How do people understand who they truly are and what their place in the world is? I explore this topic through two primary areas of research: the first focusing on authenticity and self-knowledge, and the second focusing on judgments of meaning in life. My research program is also guided by my deep interest in issues of reproducibility and the improvement of methods and practices in psychological science.
AUTHENTICITY AND THE TRUE SELF
The potential benefits of authenticity have been the subject of thought for millennia, and psychologists have recently begun to examine authenticity empirically. Research suggests that authenticity is good for our well-being, but what mechanisms explain how this relationship works, and what conditions determine when authenticity is beneficial?
In my own research, I’ve found that one way authenticity can influence our well-being is by actually changing the way we think about and evaluate our own experiences. For example, feeling like you know who you truly are can make you more satisfied with major life decisions. My current projects include investigating how authenticity may affect memory processes relevant to well-being, and how authenticity and self-alienation shape the college experiences of first-generation students.
In another line of research, I work to understand the factors that determine when authenticity does and does not contribute to well-being. Results suggest that authenticity can be a particularly valuable resource when people find themselves in a potentially threatening situation. For example, highly authentic people are better able to remain hopeful and feel positive about themselves even when they feel that they are running out of time to accomplish their goals. My current research continues to explore the role of authenticity in dealing with potential threats, and is also examining how people may integrate less desirable characteristics (e.g., narcissism) into their true self.
MEANING IN LIFE
An unavoidable part of the human experience is making sense of the world around us and attempting to understand our place in it. The task of finding meaning is inherently subjective and unique to every individual, yet we can gain some insight into this process by asking people to evaluate their own sense of meaning in life. My research explores the role subjective experience plays in shaping these judgments of meaning in life.
When people are asked to rate how meaningful their life is, they often use their feelings of positive affect as an important source of information. My work explores this relationship, and now focuses more on how specific emotional experiences (e.g., anger, humor) influence judgments of meaning in life.
In another approach to understanding the dynamics of meaning in life judgments, I have focused on the subjective experience of making the judgment itself. In addition to asking people to rate their sense of meaning in life, I ask them to indicate how easy or difficult it was for them to actually make those ratings. This experience of ease or difficulty adds an new dimension to meaning in life ratings and is able to characterize in meaning in life that were previously unidentified.
IMPROVING PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE
I am particularly interested in issues of reproducibility and the improvement of methods and practices in psychological research. I am actively involved in collaborative replication efforts and have integrated open science practices in my research and teaching. For my current projects as well as student research projects I supervise, I have implemented pre-registration of analysis plans and archival of study data and materials through the Open Science Framework.