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 the meaning they make of their experiences, their motivation to pursue their goals, and their success in achieving those goals. I often study these processes in the domains of education, health, and the environment, 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. Social Psychology of Communication: How Does the Way We Communicate Influence Motivation and Behavior?

One line of my research examines the meaning that people derive from the way information is communicated, and the consequences of that meaning for motivation and behavior. For example, in one set of experiments, we found that framing future events like children’s college education or retirement in fine-grained (e.g., days) rather than gross-grained (e.g., years) time units led people to perceive a greater sense of connection between their present and future selves. This, in turn, made them more willing to take action, like saving for those future events (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015, Psychological Science). More recently, we’ve found that similar shifts in communication strategies can be leveraged to facilitate goal pursuit in health decision making (Lewis & Earl, accepted in principle, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) in part due to the effects of communication strategies on how people make meaning of goal relevant information, and their motivation to regulate their behavior (for a longer discussion, see Oyserman, Lewis, et al., 2017, Psychological Inquiry).

My current research in this line is examining psychological processes involved in communication of environmental information. My collaborators and I are beginning to explore how different ways of communicating information about the environment, climate change, and sustainability can shift perceptions and motivation to behave sustainably.

II. Stereotyping, Stigma, and Group Dynamics: How Do Stereotypes and Stigmas Influence Motivation and Behavior?

Another line of my research examines how stereotypes and stigmas that get activated in social contexts influence meaning making, motivation, and behavior (Lewis & Sekaquaptewa, 2016, Current Opinion in Psychology). For instance, we’ve found that gender stereotypes that get activated in engineering contexts can lead to behaviors in student teams that contribute to persistent gender disparities in engineering (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, in preparation). We’ve also found that in-group stigma concerns among Black Americans can lead to behaviors that contribute to persistent racial health disparities (Lewis, Kougias, & Earl, under review). The good news is that we have some preliminary evidence suggesting it is possible to intervene to reduce some of these disparities (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, in preparation).

I currently have two sets of projects in this line of research. The first is to continue developing and refining interventions to improve individual and group outcomes, and reduce disparities. The second is a meta-scientific project to get a better understanding of a paradigm – stereotype threat – that is purported to help explain some group based disparities (Lewis & Michalak, revise & resubmit, Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology).

 

III. Intervention Science & Translational Research: How Can We Leverage Behavioral Science to Create More Effective Public Policy

My final line of research attempts to integrate basic and applied behavioral science frameworks to understand the motivational consequences of public policies in order to make evidence-based recommendations to improve policy outcomes. This research often involves conducting systematic reviews of research on particular policy areas such as racial and economic health disparities (Lewis & Oyserman, 2016, Behavioral Science & Policy) or racial-ethnic and economic disparities in education (Oyserman & Lewis, 2017, Social Issues and Policy Review).

My current interest in this area is improving the science of scaling interventions (moving from laboratory trials to real world dissemination).

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