Social Psychology at Rutgers/Newark emphasizes both basic and applied social psychology; we are interested in discovery, theory building, and addressing social issues. Students work closely with faculty on topics ranging from attachment styles and criminality; implicit self-esteem and self-stereotyping; the efficacy of different forms of negotiation styles; and how social support affects perception of hills, heights, and spiders, and many other topics.
These varied interests introduce students to a commensurate range of research skills, including elaborate experimental designs, field studies, interviewing and focus groups, survey designs, and neuro-imaging. Students are quickly involved in on-going research, and often begin presenting research at conferences and co-authoring papers by their second year of training.
Students are often introduced to other units on campus (such as the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice) and to faculty at other universities, due to extensive collaborations conducted by the social psychology faculty. Graduate students also have access to training through the Rutgers Neuroimaging Center, funded cooperatively by Rutgers and the National Science Foundation.
The Social area is one of four total areas of training emphasis in the department, along with Neuroscience, Perception/Cognition, and Developmental psychology. Graduate students in our department receive broadly-based training across these areas through coursework and mentored research experiences. Graduate students in the Department of psychology typically receive funding for five years of study, which includes tuition waivers and stipends through a mix of fellowships and assistantships. For more information about applying to our graduate program overall, please consult Admissions & Requirements.
The Social area faculty include Harold Siegel, Professor Kent Harber, Professor and Graduate Director, and Luis Rivera, Associate Professor.
Harold I. Siegel, Professor of Psychology (Ph.D., Rutgers). Research areas: attachment, adult attachment, attachment security/insecurity. According to Attachment Theory, we are all capable of forming a strong attachment to our primary caregiver(s). However, the nature of our attachment, secure or insecure, depends in large part on how we were raised by our attachment figure(s). My research has focused on determining the role of attachment on a variety of behaviors including jury decision making, somatization, college student success, eating behavior, romantic relationships, and sexual offending. In addition, we have used attachment as a pedagogical intervention to modify avoidant and ambivalent behaviors.
Kent D. Harber, Professor of Psychology and Graduate Director (Ph.D., Stanford). Research areas: psychosocial resources; interracial feedback; communication and coping. I study how peoples’ motives, emotions, and needs affect their perceptions, judgments, and behaviors. My Resources and Perception Model research shows that for people lacking social support, self-worth or other resources, hills appear steeper, heights higher, tarantulas closer, and baby cries more extreme.. Resources also affect the Positive Feedback Bias, wherein whites provide more lenient feedback to minorities than to fellow whites. The positive bias is greater among whites whose self-image has been threatened or who lack social support. My Emotional Broadcaster Theory shows that the internal need to disclose major events turns people into news broadcasters, whose stories alert and inform others.
Luis M. Rivera, Associate Professor of Psychology (Ph.D., Massachusetts). Research areas: implicit social cognition, stereotyped attitudes, self-concept, health. My research examines the implicit social cognitive processes (mechanisms that lie outside of conscious awareness, intention, or control) that influence stereotyped attitudes and the self-concept. With respect to stereotyped attitudes, I investigate the conditions under which the motivation to maintain one’s self- versus group-image leads to differential effects on prejudice; and the extent to which implicit prejudice leads to subtle and overt discriminatory behavioral actions. With respect to the self-concept, I examine the implicit social cognitive processes that underlie the effect of cultural stereotypes on stigmatized individuals’ self-concept and identity; and how such processes in turn affect their health.
Samantha J. Heintzelman, Assistant Professor of Psychology (Ph.D., Missouri). Research areas: meaning in life; subjective well-being. My research examines questions regarding the experience of meaning in life, such as “What makes life meaningful?” “Why is meaning in life a central human motivation?” and “What is the purpose of this feeling?” I have focused on coherence as a fundamental element of meaning in life and has found meaning in life to be a common experience linked to intuitive cognitive processes and related to behavioral routines. I also conduct both basic and applied research to address questions about another aspect of good lives—subjective well-being, or happiness—including: Can intervention sustainably increase happiness? Do long-term happiness changes have downstream positive effects across life domains? And how might happiness color the way we see the social world?