In the Motivation & Goal Pursuit Lab, we take an interdisciplinary social scientific approach to studying how the interplay between people’s social contexts and identities influence their motivation to pursue their goals, and their success in goal pursuit efforts. We explore the context-sensitive, and experiential nature of motivation and goal pursuit processes in a variety of domains including education, health, and environmental sustainability. We study these processes by triangulating across a variety of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological methods that enrich our understanding of social processes in ways that allow us to develop and test interventions that we hope can improve social outcomes (e.g., in the education, health, and environmental domains) and reduce disparities in those outcomes.
The bios below introduce our current lab members and provide brief snapshots of some of the specific research questions and topics they are currently exploring.
Current Lab Members
Zachariah Berry is a second year PhD student in Organizational Behavior at Cornell University. He is broadly interested in how our identity – especially as it relates to our individual and group values – shape our understanding of the world, and the downstream consequences this has on judgments, decisions, and social interactions. His work with Neil is currently investigating how people interpret events based on features of the context and identity-relevant features of the individual(s) in the events. Together, they hope to use the insights from their research to inform policy decisions both at organizational and national levels. You can read more about Zach on his personal webpage: zachariahberry.com.
Alessandra Cruz is a sophomore at Cornell University majoring in Global and Public Health Sciences. She is fascinated by topics in health communication and health equity within and outside of clinical settings. She wants to explore how individuals’ race, socioeconomic status, education, and environment influence health outcomes and contribute to health disparities. Outside of the lab, you can find Alessandra enjoying Ithaca’s views and sunsets with friends, trying new food dishes, writing poetry, and sipping on tea!
Anjuli Fink is a junior at Cornell majoring in Communication. her interest are in writing, public speaking, and politics. As it relates to the lab, she hopes to explore the relationship between social inequalities and a group’s motivation or goal achievement. Outside of the lab, Anjuli is the social media coordinator for the Cornell Political Union, the social media and voiceover intern for the Thrive LOUD podcast, and a writer for The Cornell Daily Sun. In her free time, she loves to dance and write for her blog-style Instagram account, “Absolutely Anjuli.”
Nicholas Michalak is a fifth year PhD student in Social Psychology at the University of Michigan working primarily with Josh Ackerman but also remotely with Neil. He is interested in developing statistical models to study how modern and evolutionarily-relevant threats affect how people perceive themselves and others. His current research is asking: (1) how do people mentally represent threatening persons, (2) how do people use emotional expressions in trait judgments, and (3) what are the effects of negative stereotypes changing over time? You can read more about Nick’s research on his website: https://nickmichalak.com/
Christopher Monteiro is a fourth year PhD student in Social Psychology at Cornell University. His research investigates the relationships between ideology and cognition, and lower-level cognitive processes, such as memory and perception. His work in the Motivation and Goal Pursuit Lab focuses on the ways in which identity influences social perception. He and Neil are currently working on projects investigating how perceptions of someone’s work are affected by their gender and race, and how people form different social class backgrounds think about and are affected by surveillance in their daily lives.
S. Casey O’Donnell is a fourth year PhD student in Social Psychology at the University of Southern California working primarily with Daphna Oyserman, but also remotely with Neil. He is broadly interested in how macro-structural factors (e.g., poverty and stigmatized racial-ethnic group membership) shape individuals’ identities and mindsets, and the consequences for their motivation. His work with Neil specifically focuses on using tools from network science to develop and implement interventions to reduce disparities in education and health outcomes. You can read more about Casey on his personal webpage.
Bharathy Premachandra is a second year PhD student in Communication at Cornell University. She is broadly interested in the psychological and structural factors behind social inequalities and how individuals and groups operate in such contexts. Bharathy believes that it is imperative for policy makers to not only consider political, cultural, and economic concerns, but to also account for psychological processes in the implementation of interventions designed to address social disparities, and hopes to advocate for this in her career.
