Emily Impett

Psychology Professor Emily Impett (centre) and students Amelia and RichardThe newly built Academic Annex, which replaced the old wooden cottage adjacent to the Student Centre, is home to the lab of Professor Emily Impett. And where there was once surely an element of domesticity to be found on the site of the 19th century Thomas Cottage decades ago, Impett is now tapping into research on what makes relationships happy and long-lasting in her newly built Relationships and Well-Being laboratory in the Department of Psychology at U of T Mississauga.

Impett currently spreads her relationship research out over three specific areas of study. The first line of inquiry focuses on how engaging in certain behaviors in relationships, such as making costly sacrifices for a romantic partner, for different kinds of reasons can help us to understand why some relationships are successful while others falter and fail. In her second line of study, she examines the role of prosocial emotions, such as gratitude, love and compassion, in relationships across the lifespan. In Impett’s third line of research she investigates the benefits of being authentic or “true” to oneself in relationships, including how these feelings of authenticity shape the sexual health and well-being of adolescent girls and young women.

Although each area deals with relationships and well-being, Impett’s three lines of research are distinct in several ways. For example, in her research on motivation and relationships, Impett focuses on why people choose to make sacrifices for a partner in the first place and how these actions affect happiness in relationships, compared to the authenticity quotient, which focuses more on how people feel about themselves when making sacrifices.

The three areas are examined in similar ways: studying romantic couples in the lab from day to day, monitoring them over a long period of time, and having the participants keep daily diaries. If possible, information is collected from both partners individually to get both partners’ unique views on the relationship.

In order to further explore these areas and strive for the most fruitful results, Impett says that she would most likely integrate two of her lines of research. “I think that combining the motivation and relationship area of study with the prosocial emotions would yield the most findings for further research,” says Impett. “I would like to examine which types of sacrifices inspire the greatest feelings of gratitude and appreciation in relationships.”

Impett anticipates that this research may positively impact all relationships and provide better coping strategies in courtship and in marriage. “I’d like to be able to help couples not only deal with conflict, but also be able to help their relationships really grow and thrive,” says Impett. “I would like my work to be implemented by couple and family therapists to use during their sessions. The notion of ‘doing nice things’ is not enough; we need to look at the reasoning behind those actions to better understand how we can help couples reach relationship success.”

Currently Impett’s research focuses on dating couples, but she soon plans to study married couples in order to extend her findings to longer relationships.

Another line of research that she hopes to work on in the future is to explore sacrifices in different types of familial relationships, such as with parents taking care of young children, or adults caring for their aging parents. By delving into this area she hopes to investigate how the dynamics of sacrifice differ across relationships and the lifespan, to ultimately help people in all types of relationships experience ultimate joy and happiness.

By Andrew Dymtrasz