Nickola C. Overall is Professor in the School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand. Nickola investigates the factors that create versus alleviate problems in social relationships, such as biased perceptions, emotion regulation, conflict strategies, depressive symptoms, attachment insecurity, power, and sexist attitudes. Nickola has published over 120 articles, books and book chapters, and is a fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and Association for Psychological Science. Nickola has been Associate Editor of Personal Relationships and Social Psychological and Personality Science, and is currently an Associate Editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes.
What led to your interest in close relationships?
The relational nature of human life is the source of our greatest joys and our greatest challenges. We all want good, supportive relationships, and achieving this universal goal helps people live healthier, happier and longer lives. But, relationships are not easy, and conflict and relationship loss can have substantial health and wellbeing costs. This is why I investigate all the ways that relationships can go wrong to hopefully identify how people can build healthy social relationships.
What are your current research interests?
Relationships are the foundation of human life, which means fundamental psychological processes are best examined within relationship contexts. I am lucky that my research on families and close relationships involve investigating an array of social processes: perceptual biases, emotions, emotion regulation, communication and influence, conflict, support, health and well-being, power, sexism, aggression, and more. I am always learning, and am challenged into new areas by fabulous students.
What has been your biggest challenge as a social or personality psychologist?
I am surprised about how often people overlook the importance of family and relationship science. We all know that family and social relationships are the most important parts of our lives. Perhaps it is because we are so embedded in our relationships that people are not always intrigued about understanding how relationships work or assume we know what we need to know. The challenges families face, the rates and pain of dissolution and divorce, and the prevalence and damage of poor family functioning, clearly show that isn’t the case. Of course, I am also guilty of overlooking the science when my research interferes with the time, energy and patience I give my own relationships!
How has your identity affected your career?
It has always been obvious to me that our identities are bound in relationships with others because I have a big, loud family that includes five sisters. I grew up thinking about myself in relation to others and knowing that relationships were the source of the best and worst in life. I also grew up in a tiny country town in a very small country (NZ) at the bottom of the world. I was a first-generation college student who attended university older than most after taking several years to recover from dropping out of high school and leaving home at 16. When I first got into the field and attended SPSP conferences I felt like an uneducated hick, silly and out of place, and I continue to feel that I think differently about some social processes. I am very lucky to have met and collaborated with seriously cool people, including some giants in the field, who made me feel welcome.
Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a similar career path in social psychology?
Stick to what you think is the most important and what you are most passionate about. Ignore the people who don’t get it or scholars who think other areas are superior, try to resist giving in to comparisons and metrics, and just be who you are. Remember how lucky you are to investigate and teach what you love, and try to work on something you are passionate about every day.