At the most general level, my interests are in social and personality psychology, centering around topics in interpersonal motivation and emotion. I have been particularly interested in how behavior and emotion are affected by people's concerns about others' impressions and evaluations of them. I am also interested in interpersonal rejection and the role that it plays in motivation, behavior, and emotion. More recently, I have become interested in the negative effects of self-reflection and in hypo-egoic states that minimize these negative effects.
Self-Presentation, Self-esteem, and Identity
Because people's outcomes in life depend heavily on how others perceive and evaluate them, they are motivated to convey certain impressions of themselves to others and to refrain from conveying other, undesired impressions. Thus, no matter what else they may be doing, people typically monitor and control their public impressions -- a process known as self-presentationor impression management. A great deal of human behavior is, in part, determined or constrained by people's concerns with others' impressions and evaluations of them. I have been interested in many aspects of self-presentational processes.
For example, I have conducted research on: factors that determine the nature of the impressions people desire to convey in particular situations, the self-presentational tactics that leaders use to convey appropriate images of themselves to group members, conditions under which people attempt to convey negative as opposed to positive impressions of themselves, the role of self-presentational processes in emotional and behavioral problems, and the deleterious health consequences of being concerned with one's self-presentations. My book "Self-Presentation: Impression Management and Interpersonal Behavior" (1995) reviews the growing literature on self-presentation.
I have also developed a reconceptualization of self-esteem and self-esteem motivation. Our sociometer theory suggests that the self-esteem system is an internal, psychological gauge that monitors the degree to which the individual is being included versus excluded by other people. Self- esteem, then, is an internal representation of social acceptance and rejection. The sociometer perspective provides a framework for understanding the extensive literature on self-esteem, as well as the link between self-esteem and emotional and behavioral problems.
More recently, my students and I have been studying the negative emotional and behavioral effects of self-reflection as well as processes that may counteract the "curse" of the self. For example, we have been studying egoic overreactions to inconsequential evenhts, self-compassion, mindfulness, and processes involved in hypo-egoic self-regulation.
Social Emotions: Social Anxiety, Embarrassment, Hurt Feelings
I have been interested in how people react in situations in which they are concerned that others will not accept them as much as they desire. Among other things, people who are extremely worried about others' evaluations of them experience social anxiety, behave in an inhibited and withdrawn manner, and engage in self-presentational tactics designed to protect their social image. I have studied the self-presentational determinants of social anxiety, the responses of socially anxious people, and the personality characteristics that predispose certain people to be highly socially anxious. I have also studied reactions to self-presentational predicaments (including embarrassment and blushing), developed scales for the measurement of social anxiousness and related constructs, and written two books on social anxiety. I have also started a line of research on the under-studied topic of hurt feelings, which is also a reaction to feeling inadequately accepted.
Interfaces of Social, Clinical, and Health Psychology
Historically, researchers interested in interpersonal behavior (primarily social psychologists) and those interested in psychological difficulties (mainly clinical and counseling psychologists) have contributed little to one another's work. During the past decade, however, efforts have been made to develop a viable interface between social psychology on one hand and clinical-counseling psychology on the other. Much of my work lies at this interface. In addition to research that bridges topics of interest to social and clinical-counseling psychologists, I wrote a book (with Rowland Miller) on "Social Psychology and Dysfunctional Behavior" (1986) edited a volume (with Robin Kowalski) on "The Social Psychology of Emotional and Behavioral Problems: Interfaces of Social and Clinical Psychology" (1999), and developed a collection of articles in the area, "Key Readings in Social-Clinical Psychology" (2003).
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- Leary, M. R. (Ed.). (2001). Interpersonal rejection. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Leary, M. R. (2008). Introduction to behavioral research methods (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Leary, M. R. (2004). The curse of the self: Self-awareness, egotism, and the quality of human life. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Leary, M. R., & Tangney, J. P. (Eds.). (2003). Handbook of self and identity. New York: Guilford Press.
- Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.
- Buckley, K. E., Winkel, R. E., & Leary M. R. (2004). Reactions to acceptance and rejection: Effects of level and sequence of relational evaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 14-28.
- Leary, M. R., & Buttermore, N. E. (2003). Evolution of the human self: Tracing the natural history of self-awareness. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 33, 365-404.
- Leary, M. R., Cottrell, C. A., & Phillips, M. (2001). Deconfounding the effects of dominance and social acceptance on self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 898-909.
- Leary, M. R., Gallagher, B., Fors, E. H., Buttermore, N., Baldwin, E., Lane, K. K., & Mills. A. (2003). The invalidity of personal claims about self-esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 623-636.
- Leary, M. R., Springer, C., Negel, L., Ansell, E., & Evans, K. (1998). The causes, phenomenology, and consequences of hurt feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1225-1237.
- Leary, M. R., Twenge, J. M., & Quinlivan, E. (2006). Interpersonal rejection as a determinant of anger and aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Review.
- MacDonald, G., & Leary M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 202-223.
- Martin, K. A., & Leary, M. R. (1999). Would you drink after a stranger? The influence of self-presentational motives on willingness to take a health risk. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1092-1100.
- Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. In M.P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 32, pp. 1-62). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
- Leary, M. R., & Springer, C. (2000). Hurt feelings: The neglected emotion. In R. M. Kowalski (Ed.), Behaving badly: Aversive behaviors in interpersonal relationships (pp. 151-175). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Applied Multivariate Statistics
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Social Psychology
- The Self in Social Psychology
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Durham, North Carolina 27708
- Phone: (919) 660-5750
- Fax: (919) 660-5726