By Hasagani Tissera
February is the time for Valentine’s day, where we celebrate the love for our close others. During this time, we tend to reflect on and highlight the importance of our close relationships.
For this month’s issue, we interviewed Dr. Joy McClure, whose research focuses on close relationships. She is currently assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Adelphi University.
Why did you choose to study close relationships?
When I was in undergrad (at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON), I did a specialization in Evolution and Social Behavior. So I was taking many classes that framed humans as evolved social animals. Then, I took a course by a cognitive psychologist, Lee Brooks, called Topics in Thinking. Prof. Brooks was interested in social cognition as a sort of special case of regular cognition, and this course was all about how very bad we are at thinking about other people! It was the juxtaposition of those two ideas: That we are evolved social animals and that we’re often really bad at social thinking that led me to John Lydon’s lab at McGill, looking at motivated cognition in relationships, and to my own particular interests in interpersonal insecurity and relational ambivalence.
Although interpersonal relationships are important overall, how do our relationship-specific goals compare to other types of goals?
Our relationship-specific goals are similar to our other kinds of goals, but with a few things potentially amplified. Most of our goals exist in some kind of social context and require coordination with others; that interpersonal coordination is especially important to our relationship goals. Many of our goals are self-relevant and touch on our identity; our close relationships are important parts of who we are, and so our relationship goals can similarly impact the self, as well as impacting a given relationship.
Why do some people experience difficulties during relationship initiation, and what suggestions would you have for them?
I think a better question might be whether anyone doesn’t have difficulties during relationship initiation! It’s a challenging context! On the one hand, we want to connect with the other person, but on the other hand we are making the self vulnerable to potential rejection. I can’t imagine that’s a comfortable situation for anyone. That said, this situation is going to be most problematic for people with a strong motivation to connect combined with negative expectations about their likelihood of success—this is a basic foundation for social anxiety (as described by Mark Leary, for example).
So, I always tell people that they shouldn’t feel bad if they’re anxious about making a good first impression or starting a new relationship. Moreover, they should try to remember that the other person is probably just as nervous as they are! Indeed, there’s a great study by Danu Stinson and colleagues (Stinson, Logel, Shepherd, & Zanna, 2011) showing how this might be helpful for insecure people.