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Social Theory

The STRIVE Lab takes a "team science" approach (see UCF Faculty Cluster) to understanding social phenomena. Our work pulls from multiple disciplines including social psychology, sociology, criminal justice, and public health, and we prioritize building collaborations with scientists with expertise in these fields. The lab seeks to balance and bridge the gap between basic and applied science by 1) developing and extending social theory, and 2) translating and applying these social theoretical models to address issues related to health and well-being.

Much of our research is framed from a motivated cognition perspective in which we evaluate the goal pursuit processes linked to the development and maintenance of various interpersonal and health-relevant behaviors. Our primary area of focus is on identifying and understanding the self-regulatory mechanisms that underlie engagement in risk behavior. Our perspective emphasizes the functionality of risk behavior in certain contexts, suggesting that risky health behaviors often represent a response to in-the-moment goals and needs. As a member of the Substance Use Research Group (SURG) in UCF Clinical Psychology, much of our research focuses on substance use outcomes. In our applied work, we aim to translate social theory to address issues related to health and health disparities, substance use and other risky health behaviors, violence and aggression, and social threats.


People's relationships have a tremendous impact on their physical and psychological health. In the STRIVE lab, we are particularly interested in understanding how social rejection, interpersonal violence, and other forms of social pain impact health and behavior. Specifically, we attempt to answer questions about how these sources of interpersonal stress intersect with health-relevant behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual risk behavior) and various indicators of well-being (e.g., PTSD, depression, physical health). Further, we seek to identify factors that buffer the effects of these interpersonal stressors on well-being. For instance, we are interested in understanding protective factors that promote resilience, such as social support networks and coping strategies. We are also invested in understanding how marginalization attributable to race, class, gender, and other identities impact these processes . Finally, we plan to extend our work on relationships to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of close relationships (e.g., attachment orientation, responsiveness, goal pursuit processes) that promote recovery following exposure to interpersonal stressors and trauma.

Interpersonal Violence Exposure

Dr. Woerner is a core member of the UCF Violence Against Women (VAW) Faculty Cluster Initiative. As outlined on the VAW Cluster web page, the long-term objectives of the cluster are to: 

1) Enhance our contributions to the scientific community and improve and expand our usefulness to survivors, community partners and policy makers
2) Identify the types of violence against women interventions that most effectively reduce the experience and impact of violence, increase awareness and change attitudes
3) Encourage institutions and jurisdictions to implement evidence-based policies that can decrease the incidence of violence against women
4) Encourage policies that increase help-seeking and reporting of violence against women to ensure victim recovery, while also evaluating criminal justice interventions that hold perpetrators accountable

One of the primary objectives of the STRIVE lab is to understand associations between women's violence victimization and engagement in risky health behaviors, such as substance use and sexual risk behavior. Although these behaviors interfere with concerns for well-being, they also serve as means to attaining important goals (such as interpersonal connection or affect regulation). Our approach moves away from stigmatizing risky behaviors and toward understanding their functionality. Our planned upcoming projects will evaluate how fluctuations in the social environment and motivational states impact patterns of risk-taking.

In the STRIVE lab, we are also invested in understanding the etiology of aggression and violence perpetration. To date, most of Dr. Woerner's work on perpetration is largely focused on sexual assault perpetration. In this work, we examine the interplay between individual level, situational, and broader cultural factors – such as narcissism, alcohol intoxication, and traditional gender role beliefs – that increase the likelihood men’s sexual aggression. We examine aggressive behavior by integrating a range of methodological approaches including surveys, experiments, alcohol administration, and virtual reality. In upcoming projects, we plan to address several unanswered questions. Namely: 1) what specific motivational processes facilitate aggression? 2) how can we apply what we know about these motivational processes to mitigate aggressive behavior and its impact? The STRIVE lab aims to prevent violence from occurring and reduce its impact by implementing theory-driven prevention and intervention strategies.