Motivation & Goal Pursuit Lab


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

Maha Ali_lab photo

Maha Ali is a Research Assistant at Weill Cornell Medicine working within the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care. She is broadly interested in delivering healthcare to minority and underserved populations by incorporating the social determinants of health in treatment plans while maintaining a patient-oriented approach. Her work with Dr. Lewis specifically focuses on increasing racial minority engagement in healthcare using the Patient Activated Learning System. She aspires to continue this work throughout her career and transform the healthcare system for one that is more accessible and equitable for individuals of diverse backgrounds.


Zachariah Berry is a third 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:

Alessandra Cruz

Alessandra Cruz is a junior at Cornell University majoring in Human Development and pursuing minors in Education and Law and Society. She is fascinated by topics in psychology, education, law, and public policy. She wants to explore how individuals’ race, socioeconomic status, education, and environment influence legal and policy outcomes. 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 headshot

Anjuli Fink is a senior at Cornell University majoring in Communication. Her interest are in writing, public speaking, law, 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 loves to dance, listen to music, and spend time in nature.


Christopher Monteiro is a fifth 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 fifth 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 third 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 HS 1

Mikaela Spruill is a third 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:

Teairah Taylor

Teairah Taylor is a second 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:

tepper headshot

Stephanie Tepper is a third year PhD student in Social Psychology at Cornell University studying the relationship between high-level social inequities and individual decision-making. She is interested in how perceptions and experiences of social inequality influence behavior and, in turn, how individual behavior can contribute to the maintenance or reduction of inequality. She is excited about drawing connections between basic and applied research and aims to develop and test interventions to reduce racial and economic disparities. You can follow her on Twitter, @stephanietepper, or visit her website,

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:

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, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Allison Earl, University of Michigan

Dorainne Green, Indiana University Bloomington

Vincent Hutchings, University of Michigan

Hakeem Jefferson, Stanford University

Lorelle Meadows, Michigan Technological University

Ivuoma Onyeador, Northwestern 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, The Ohio State University

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)

Dr. Nicholas Michalak (University of Michigan, Ph.D. 2020, now data scientist @ Insight Data Science)

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)

Lucus Tse (Cornell University, B. A. 2019, now Analyst @ IBM)

Caiwei Zhu (Cornell University, B. A. 2020, now Master’s Student in Human Development @ University of Pennsylvania)

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