Date published: 04/03/23
We all know that common daily experiences – good or bad – and our emotional reactions to them can slide under our conscious radar and are easily dismissed. But do their effects disappear? When they keep repeating, what is the long-term impact on us and on our families?
Everyday events and emotions shape the very fabric of our lives. I study the threads of that fabric by observing social, psychological, and biological systems as they spontaneously unfold, with a particular focus on life within families. One line of my work asks not only how individuals respond to daily stressful events, but also how family members contribute to those responses. I’ve found that after a stressful day at work or school, spouses, parents, and children connect with, and help to regulate, each other’s behavior, emotion and physiology. Knowing how family members connect with each other on emotional, physical and biological levels is critical to understanding their health and development. My research uses intensive repeated measures and direct observations in natural settings to study these short-term processes, focusing on variability over relatively brief spans of time – minutes, hours, days, or weeks. Even small perturbations can have large implications when they repeat and their effects cumulate over time. I therefore investigate how reactions to day-to-day fluctuations in stressors and a family’s daily emotional and social dynamics ultimately impact the mental and physical health of both children and adults.
My work has taken me to homes, schools, daycare centers, and even banks and air traffic control towers to collect data from diverse individuals and families. With a video archive collected by the UCLA Sloan Center for the Everyday Lives of Families, my students and I have studied families going about their daily lives both inside and outside of the home. A critical step in that research is the development of psychometrically sound approaches to data reduction and coding. Searching and analyzing information stored in hundreds of hours of continuous recordings has provided new insights into human behavior.
My fascination with observing people began while growing up in a close knit Italian-American family and community in the Bronx. My father, who didn’t have the opportunity for more than a few years of formal schooling himself, instilled a deep love of learning and education in his children. After high school, I was excited to take the subway every morning to attend Hunter College (CUNY). Thanks to a wonderful mentor there, I was exposed to psychological research and set off on a path to Yale’s PhD program, where I met faculty and fellow students who inspired me. I later married one of those students and we spent several years searching for a place to pursue our academic careers together. For me, that meant a postdoc at UCLA and faculty stints at USC, the University of Pennsylvania, and NYU before we finally landed our dream jobs at UCLA. I’ve formed rich friendships and worked with amazing students and colleagues here. Two awesome daughters attended daycare, elementary school and summer camp right on campus. By now, blue and gold runs through my veins. In my spare time, I enjoy learning about the early medieval period in Europe.
For a list of Rena Repetti’s publications please go to repettilab.psych.ucla.edu.