Current Research

Looking for Love

People utilize stories to share their stressful, traumatic, and difficult life experiences. Relationship initiation and pursuit may involve concepts of success and failure in an effort to search for love. Their shared autobiographies, or stories reveal personalized meanings that define themselves and others in an uncertain world. The Internet and its associated extensions — online dating sites and mobile dating applications — offer opportunities to initiate, maintain, and dissolve relationships. Emerging technology provides opportunities for access points — but what happens when not all individuals are welcomed, included, or succeed in the process? We seek to explore social ostracism, rejection, and failure experienced through their personalized stories. Specifically, we have begun to investigate the complexity of relationship formation by marginalized and non-normative populations.

Surprise and Deception

Although surprising experiences abound in everyday life, communication scholars have minimally investigated these potentially relationally important phenomena. In the current study, a lens of expectancy violations theory is used to explore this underdeveloped area by learning more about how relational partners surprise each other, use deception to achieve surprises, perceptions of enacted surprise events, and the relational implications of such experiences. A survey of 206 individuals revealed that people experience surprises in a variety of ways including birthdays, travel, and gifts.  Although nearly half of the participants described their partner’s behavior as deceptive, very few perceived the surprise as a violation of relational rules. This study sets up the notion that deception is often used as a strategic maintenance behavior in relationships.

Catching Feelings

This research projects examines the linguistic phenomenon of “catching feelings” and the impact this rhetorical phrase has on the ways we think about and approach relational commitment. Fear of commitment, coupled with a more casual dating culture, contributes to the use of disease language about romantic relationship talk. “Catching feelings” is the fear of emotional connection with a romantic partner. “The fear of relationships has spawned several intriguing slang terms used by iGeners and Millennials, such as ‘catching feelings’” (Twenge, 2017).” The rhetorical implications from catching feelings suggests that individuals may frame love as a disease, thereby avoiding emotional connection with someone for fear of emotional infection. Agentic language has been shown to influence people’s judgments about health threats (Chen et al., 2015). Previous research has experimentally manipulated agency assignment and influenced reported health-related perceptions. In these prior experimental studies, researchers assigned agency to humans (e.g., people contract diseases) or non-humans (e.g., cancer infects me) in the context of a health threat. Building on past research which confirms people experience physiological reactions to heartbreak and love, this investigation utilizes linguistic agency and biophysiology marker analyses to examine how individuals communicatively inoculate from “catching feelings.”