Mikaela Spruill is a second year PhD student in Social Psychology at Cornell University. Her research investigates how bias at the person-level sustains systemic inequities. Mikaela works to understand the cognitive processes and social contexts that help facilitate large-scale racial disparities via policy preferences (e.g., opposition to reparations) and legal decisions (e.g., jury decisions about police indictments). Her ultimate aim is to develop bias reduction interventions that can aid in alleviating these inequities. You can read more about Mikaela and her work on her personal webpage: mikaelaspruill.com
Teairah Taylor is a first-year PhD student in Communication at Cornell University. Her research interests are largely centered around the influence of racial/ethnic identity on interactions with the healthcare system, health behaviors, health perceptions, and health-related goals. Teairah is interested in improving the health of racial and ethnic minorities in America through translational health messaging and communication research for health promotion programs and interventions. You can follow Teairah and her work on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_t_taylor
Caiwei Zhu is a junior at Cornell majoring in Human Development. She is interested in educational interventions, social-emotional learning, and children’s socio-emotional development. Outside of the lab, Caiwei is a peer facilitator at Body Positive Cornell and is a volunteer counselor at KnowYourself. Caiwei enjoys boxing, doing yoga, and practicing traditional Chinese dancing in her free time.
Undergraduate Research Opportunities
If you are a Cornell undergraduate who is interested in the work described on the research page, I encourage you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Undergraduates usually get involved by serving as research assistants for course credits (or paid positions if funding is available). They typically assist in the creation of experimental situations, run human participants through study protocol, code participant responses, and (if interested) may learn how to analyze data. For a more comprehensive description of life as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab, see the lab syllabus in the link below.
Resources for Current Research Assistants
Diversity in Research
I am committed to recruiting and educating students to work and function in an increasingly diverse society. My commitment to enhancing diversity is facilitated by the following practices:
(1) Promoting an inclusive environment where all individuals are supported and integrated in the lab.
(2) Building and preserving a welcoming climate for my students.
(3) Engaging in open and honest academic discussions of diversity issues.
(4) Conducting research on diversity related issues.
(5) Maintaining open communication about my students’ professional goals and how we can advance them through our work in the lab.
Sahara Byrne, Department of Communication
Melissa Ferguson, Department of Psychology
Oliver Gao, Department of Systems Engineering
Rene Kizilcec, Department of Information Science
Jeff Niederdeppe, Department of Communication
Amelia Greiner Safi, Department of Communication & Public Health Program
Monika Safford, Division of General Internal Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
Jonathon Schuldt, Department of Communication
Andrea Stevenson Won, Department of Communication
Joseph Bayer, The Ohio State University
Sonya Dal Cin, University of Michigan
Veronica Derricks, University of Michigan
Allison Earl, University of Michigan
Vincent Hutchings, University of Michigan
Hakeem Jefferson, Stanford University
Daniel Kougias, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lorelle Meadows, Michigan Technological University
Daphna Oyserman, University of Southern California
Adam Pearson, Pomona College
Rainer Romero-Canyas, Environmental Defense Fund
Denise Sekaquaptewa, University of Michigan
Walter Sowden, Tripler Army Medical Center
Joshua Wondra, Facebook
Nicole Yadon, University of Michigan
Jennifer Allen (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now PhD student in Social Work @ Michigan State University)
Saarah Anjum (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Product Specialist @ SchoolCity Inc)
Wendy Cortes (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Law Clerk @ Family Law Project)
Rachel Cultice (University of Michigan, B.A. 2017, now PhD Student in Social Psychology @ Rutgers University)
Monica Ellis (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now Medical Student @ Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine)
Ryan Foley (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now PhD student in Clinical Psychology @ Central Michigan University)
Nora Greenstein (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now MSW student @ University of Michigan)
Alex Grombala (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now Account Management Associate @ IT Practice)
Sara Helmer (University of Michigan, B.A. 2014, now Clinical Social Worker @ The Children’s Center of Wayne County)
Mariam Khan (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Health Management & Policy Student @ University of Michigan School of Public Health)
Andrew Khouri (University of Michigan, B.A. 2017, now Law Student @ University of Maryland Law School)
Elena Khutoretsky (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Scala Development Specialist @ Huxley Banking & Financial Services)
Celina Romano (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now PhD Student in Social Psychology @ UC-Berkeley)
Alaina Stevenson (University of Michigan, B.A., 2017, now Business Analyst @ Clutch.co)
Elizabeth Stewart (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now MSW Student @ University of Chicago)
Lucus Tse (Cornell University, B. A. 2019, now Analyst @ IBM)
Current Research Sponsors:
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Cornell University Center for the Social Sciences
Cornell University Office of Engaged Research
Mindset Scholars Network
State University of New York Open Educational Resources Initiative