Motivation & Goal Pursuit Lab

M&G Cornell 2

In the Motivation & Goal Pursuit Lab, we integrate principles from social cognition, group dynamics, and attitudes and persuasion to conduct studies to advance our understanding of motivation and goal pursuit processes. We take a situated cognition approach to study how the interplay between social contexts and identity influence the meaning people make of their experiences, and the downstream consequences of those processes for motivation and goal pursuit. Our broader goal in this endeavor is to understand processes that contribute to some of society’s most pressing challenges, including education and health disparities, intergroup relations, savings, and sustainability, so that we might help to develop interventions to address them.

The process model that is currently driving much of our research is illustrated below. We will continuously update it as we conduct more studies.


Adapted from:

Lewis & Oyserman, 2016, Behavioral Science & Policy

Oyserman & Lewis, 2017, Social Issues and Policy Review

Current Lab Members


Christopher Monteiro is a second 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.

Casey O'Donnell

S. Casey O’Donnell is a second year PhD student in Social Psychology at the University of Southern California working primarily with Daphna Oyserman, but also with Neil (remotely via Skype). 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 an incoming 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.

Lucus Tse

Lucus Tse is a junior at Cornell majoring in Biometry and Statistics and minoring in Policy Analysis & Management, and Business. His research interests are at the intersection of statistics, social policy, and communication, particularly as they relate to topics such as health disparities and savings. Outside of the lab, Lucus is a social media ambassador for the Cornell Admissions Office, and a sector analyst for the Financial Management Group of Cornell. In his free time, he enjoys drawing and painting.

Information for Prospective Graduate Students

If you are interested in pursuing a PhD in either Communication or Psychology in our lab, this letter will provide some more information about what you can expect.

In addition, this article that I co-authored with Drs. Jay Van Bavel and June Gruber may provide some general helpful tips for applying to graduate school.

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

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.

Current Collaborators

At Cornell:

Natalie Bazarova, Department of Communication

Melissa Ferguson, Department of Psychology

Oliver Gao, Department of Systems Engineering

Jonathon Schuldt, 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, University of Michigan

Daniel Kougias, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Lorelle Meadows, Michigan Technological University

Nicholas Michalak, University of Michigan

Daphna Oyserman, University of Southern California

Adam Pearson, Pomona College

Rainer Romero-Canyas, Environmental Defense Fund

Denise Sekaquaptewa, University of Michigan

Walter Sowden, Walter Reed Army Institute for Research

Joshua Wondra, Facebook

Nicole Yadon, University of Michigan

J. Frank Yates, University of Michigan

Lab Alumni

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 @

Elizabeth Stewart (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now MSW Student @ University of Chicago)


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