Graduate Center Psychology Professor Awarded Five-Year CAREER Award by National Science Foundation for Research on Relationships

May 1, 2020

Professor Cheryl Carmichael received nearly $900,000 to study the verbal and nonverbal cues that create good relationships, and how good relationships benefit us.

Professor Cheryl Carmichael (Photo courtesy of Carmichael)
Professor Cheryl Carmichael (Photo courtesy of Carmichael)

Professor Cheryl Carmichael (GC/Brooklyn, Psychology) received a five-year National Science Foundation CAREER Award that will provide close to $900,000 in support for her research on the communication of responsiveness.

The funding will support Carmichael’s work on a project that models responsive relationship behavior. Her research focuses on how verbal and nonverbal cues from friends, family, colleagues, and romantic partners influence our physiological function, relationship quality, and sense of well-being. 

“People with good relationships live longer and healthier lives,” Carmichael says. “This project focuses on what makes good relationships good, and how those relationships transmit benefits to the people who have them.”

One important part of a good relationship is feeling like a partner understands, validates, and cares for you, Carmichael says. Her study examines the separate ways that words and nonverbal signals — specifically, touch and vocal tone — are used to show responsiveness, and how each type of communication is uniquely beneficial to the self, the relationship, and physiological function.

She plans to teach the model and the findings from the proposed studies in new undergraduate and graduate courses and to the students on her research team, and to share this research with the public through a series of workshops on relationship processes that she and her students will develop for the Brooklyn community. 

Carmichael attended the NSF CAREER Bootcamp at The Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) last year. “I am certain it contributed to the success of my application,” she said, adding that Linda Vigdor, the associate director for sponsored programs, “imparted invaluable knowledge.”

“Taking part in the Bootcamp forced me to start writing early, which gave me many opportunities for revision, which undoubtedly improved the proposal,” Carmichael says. “It was also helpful to get feedback from people outside of my research area, as proposals are often evaluated by people who do work that is different from the applicant’s.”

Carmichael recently had a paper accepted for publication about the daily benefits of physical contact in romantic relationships — work that is particularly applicable now, during this time of coronavirus-related isolation, she notes. One finding is that the benefits associated with receiving touch from a partner are boosted for people who are higher in attachment anxiety — in other words, people who doubt their own worthiness for love and who tend to be more fearful of abandonment.

“Given the social distancing required for this pandemic, I imagine physical contact is up for some couples (if they live together), which could be beneficial for them, and down for some other relationship partners (couples who don’t live together, or other familial relationships), which could pose a challenge,” Carmichael says.

Carmichael is part of the Basic and Applied Social Psychology and Health Psychology and Clinical Science training areas at The Graduate Center. Learn more about these areas and others offered by the Ph.D. Program in Psychology