Date published: 6/20/2014

We know that having happy, high quality social relationships is good for our physical health. We also know that unhappy, distressed social relationships are related to poorer physical health. My research focuses on how social relationships “get under our skin” to affect our physical health.

The quality of our social relationships has important consequences for psychological and physical well-being. Social relationships confer benefits and costs through their effects on health behaviors (sleep, exercise, diet, substance use) and biological processes. My research focuses on the latter - the underlying biological processes that explain the health benefits and costs of social relationships. I study biological processes that help us cope with stressful challenges, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, autonomic nervous system, and the immune system; and biological processes that help us recover from stressful challenges, including wound healing and sleep.

I am particularly interested in close relationships - intimate partner relationships and parent-child relationships. With funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the UCLA Academic Senate, I am currently examining how warmth and conflict in family relationships (parents and children) is related to severity of upper respiratory infections like the common cold and the flu, and underlying health behavior, neuroendocrine, and immune processes that may explain these relationships.

My laboratory uses a combination of methods to study social relationships and health. We bring individuals and couples into the laboratory to study behavior, physiology, and clinically relevant health outcomes such as wound healing. In addition, we study everyday social interactions, physiology, and health outcomes through daily diary studies. Finally, we conduct secondary data analyses of large datasets that have rich data on social functioning, physiology, and health. Beyond using multiple methods, I study social relationships and health across the lifespan, from children, to parents of those children, to young dating couples, and older adults.

I’m originally from the Midwest, and received a B.S. in Psychology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. During my undergraduate years, I developed interests in emotions, social relationships, health, and psychoneuroimmunology through working in an affective neuroscience laboratory. I did my Ph.D. work at The Ohio State University in Clinical-Health Psychology. Following my clinical internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (University of Pittsburgh), I joined the UCLA Department of Psychology in 2006.