Interpersonal processes

Touch and well-being in close relationships

Touch in couples promotes well-being. However, little is known about its differential effects according to individual characteristics (for ex. attachment style), situations (for ex. under stress or in the transition to parenthood), or cultures. A series of studies investigates those differences using different methods.

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CARLA collaborators:
Anik Debrot

External collaborators:
Juan Enrique Wilson Alcalde, Universidad de Chile
Belinda Campos, University of Irvine, California
Emily A. Impett, University of Toronto
Petra Klumb, University of Fribourg
Geoff MacDonald, University of Toronto
Jennifer Stellar, University of Toronto

Theater and compassion: a unique combination of living arts and psychology

Digital media floods us with manifold information and entertainment opportunities. Yet, it is questionable whether the living art of the theater is not an irreplaceable alternative to the digital mainstream. The fact that theater continues to flourish next to the cinema, it is due to some unique attributes. Even if, by telling stories, these two arts resemble each other, their respective ways of "presenting" these stories are totally different. In films, sections are repeated until the "final product" is to a filmmaker’s liking. The public sees THE FINAL product. In the theater; each performance of a play is a one-off.  Each evening, the actors have to give their best, without guarantee that the "final product" is to the taste of the public. Each evening, the actors interact directly with their partners and the audience, without knowing what the outcome will be. Theater as the art of confrontation with the here and now, thus, leaves actors in a state of extreme fragility. In this context  "something" happens: a human encounter that neither the digital nor the cinema can offer. Based on over 15 years of experience as a theatre director, we assume that in order to fully appreciate theatre performances, it is essential to have the psychological competence to be touched by this fragility. We consider this competence to be compassion. Here, this fragility is embraced without succumbing to "negative" emotions that it could entail (e.g. being afraid that actor fails).  The current thesis tests this prediction as well as whether these emotional states (compassion states) can be taught to a spectator or whether they are given (e.g. personality traits). This cross-disciplinary project transforms the theater into an experimental research space of emotion research for psychologists, and psychology into an empirical science that will test predictions in the living arts.

CARLA collaborators:
Inez Cierny
Christine Mohr


Perspective taking and empathy: their link to perpetration

Much has been done to understand the psychological consequences when an individual has been a victim of violence (e.g. study on post-traumatic stress disorder). Yet, less understood are the psychological, interpersonal consequences when a person has been perpetrator. For instance, once a person has perpetrated (in particular a person of an outgroup), does this person yield reduced empathy / perspective taking abilities in general or for the victims in particular. Also, in which way can such questions be answered methodologically. In particular, how can we assess perspective taking and empathy in a person who has been aggressing others. Under normal circumstances, this behavior is socially little reinforced. Accordingly, how can this socially inacceptable behavior be assessed in a reliable way?

CARLA collaborators:
Christine Mohr