Research Focus

Research Focus of the SRL at Rhode Island College

Xijk = µk + αik + βjk + γijk + εijk        

 Xjik = µk + αjk + βik + γjik + εjik            

Social Behavior is Dyadic

A basic assumption is that social relations between individuals and groups are dyadic.  The social relations model in the form of the equations above is used to represent dyadic interaction of two individuals or groups, theoretically.

Theoretical Assumptions in Social Relations Research

A basic premise is that when people interact (Persons A and B), each is both an actor that emits behavior and a partner that effects the behavior of the other.  These actor and partner effects are at the individual level of analysis.   The actor effect is the consistency of the actor’s behavior while interacting with multiple partners, and can be thought of as the cross-situational consistency of the actor’s behavior while treating the partners as different “situations.”   The partner effect is the consistent behavior that a person elicits from others, and can be thought of as the cross-situational consistency of the partner’s stimulus effect on others generally.

The dyadic focus also requires another level of analysis.   People sometimes use the metaphor of having the right chemistry, hitting it off, being in synch with one another, being like water and vinegar, or rubbing each other the wrong way when describing unique processes that occur with two specific people.   Our research on interpersonal relations acknowledges these unique processes that occur between specific people.  This uniqueness effect is at the level of the dyad and means that in some two person arrangements there may be “good chemistry” and in others “bad chemistry.”

When the research focus is dyadic behavior, these three effects of actor, partner and dyadic uniqueness must be considered for theoretical precision; they must also be considered empirically so that estimates of phenomena are precise and unbiased.    Imagine that person A likes person B.   If the level of liking is measured, that measurement probably contains an effect due to person A’s tendency to like others (including B), B’s tendency to be liked by others (including A), and A’s unique liking for B after controlling for A’s tendency to like and B’s tendency to be liked.   The social relations research designs page provides details on the different designs we use.



Theoretical Assumptions that Guide our Intergroup Relations Research

The laboratories work on intergroup relations has been guided by a theoretical model called the Intergroup Relations Model (IRM).   The IRM (Malloy, 2008; Malloy & Kinney, 2017) builds on logic of realistic conflict theory (Campbell, 1965; Levine & Campbell, 1972) and social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979).

Group formation is adaptive species often form collectives to thrive.  Fish and birds move in synchronous large groups that are perceived as units to reduce predation, detect food, and minimize the energy expended.  These patterns are observed in slime mold, migrating geese, mammals, and humans.  Human group formation provides adaptive advantages that include safety, mating opportunities, specialization and task allocation.  Coordinated human activity benefits the individual members as well as the collective to which they belong evolutionary social psychological theory proposes that group formation was a necessary context for adaptive human evolution (Brewer, & Caporael, 2006).  This adaptive advantage of groups also breeds intergroup conflict, and if one is awake, one knows the destructive potential of intergroup conflict.  Understanding the functions of intergroup relations and the implementation of structural frameworks that minimize conflict and maximize positive outcomes represents one of the greatest challenges humans face (Malloy, 2008).  In contrast to other animals, humans can destroy life on earth, and barring a catastrophic cosmic event, destructive intergroup relations would probably be the origin of a human cataclysm.

The IRM assumes that resources available to groups and the humans that form them are finite. Groups benefit their members by garnering a substantial portion of available resources; what is good for the group is good for the individual members.  But, people do not live by bread alone, and the IRM assumes further that personal identity derives from membership in a collective.  Being a member of the student body at a rural community college or at a prestigious Ivy League university probably impacts one’s sense of self.  A theoretical assumption is that as people struggle to procure bread and group belonging, they confront other groups with identical goals.   The conditions under which meet and compete determines the outcomes of group interactions.   The IRM stipulates that relative status of different groups (sometimes called ethnocentrism) and out-group stereotypes, impact intergroup emotion, that subsequently impacts intergroup behavior.   The causal effects of status, group stereotypes and intergroup emotion se intergroup processes are moderated by the equality or inequality of groups’ opportunities for achieving material (e.g., food, shelter, money) and social (e.g., trust, respect, reputation) resources.  In this sense, the IRM can be viewed as a moderated-mediational model of intergroup processes.

The IRM has been a theoretical guide for research on the dyadic interactions of gay and heterosexual men (Miller & Malloy, 2003), Black and White men (Malloy, Ristikari, Berrios-Candeleria, Lewis, & Agatstein, 2011), and in minimal groups with experimentally manipulated status and group stereotypes (Malloy & Kinney, 2017).  Follow this link to access these papers.


Research on Social Vision

Our lab has been actively studying social vision since 2008 when funding from the Rhode Island IDea Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) permitted us to purchase Tobii eye-tracking technology.   Our current support from RI INBRE is through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.  Research thus far has focused on the effect of facial features such as skin tone and facial symmetry on visual attention, face recognition and subsequent behavior.  More information can be found on the social vision page .