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 people’s identities and social context shape the meaning they make of their experiences, and the downstream consequences of meaning-making for people’s motivation to pursue their goals and 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. To study these topics, I integrate theoretical frameworks from social cognition, group dynamics, and attitudes and persuasion to generate ideas. I then test those ideas by triangulating across multiple methods including: laboratory and field experiments, longitudinal studies, social network analysis, focus groups, 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 do People Interpret Details in Messages, and What do Those Details Motivate them to do?

One line of my research examines the meaning that people derive from the level of granular detail available in information, 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, motivated them to take sooner action, like saving for retirement (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015, Psychological Science). More recently, we’ve found that comparable shifts in communication strategies can be leveraged to facilitate goal pursuit in health decision making (Lewis & Earl, 2018, 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 longer discussions, see Earl & Lewis, in press, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology; 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 (see also Hall, Lewis, & Ellsworth, 2018, Journal of Environmental Psychology).

II. The Roles of Stereotyping and Stigma Processes in Goal Pursuit

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, in a longitudinal study of engineering undergraduates, we found that stereotypes that get activated in engineering contexts about which gender is better suited for technical roles can contribute to biased behaviors in student teams that may perpetuate gender gaps in engineering (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, under review). In a separate field experiment, we have also found that in-group stigma concerns among African Americans can lead to behaviors that contribute to persistent racial health disparities (Lewis, Kougias, & Earl, in revision). The good news is that we have some preliminary evidence suggesting it is possible to intervene to reduce some of these gaps and disparities (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, revise & resubmit, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations).

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 set of meta-scientific projects to get a better understanding of a paradigm – stereotype threat – that is purported to help explain some group based disparities (Forscher, Taylor, Lewis, & Cavagnaro, under review; 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 sometimes 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). Other times it involves working with practitioners to conduct real-world tests of proposed intervention strategies and assessing their effects on meaningful outcomes (e.g., academic achievement; Lewis & Yates, revise & resubmit, Perspectives on Psychological Science).

My current interest in this area is improving the science of scaling psychological interventions (e.g., 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 (