuals feel and think about themselves and their lives.

Our faculty and students have developed strong inter-disciplinary connections. Faculty and students often pursue research and training in other areas of psychology, and other disciplines in the social sciences, natural sciences, and the humanities. Many area faculty and student are also members of the joint doctoral programs in Psychology and Women’s Studies and Psychology and Social Work. We see this set of inter-disciplinary connections as an important strength of P&SC. These kinds of connections are increasingly essential and represent a trend not only in psychology, but the university more broadly. Being able to translate one’s research to several audiences, or in several different domains, and to draw on the intellectual tools and perspectives of other fields, is an essential aspect of high quality contemporary research. Area faculty also have expertise in a variety of methods, including expertise in: surveys, interviews and observations, case studies and life history analysis, standard personality inventories and scales, content analysis and narrative methods, archival methods, ethnographic methods, projective techniques, measurement of cognitive processes, biomarkers, mobile applications, and laboratory experimentation. We share a view that the ability to draw on a large toolkit in investigating any phenomenon is crucial for advancing the study of psychological phenomena. This extensive range of research methods and practices is core strength of the area.