Posted on 9/26/2018
Haran Sened is a graduate student at Bar Ilan University, Israel, at Dr. Eshkol Rafaeli’s Affect and Relationships Lab. His research deals with empathic accuracy in close relationships, and is supported through a fellowship granted by the Azrieli Foundation.
What led you to choose a career in social psychology?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in people and the interactions between them – why do people do what they do, think what they think, and feel what they feel in general and about one another. I actually started on with a more clinical focus, but as clinical, social and personality psychology mature, I think that these fields have much to contribute to each other. Specifically, I think clinical psychologists have much to learn from the ways in which social psychology understands interaction between people, which probably explains why with time I found myself doing research that belongs much more in the realm of social psychology than clinical. My very long-term dream is to someday take some of these ideas and try to incorporate them back into clinical work.
Briefly summarize your current research, and any future research interests you plan to pursue.
My research focuses on empathic accuracy – the capacity to understand another person’s thoughts, feelings and moods. I’m especially interested in the mental processes that enable people to achieve this kind of understanding, in ways to improve this ability, and in the outcomes empathic accuracy (or the lack thereof) has on relationships. My main current study, funded by the Israeli National Institute for Social Insurance, looks at empathic accuracy among couples in which one of the partners is unemployed. It’s a daily diary study, in which we’re asking whether better mutual understanding can help couples cope with this tumultuous time. We’re also giving some of the couples feedback as to their spouse’s thoughts and feelings, and trying to see if this can help them understand each other better. Meanwhile, we’re also doing a smaller examination of the same ideas in the lab, work which is partially funded by the SPSP Heritage award.
In the future, I hope to try and combine this kind of study of actual people’s understanding of each other with neurological measures to try and see the real-life effects of empathy processes identified in the neuroscience literature. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be asking couples to try and identify each other’s feelings while being subject to brain stimulation (e.g. via TMS - Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) and we’d want to see if stimulating different areas of the brain helps or hinders their understanding in different ways.
Why did you join SPSP?
After the first year of my graduate studies, I felt that I need to lift my head from our lab’s specific research topics and interact with a broader field of social psychology research. Joining SPSP seemed like a natural way to do that, and indeed it has really helped me to stay in touch with ongoing trends and pressing issues in social psychology.
How has being a member helped support your career?
In my experience, being a member of SPSP helped me be much more connected to social psychology endeavors around the world. Since joining I’ve been part of many specific projects, such as participating in conferences, special issues of journals, and adding my findings to meta analyses, all of which I reached through the various SPSP channels. This also led to more extensive collaborations with other researchers around the world. Finally, the SPSP open discussion forum has been very enlightening on various research questions, from best practices in using tools like MTurk to choosing statistical methods.
What is your most memorable SPSP Annual Convention experience?
In the 2017 conference I got the chance to meet William Ickes, who was (and still is) a personal research hero of mine for years for his groundbreaking research on empathic accuracy. Even though we’ve been in some online contact earlier, there’s nothing like meeting someone whose research you’ve been reading extensively in person.
Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a career in social psychology?
I think that for aspiring graduate students, choosing the right supervisor is one of the most important decisions. In my opinion, beside the fact that an ideal supervisor should simply be a person you like working with and for, aligning your own research interests with your supervisor’s is very important. Ideally, you should be very interested in the topics your supervisor is researching, but you should simultaneously have some new angle or research direction that can stretch the limits of what your supervisor does and serve as a direction for future growth for you. In my own great experience with my supervisor, that has led to a very enriching and enlightening grad school experience.
Outside of psychology, how do you spend your free time?
Most of my free time is spent with my spouse and our 9-month-old baby daughter, probably crawling around a playground of some kind. In the little time I have left, I’m usually playing video games, or on a few rare opportunities going to see a play at the theater.
To learn more about Haran’s research and the Affect and Relationships Lab, visit http://eshkol2.wixsite.com/arlab-biu