RESEARCH

 Brief Statement of Research Interests

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory”

“Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice”

– Kurt Lewin

My research examines how and why the interplay between people’s identities and social contexts influence their motivation to pursue their goals, and their success in achieving them. I often study these processes in the domains of education and health, where I hope the knowledge gained from my research can inform interventions to improve outcomes and reduce disparities. I use a variety of methods to study these topics, including: laboratory and field experiments, longitudinal studies, social network analysis, systematic reviews and meta-analysis, and psycho-physiological techniques (e.g. eye-tracking). I organize this research into three related lines which are detailed below.

I. Information Granularity as a Source of Meaning and Motivation

One line of my research examines the meaning that people derive from the level of granular details in information, and how that meaning influences motivation and behavior. For example, in one set of experiments, we found that having people think about future events in fine-grained (e.g. days) rather than gross-grained (e.g. years) time units led them to experience a greater sense of connection between their present and future selves. This, in turn, made them more willing to begin taking action for future events like saving for their children’s college education (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015, Psychological Science). In more recent experiments, we’ve demonstrated that granularity can also facilitate goal pursuit in health decision making (Lewis & Earl, accepted in principle, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) and sustainable behavior (Lewis & Oyserman, in preparation) by changing perceptions of goal relevant information and people’s motivation to regulate their behavior.

Currently, I am interested in whether granularity-based interventions can be efficacious for improving academic outcomes, and improving intergroup interactions. These projects are in relative infancy, though I expect them to be key areas of my research on granularity over the next five or so years.

II. Stereotype Cues as Signals for Goal Pursuit

Another line of research examines the meaning people derive from information (e.g. physical objects, people, interpersonal behaviors) in their environments that activate stereotypes about who belongs or what behaviors are appropriate for different people to engage in (Lewis & Sekaquaptewa, 2016, Current Opinion in Psychology). For example, in a longitudinal study of engineering students, we found that gender stereotypes that are activated in male dominant engineering contexts led to behaviors in student teams that undermined women’s sense of belonging and retention in engineering (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, in preparation). More recent results suggest similar processes can also explain racial-ethnic disparities in the health domain (Lewis, Kougias, & Earl, in preparation).

Currently, I have two main interests in this line of research. The first is to continue developing interventions to combat the negative outcomes described above. We have some promising results from early tests of interventions (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, in preparation), but figuring out how to scale those interventions to a level in which they might be useful for broad dissemination will be an interesting challenge that I anticipate spending a few years working on.

The second interest is a meta-scientific interest. There has been some discrepancies between previous meta-analyses of stereotype threat and recent large scale attempts to replicate findings. Because of this, one of my new projects is to use newer statistical methods to see if we can make sense of these discrepancies (Lewis & Michalak, revision resubmitted, Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology).

III. Behavioral Science & Public Policy

A third line of research integrates basic and applied behavioral science frameworks to understand the motivational consequences of public policies. This research often involves conducting systematic reviews of research on policy topics such as racial health disparities (Lewis & Oyserman, 2016, Behavioral Science and Policy) or racial-ethnic disparities in education (Oyserman & Lewis, 2017, Social Issues and Policy Review) and making evidenced-based recommendations for improved public policy. Other times when the evidence is lacking or unclear, I conduct new studies to get a better sense of viable approaches for desired social outcomes (e.g. increasing retirement savings – Lewis, Oyserman, & Kapteyn, ongoing research).

If you are interested in learning more about any of the research described above, feel free to email me (nlewisjr@cornell.edu).