The UTA Social Interaction Lab
Current Graduate Student Colleagues: Meghan Babcock, Anna Park, Rebecca Robinson, Vivian Ta, and Jarryd Willis
The research conducted in the UTA Social Interaction Lab reflects a tradition that goes back to 1975, when Dr. William Ickes developed the unstructured dyadic interaction paradigm at the University of Wisconsin. In the decade from 1975 to 1985, this technique was used to study personality influences on the initial interactions of same-sex or opposite-sex strangers. The individual difference variables that were studied during this time included the dyad members’ gender, their ethnicity, their birth order, their physical attractiveness, their sex-role orientations, and their standing on various personality traits such as locus of control, Machiavellianism, self-monitoring, and shyness. After arriving at UTA, Dr. Ickes and his colleagues extended the dyadic interaction paradigm to permit them to study the dyad members’ thoughts and feelings as well as their overt behavior. A couple of years later, they further extended the paradigm to permit them to study the participants’ empathic accuracy—their "everyday mind reading." Using the empathic accuracy assessment procedure, Dr. Ickes and his colleagues measure the degree to which research participants can accurately infer the specific content of the thoughts and feelings reported by other people (either their own interaction partners or the interactants who appear in standard stimulus videotapes).
During the past 16 years, the procedure for studying empathic accuracy has been applied to the interactions of strangers, friends, dating couples, and married couples. It has been used to explore the basis of the acquaintanceship effect, the validity of the "women’s intuition" stereotype, the phenomenon of "motivated inaccuracy," the effects of cognitive frames and schemas on empathic inference, and the factors that affect empathic accuracy in a clinically relevant setting. In recent or ongoing research, this same technique was used by Will Schweinle to study the empathic inferences of maritally aggressive husbands; by Jeremy Dugosh to study women who score high on the anxious attachment dimension; by Judith Flury to study people who vary in their reports of the symptoms associated with borderline personality disorder; and by Katie Gleason to study how the empathic accuracy of young adolescents affects their social behavior and adjustment.
The Social Interaction Lab’s program of research on empathic accuracy has been widely recognized. Local recognition has come in the form of a Distinguished Record of Research Award and a Research Excellence Award from the University of Texas at Arlington. National recognition has taken the form of a certificate of commendation from the American Psychological Foundation. And international recognition has come in the form of awards from the International Network for Personal Relationships, the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships, and the Francqui Foundation of Belgium. All of the members of the UTA Social Interaction Lab are responsible for this recognition and can take pride in the Lab’s record of accomplishments.