My lab studies the psychology of motivation and emotion, employing social and neuroscience approaches. We are interested in the interplay of cognition, emotion, and motivation. This interest leads us to investigate topics such as approach motivation and emotions (e.g., anger, desire); attitude formation, maintenance, and change; the antecedents and consequences of discrepancies between cognitions; and embodiment. The majority of research conducted in the lab is derived from theory. We use multiple measures in our research. Other the last few years, these broad research interests have been realized in three primary lines of research, which are described below.
Research in Detail
The Influence of Motivational Intensity on Cognitive Scope
Over 5 decades of research had suggested that negative affective states narrow cognitive scope, whereas positive affective states broaden cognitive scope. An examination of this past research, however, revealed that only negative affects of high motivational intensity (e.g., fear, stress) and positive affects of low motivational intensity (e.g., gratitude, amusement) may have been examined. Consequently, over the last few years, my lab has examined positive and negative affects that are low (e.g., sadness) versus high (e.g., desire) in motivational intensity. This research has found that affects of low motivational intensity broaden cognitive scope whereas affects of high motivational intensity narrow cognitive scope, regardless of the positivity or negativity of the affective state.
Emotive Functions of Asymmetrical Frontal Cortical Activity
One concerns the emotive functions of asymmetrical frontal cortical activity. Decades of research have established that the left and right frontal cortices are asymmetrically involved in motivational processes, with the left frontal cortex being involved in approach motivation and the right frontal cortex being involved in withdrawal motivation. This conceptual view of asymmetrical frontal cortex differs from the view that dominated the field of emotion for two decades, that is, the view that the left frontal cortex is involved in positive affect and the right frontal cortex is involved in negative affect. Our published studies on anger revealed that even though anger, even though it is negative in valence, relates to left frontal cortical activation, particularly when the anger is associated with approach motivation. This research is being extended to understand behavioral approach sensitivity, reactance motivation, bipolar disorder, and unipolar depression.
Action-Based Model of Cognitive Dissonance
The other line of research has involved testing predictions derived from the action-based model of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of psychology’s most influential theories and one of the few instances of a cumulative social psychological theory. As demonstrated in the recent volume on the contemporary status of cognitive dissonance theory (Harmon-Jones & Mills, 1999), researchers have expressed a renewed interest in dissonance processes, as they are omnipresent and central to psychological life. Indeed, some scientists have argued that several contemporary “non-dissonance” theories are merely re-statements of dissonance theory (e.g., Aronson, 1992). However, mechanisms underlying production of perceptual, cognitive, affective, and behavioral changes produced by dissonance are not well understood. Understanding these mechanisms has both theoretical and practical implications. Because much past research had demonstrated problems with each revision of dissonance theory, it was important to develop a new theory of dissonance that addresses the motivation underlying dissonance reduction. Understanding of dissonance processes could be improved and extended with an explanation of why cognitive inconsistency arouses negative affect and how and why this negative affect motivates the cognitive and behavior adjustments. The action-based model of cognitive dissonance proposed answers to these questions.
Effect of transcranial direct current stimulation of asymmetric frontal cortical activity on emotion and motivation
Anger and reward processing
Influence of embodied motivational postures on emotion-related attentional blink
Influence of embodied motivational postures on cognitive conflict
Cognitive dissonance processes
Diverse motivational functions of sadness
I am open to supervising students in any of the areas of research listed above.
PleaseFeel free to read my lab's recent review papers to get a more complete understanding of our research.
First Year Psychology
Honours course on emotions
-- Co-editor with P. G. Devine of Special Section on Social Neuroscience at Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition (2003)
-- Associate Editor – Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences (2003 to 2005)
-- Associate Editor – Emotion (2010 to present)
-- Action Editor – International Journal of Psychophysiology (2011)
-- Associate Editor – Psychological Science (2012 to present)
-- Co-editor with J. van Honk of Special Issue on the Neuroscience of Motivation and Emotion at Motivation and Emotion (2012)
-- Co-editor with Andreas Eder & Andrew Elliot of Special Issue on Approach and Avoidance Motivation at Emotion Review (2013)
Recent Service for Scientific Societies
-- 2009 to 2011: Society for the Study of Motivation Council Representative
-- 2010 to 2011: Society for the Study of Motivation, Publications Committee (co-chair)
-- 2011 to 2014: Society for Psychophysiological Research, Board of Directors
-- 2011: Society for Psychophysiological Research Convention, Early Careers Conversation Hour Speaker
-- 2012: Society for Psychophysiological Research Convention Program Committee
-- Graduated Magna Cum Laude, 1990
-- Graduated from University of Alabama at Birmingham with Honors in Psychology, 1990
-- John Ost Award for Most Outstanding Undergraduate Research at UAB, 1990
-- Society for Psychophysiological Research Distinguished Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychophysiology, 2002
-- Frank J. McGuigan Young Investigator Prize, Honorable Mention, 2002
-- Vilas Associate Professor of Psychology, UW-Madison, 2002-2004
-- Hilgard Visiting Professor of Psychology, Stanford University (2007)
-- Fellow, Association for Psychological Science (2008—present)
-- Fellow, Society for Experimental Social Psychology (2009 -- present)
-- Fellow, Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2010 – present)
-- Top Reviewer, Biological Psychology (2009)
-- Listed in the Institute for Scientific Information’s Essential Science Indicators representing the top 1% of cited scientists in Psychiatry/Psychology
-- 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Department of Psychology
-- 2010, Listed as 35th most impactful social psychologist (career-stage adjusted), by Nosek et al. (2010, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1283–1300)
-- 2012, Career Trajectory Award from Society of Experimental Social Psychology