Social Psychology at Rutgers/Newark emphasizes basic and applied social psychology; we are interested in discovery, theory building, and addressing social issues.  Students work closely with faculty on topics that include attachment styles and criminality; emotional disclosure; implicit biases and their effect on the self-concept, identity, and health; interracial feedback; the nature, need and benefits of meaning, how psychological resources affect social and physical perception, and subjective well-being.

These varied interests introduce students to a wide range of research skills, including lab-based experimental designs, field studies, interviewing and focus groups, survey design, and neuro-imaging. Students are quickly involved in on-going research, and often present research at conferences and are co-authoring papers by their second year of training. 

Students and their advisors often collaborate with developmental, cognitive and cognitive neuro-science faculty within the department.  They also work with other units on campus, such as the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, and with faculty at other universities.  Graduate students also have access to training at the Rutgers University Brain Imaging Center (RUBIC), funded cooperatively by Rutgers and the National Science Foundation.

The Social area is one of four 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 Kent Harber, Samantha Heintzelman, Luis Rivera, and Harold Siegel. 

Kent D. Harber,  Professor of Psychology (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 (RPM) 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 research on emotional disclosure shows that disclosure promotes forgiveness and reduces victim-blaming, and enhances executive control and math ability.

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?

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.  

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 college student success, romantic relationships, and sexual offending.  In addition, we have used attachment as a pedagogical intervention to modify avoidant and ambivalent behaviors.