My research interests lie mainly in the areas of (1) the self and (2) close relationships and intergroup relations. My approach to studying these areas is heavily influenced by social-cognitive theory and methods, such as work on knowledge accessibility and dual-process models. In my view, merging social cognition with the self, close relationships, and intergroup relations is useful because it highlights the fundamentally social nature of perceiving, interpreting, judging, and behaving.
Social Bases of the Self
I am especially interested in studying how one's relationships with significant others and one's group memberships influence self-definition, self-evaluation, and self-regulation. For example, a colleague and I have recently proposed a framework to study the relational self, or the self in relation to significant others. We argue that the phenomenon of transference (see below) plays a major role in shaping the nature of the self in the course of everyday life. Our theory accounts for both stability and malleability in the relational self, and leaves room for social bases of the self beyond significant others, such as the social groups to which one belongs.
Multiple Levels of Self-Definition
A related interest focuses on the notion that there are multiple levels of self-definition, such as the individual, relational, and collective levels. For decades, the literatures on individual, relational, and collective selves have grown independently, with each emphasizing a particular set of perspectives and methods. However, an increasing number of researchers have begun to consider different selves within a single framework, or to apply similar concepts across selves. Several of my projects fit this trend. For example, my graduate students and I are examining in what ways self-verification theory, originally formulated at the individual level of self-definition, extends to the collective self. In another line of work, we are examining factors that predict self-regulatory shifts in self-definition, as well as how and among whom such shifts occur.
Significant-Other Representations and Transference
My interest in significant others is also reflected in my work on transference, which refers to the phenomenon whereby aspects of past relationships with significant others resurface in relations with new people. I conceptualize transference in social-cognitive terms, arguing that it reflects the activation and use of a significant-other representation in social perception. In one line of research in this area, I have been examining the hypothesis that perceivers are especially likely to explain their significant others in terms of their psychological or mental states, and, accordingly, that such "psychological-state theories" are particularly powerful triggers of transference.
Relationships involving power asymmetries are the focus of several other lines of research, each guided by the broad question: What are the cognitive, motivational, and behavioral effects of power? To study this question, I take a Person x Situation approach in which power's effects are seen as a function of both personality and situational variables. For example, we have examined individual differences in relationship orientation as a moderator of the effects of situational power. Currently, we are building on this work by examining the joint role of self-construals and gender in predicting how power influences those who wield it.
Chen, S. & Boucher, H.C., & Tapias, M.P. (in press). The relational self revealed: Integrative conceptualization and implications for interpersonal life. Psychological Bulletin.
Chen, S., Lee-Chai, A.Y., & Bargh, J.A. (2001). Relationship orientation as a moderator of the effects of social power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 173-187.
Andersen, S.M. & Chen, S. (2002). The relational self: An interpersonal social-cognitive theory. Psychological Review, 109, 619-645.
Chen, S., Chen, K.Y., & Shaw, L. (2004). Self-verification motives at the collective level of self-definition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 77-94.
Chen, S. (2003). Psychological-state theories about significant others: Implications for the content and structure of significant-other representations. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1285-1302.