Kent Harber

Professor I & Graduate Director
Rutgers University, Psychology Department
101 Warren Street, Newark, NJ 07102
Smith Hall Room 356
Office: (973) 353-5440 x3955
Fax: (973)353-1171
Research Interests
I am interested in risky communication, where the perceived benefits and costs of candid expression are high. I explore these dilemmas in two distinct domains: Interracial Feedback, and Coping and Social Support.
Interracial Feedback: Performance feedback often involves a delicate balance between informational accuracy and social sensitivity. Achieving this balance may become more difficult when feedback suppliers and feedback recipients are from different social groups. In such situations feedback suppliers may be concerned that their candid criticisms will be viewed, by themselves or by others, as signs of social intolerance. These concerns may lead feedback suppliers to amplify the praise and minimize the criticism that they give to an "out group" feedback recipient. My research indicates that this kind of positive feedback bias does occur: I found that white feedback suppliers provide more positive feedback to an African American writer than to a white writer, for work of identical merit. The feedback bias appears to be better explained by social motives rather than by automatic, stereotype-based shifts in judgment. My ongoing studies more fully explore the overall extent, and the underlying causes, of the feedback bias.
Coping and Social Support: People who have undergone major events are often compelled to convey their experiences to others. Doing so appears to promote both mental and physical health. However, those who freely describe their own traumatic experiences often risk stigmatization and rejection. I am interested in the social dynamics that determine how and when people disclose upsetting experiences to others. This includes studies of collective coping following major disasters, and investigating how the need to disclose promotes information transfer across social networks. Measuring the nature and effects of directive vs. non-directive social support, and the values that guide social support delivery, are some of my other on-going interests in this area.