Tamara Afifi

Department Chair and Professor
Interpersonal Health Communication


Interpersonal Communication, Family Communication, Stress and Communication; Biosocial Markers of Stress, Resilience and Thriving; Information Regulation


Ph.D. University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Tamara Afifi is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on family and interpersonal communication in two domains: (1) how family members and relational partners communicate when they are stressed and its impact on personal and relational health, and (2) information regulation (e.g., avoidance, privacy, secrets, stress contagion effects).  In particular, she examines the theoretical properties of family members’ communication patterns (e.g., conflict, social support, avoidance, verbal rumination, communal coping) that cross a variety of stressful situations, to explain and predict biological stress responses, resilience/thriving, and personal/relational health. Much of her current research involves testing her Theory of Resilience and Relational Load), which brings together multiple, cross disciplinary bodies of literature on stress and relational resilience. Other research focuses on the theoretical properties and functionality of communal coping, the impact of divorce on children, and investigating how and why people manage their private information and its impact on health. Finally, Dr. Afifi is one of only a handful of scholars who studies whole families in such a detailed and innovative manner. She often triangulates data and methods, including unique combinations of surveys with whole families, longitudinal diary data, lab interactions, field studies in families’ homes, observational coding, biological markers (e.g., immune markers, hair cortisol for chronic stress), virtual reality, and qualitative data. Her work often includes community-based populations that are difficult to access (e.g., undocumented immigrants, refugees, residents with Alzheimer’s, families with chronic illnesses).

Dr. Afifi has received numerous recognitions for her scholarship, service, and teaching. She is a Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA) and a Distinguished Scholar of the National Communication Association (NCA). She received the Mid-Career Award from the International Association for Relationship Research, the Young Scholar Award from ICA, the Gerald M. Phillips Award for Distinguished Applied Communication Scholarship from NCA, and Brommel Award for a distinguished career in family communication from NCA. In addition, Dr. Afifi received the Franklin Knower Article Award for the best article in interpersonal communication from NCA four times, Distinguished Article awards from the Communication and Social Cognition Division and the Family Communication Division of NCA, and the Garrison Award from ICA’s Interpersonal Communication Division twice. She has also received 37 top paper awards. One of her most notable contributions to NCA was as Editor of Communication Monographs (2016-2019), for which she received a Presidential Citation Award. In addition, she has received several teaching awards, including a university-wide distinguished teaching award at UCSB. Finally, Professor Afifi has also secured external funding through agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NICHD and NIA). She is currently the PI on a Phase II clinical trial funded by the National Institute on Aging, examining the impact of virtual reality on the quality of life of residents who have dementia and their family member who live at a distance in 18 senior living communities in the Santa Barbara area and Boston. Her research has appeared in numerous news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, the NY TimesOprah MagazineMen’s Health, the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Canadian LivingFamily Circle. and OptionB.org.