Steve Wilson

Steve Wilson


Ph.D., Purdue University
M.A., Indiana University
B.A., Western Illinois University

Research and Teaching

My research and teaching focus on interpersonal and family communication, social influence, and conflict/negotiation. Much of my recent research focuses on parent-child relationships from toddlerhood through adolescence. This work tries to understand patterns of parent-child interaction that predict positive outcomes for children (e.g., social competence, school readiness, and resiliency) as opposed to negative child outcomes (e.g., abuse or neglect, problems relating with family and peers).

Some of my research explores patterns of control exhibited by parents who are verbally or physically aggressive. For example, one project showed that mothers who tend to be verbally aggressive also communicate differently when playing with their pre-school children. Verbally aggressive mothers display many more attempts to control what they and their child do during free-play compared to their less verbally aggressive counterparts. This work has clarified how parental pre-dispositions can impact the ways in which parents frame interactions with their children.

For the past few years, I have led an evaluation research team for an intergenerational learning program (similar to Early Head Start) that promotes positive parenting and children’s school readiness. The program serves low-income families where parents have limited formal education but clear educational goals. Our evaluation follows families over time, collecting survey, observational, and interview data. We have found that some parents enter the program with high levels of parenting self efficacy but display low sensitivity when playing with their toddlers. Based on these findings, we have helped the program implement a parenting curriculum (the Incredible Years, developed by Professor Carol Webster Stratton) that helps build parents’ skill at child-directed play. The evaluation study has been supported by a research contract as part of a larger 1.5M grant from the Lilly Endowment.

In collaboration with the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue, I have led a second team evaluating their “Passport” program for children in families where a parent has returned recently from military deployment. Based on models of family resiliency, the program rotates children through three interactive stations where they practice skills related to talking about feelings, coping with stress, and managing conflict with similar-aged peers.

Aside from evaluating program implementation and outcomes, we are exploring how family communication patterns are associated with children’s resilience in the face of stressors that occur during the military parent’s deployment and reunion.

Aside from family communication, I am interested in influence, negotiation, and relationships in the workplace. I have collaborated on projects exploring how employees attempt to influence their supervisors as well as what how negotiators reach integrative as opposed to distributive outcomes. Much of this work has looked at similarities and differences across culture.

In sum, my work attempts to make theoretical and practical contributions. Theoretically, I am drawn to frameworks that highlight individuals as active, strategic communicators while also recognizing that we sometimes co-produce patterns in our relationships that lead to unintended outcomes. Along these lines, I have applied and extended attachment theory, multiple goals theories, theories of politeness and relational communication, and models of family resiliency. Practically, I enjoy collaborations with community partners that have implications for multiple audiences.

Representative Publications


  • Smith, S. & W. & Wilson, S. R. (Eds.). (2010). New Directions in Interpersonal Communication Research. Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Wilson, S. R. (2002). Seeking and Resisting Compliance: Why People Say What They Do When Trying to Influence Others, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (Winner of the 2005 Gerald R. Miller Book Award from the NCA Interpersonal Communication Division and the 2005 Best Book award from the NCA Social Cognition Division).

Articles & Chapters:

  • Wilson, S. R., Chernichky, S. M., Wilkum, K., & Owlett, J. S. (2014). Do family communication patterns buffer children from difficulties associated with a military parent’s deployment? Examining deployed and at-home parents’ perspectives. Journal of Family Communication, 14, 32-52. doi: 10.1080/15267431.2013.857325.
  • Knobloch, L. K., & Wilson, S. R. (in press). Communication in military families across the deployment cycle. In L. Turner & R. West (Eds.), SAGE handbook of family communication. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
  • Wilson, S. R., Wilkum, K., Chernichky, S. M., MacDermid Wadsworth, S. M., & Broniarczyk, K. M. (2011). Passport Toward Success: Description and evaluation of a program designed to help children and families reconnect after a military deployment. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 39, 223-249.
  • Liu, M., & Wilson, S. R. (2011). The effects of interaction goals on negotiation tactics and outcomes: A dyad-level analysis across two cultures. Communication Research, 38, 248-277.
  • Shi, X., & Wilson, S.R. (2010). Upward influence in contemporary chinese organizations: Explicating the effects of influence goal type and multiple goal importance aon message reasoning and politeness. Management Communication Quarterly, 24, 579-606.
  • Wilson, S. R., Kunkel, A. D., Robson, S., Olufowote, J. O., & Soliz, J. (2009). Identity implications of relationship (re)definition goals: An analysis of face threats and facework as young adults initiate, intensify, and disengage from romantic relationships. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 28, 32-61.
  • Wilson, S. R., Roberts, F., Rack, J. J., & Delaney, J. (2008). Mothers' trait verbal aggressiveness as a predictor of maternal and child behavior during play-time interactions. Human Communication Research, 34, 392-422.

Recent Graduate Courses Taught

  • COM 512 Theories of Interpersonal Communication
  • COM 612 Interpersonal Influence
  • COM 612 Family Communication
  • COM 674 Culture and Negotiation
  • COM 682 ANOVA