President of the University
Health Communication; Health Behavior; Human Emotion
Professor Salovey's research is focused primarily on human emotion and health behavior. With John D. Mayer he developed a broad framework called “Emotional Intelligence,” the theory that just as people have a wide range of intellectual abilities, they also have a wide range of measurable emotional skills that profoundly affect their thinking and action. In his research on health behavior, Professor Salovey investigates the effectiveness of health promotion messages in persuading people to change risky behaviors relevant to cancer and HIV/AIDS.
Extensive Research Description
The program of research conducted in my laboratory concerns two general issues in social/personality psychology: (a) the psychological significance and function of human moods and emotions and (b) the application of principles derived from research in social/personality psychology to the promotion of health protective behaviors.
The Psychological Consequences of Mood and Emotion
My research program on mood and emotion is focused on the psychological consequences of feeling states. The goal is to specify the processes by which affect influences thought and action. I view emotions as organizing processes that enable individuals to think and behave adaptively. This perspective can be contrasted with a more traditional one that sees affect as a disorganized interruption of mental activity that must be minimized or controlled. My students and I are investigating the consequences of the arousal of moods and emotions in several different domains including (a) cognitive activities such as autobiographical memory, reasoning, and problem-solving, (b) perception and recall of physical symptoms and the development of health beliefs, (c) interpersonal behavior and close relationships, and (d) complex social emotions such as jealousy and envy. A theoretical framework called Emotional Intelligence unifies these different research thrusts. This perspective emphasizes the strategies that people learn in order to appraise and express their emotions accurately, understand the feelings of other people, regulate their emotions and the feelings of other people, and use emotions to motivate, plan, and achieve in life.
Applying Social Psychological Principles to Foster Healthy Behavior
Most of our research attention in the health promotion area concerns the effectiveness of health messages designed to promote cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention and early detection behaviors. The adoption of these healthy behaviors often depends on the persuasiveness of a public service announcement, brochure, print advertisement, educational program, or communication from a health professional. In community-based, field experiments, often with vulnerable populations, we compare the effectiveness of persuasive appeals and social psychological interventions that vary in terms of how information is framed (as benefits versus costs) and whether it is tailored to the health information processing styles and other characteristics of recipients. The goal of our research is to investigate the role of framing and other communication and social influence variables in developing maximally persuasive messages promoting cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention and early detection primarily in inner-city minority and other under-served populations. We are also concerned with the manner by which moods and emotions influence the processing of health information, shape health beliefs, and motivate subsequent health behaviors, and the role of emotional arousal in the persuasiveness of health communications.