Posted on 8/30/2018
Dr. Lindsey Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She is the director of the Healthy Emotions and Relationships Theory (HEART) Lab, the mission of which is to conduct cutting-edge research that will ultimately be used to design, develop, and evaluate empirically-based interventions to help individuals and their partners struggling with addictive behaviors or other relationship-related stressors. She has received funding from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Center for Responsible Gaming, and the University of South Florida. Dr. Rodriguez has published over 65 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, as well as presentations at professional conferences and popular media coverage. She also serves as an Action Editor at Addiction Research and Theory. She received her Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Houston and has been a member of SPSP since 2009.
What led to your interest in social and personality psychology, and more specifically addictive and risky behaviors as they pertain to romantic/intimate relationships?
The people we choose to hold dear in our life is the closest we come to choosing our destiny. I have always been inexplicably drawn to the science of close relationships. I have known I wanted to be a psychologist since I was nine years old. As I wandered the bookstore at the University of Florida one day, I saw a textbook on Intimate Relationships and I felt struck with two powerful emotions: Bewilderment that there was actually a science of close relationships and contentment that deep down I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The quality of our close relationships are the number one most important predictor of life satisfaction, more than the amount of money people make, the career and hobbies they choose. Close relationships are at the heart of why we do almost everything that we do. They matter. So understanding why some intimate relationships succeed and others fail has always been the crux of my research interests. Substance misuse is an important factor in considering the trajectory that a relationship will take, and partners play such a critical role in being affected by and affecting someone’s substance use. It just felt like a natural match to me.
We tend to assume that risky behaviors have a negative impact on close relationships, but do they ever have a positive impact in any way?
Great question! There must be something appealing about substances and other ‘risky’ behaviors; otherwise they wouldn’t be something researchers are concerned about! Much of the dating culture involves alcohol and sex, neither of which are risky until they happen in certain contexts (e.g., driving after drinking, unprotected or coerced sex). Under healthy circumstances, these behaviors can be fun and serve as a source of connection. Research on concordance (or similarity) of drinking between partners generally shows that couples who drink similar levels—abstaining, light, or moderate—do much better than couples who drink discrepantly or who both drink unhealthy amounts. The dynamic between two people cannot be overstated. So when couples can engage in behaviors to a healthy degree, having a glass of wine with dinner can be beneficial.
What other interesting findings have surfaced in recent years in how we understand addiction and its effect on close relationships?
One component I have been happy to bring into the research on addiction and relationships is the importance of perceptions. How people define a ‘drinking problem’ or a ‘gambling problem’ varies widely as a function of family history, values, and personal experiences. And what people think about whether something is a problem matters so much more than whether something is actually a problem. For example, if Sarah believes that drinking four drinks a week is a problem, and her partner Brent drinks six drinks a week, although many people wouldn’t consider that problematic, it’s going to be an issue for her and for their relationship. However, if Charlene believes drinking 20 drinks a week is a problem, and her partner Tony drinks 15, drinking may not be a problem for them (unless, of course, Tony can’t hold up his end of the relationship). I try to encourage couples to talk early on about how they define problematic behaviors and come to an understanding about the role they want those behaviors to play a role in their lives. We are also coming to some really interesting insights as a field regarding how partner influence can be harnessed to help their partners decide to enter treatment – support, stigma reduction, and rewarding abstinence.
Can you tell us more about your current research projects and any future studies you have planned?
Being a planner to a fault, I have studies and ideas planned out through tenure! I have several studies undergoing data collection and in the pipeline. Most of them either directly involve or have the end goal of developing some kind of brief, cost-effective intervention that people can enact in their daily lives to improve their own and others’ well-being. To that end, I have some projects involving receipt of personalized feedback about drinking, intimate partner violence, and social media use, as well as exploring gratitude, expressive writing, cognitive reappraisal, attachment knowledge, social network information, and communication improvement. I have also begun to examine situational, contextual, and interpersonal factors affecting military families. Finally, I am currently interested in exploring individual differences and consequences of thoughts and feelings about regret and intuition. Keep an eye out!
You started teaching at a large university and have since moved to schools with smaller enrollments. Do you have a preference/favorite and what other pros/cons/insights can you share about teaching and conducting research at these different sized institutions?
I am very grateful for the opportunity to teach and do research at three different types of institutions. Going on the job market and beginning faculty positions at each type of institution has been tremendously wonderful for learning about different opportunities and finding the right type of organization for what I want to do. For those who want to teach little and do high-quality research, the environment may feel a little more competitive but a larger R1 university might be a better fit. Heavier teaching and potentially service loads at smaller, liberal arts institutions are leveraged with less pressure to publish and procure grants.
Do you have a favorite course to teach and why?
Of course! I taught a senior-level Close Relationships seminar course at the University of New Hampshire, and the students (and I!) absolutely loved it! It gave the students unique opportunities to learn about healthy relationships and communication. My (and perhaps their) favorite activity was having them interview a couple who had been married for a long time (not their parents) about some key elements to successful long-term relationships. The Relationships Course Facebook group has been a great tool for relationships researchers and teachers as well.
Why did you join SPSP and how has being a member helped you professionally?
SPSP was the first professional organization I joined as a first-year graduate student in 2008, and I have long since enjoyed the professional and personal opportunities that have arisen from participating. I have witnessed my own growth and the growth of others around me over the past decade, and every year this growth is evident at SPSP. As a first-year grad student I was overwhelmed by the amount and quality of research being done by amazing scientists, putting faces to names and being too nervous to introduce myself to those I held in such high regard. Although this still happens sometimes, the first time a student came up to me was such a humbling experience! I have followed celebrations of masters’ theses, first publication and poster presentations, postdoc appointments, tenure-track jobs, tenure, book publishing, first JPSP and PSPB publications all the way to hundredth publication! It is such an honor to have a home at SPSP.
Do you have any recommendations for someone interested in succeeding in personality and social psychology?
I have spent a lot of time thinking and learning about ways to succeed in our field, which is constantly growing and improving. I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of social psychology, where we are capturing the ‘wisdom’ of psychology every day. I try to always learn from everyday encounters with others, asking them about their experiences and thoughts and feelings about the world. It is amazing what kind of research ideas emerge from these conversations! We chose this field for a reason: have fun with it! In graduate school, I benefited more than I can say through collaborating with other mentors and graduate students as well as through mentoring undergraduate research assistants. If an opportunity came along to learn a new skill, I took it and in the end I was grateful for the lessons that I learned. I know I said earlier that the people we choose to hold dear in our life is the closest we come to choosing our destiny. This holds true in both our personal and professional lives!
Outside of personality and social psychology, how do you spend your free time?
You can usually find me by or on the water, preferably with my yellow lab/golden retriever Bentley. Living in St. Petersburg, Florida is a dream come true: I watch the sun rise and set over the bay and ocean every day, swim with dolphins and manatees on a regular basis, and get to do research on improving the most important aspect of our lives (most of the time in my hammock by the water). What more could anyone want?