My research expertise is in the area of Self and Self-processes, particularly as they apply to health. I am particularly interested in people’s expectations about the future and how expectations persevere and change in the face of challenging information. I also explore how people respond when they receive challenging information. My research mostly falls into three areas:
(1) Optimism, Risk Perceptions & Behavior – People often display comparative optimism in their judgments, believing that they are less likely than others to experience negative events and more likely than others to experience positive events. My research on comparative judgments addresses: 1) why people display comparative optimism, 2) what moderates comparative optimism, and 3) what are the consequences of the comparative optimism for affect, cognition, motivation and behavior.
(2) Fluctuations in Future Outlooks – Although people are generally optimistic about the future, they will shelve their optimism when they anticipate a possible challenge to their optimistic outlook. The shift from optimism sometimes can reflect an adjustment in response to new information, but often reflects a response to the possibility that things may not turn out as hoped. Along with Pat Carroll and Kate Sweeney, I propose that both of these explanations serve the large goal of preparedness – an adaptive goal state of readiness to respond to uncertain outcomes.
(3) Maintaining Desired Self-Views – I have conducted a number of studies examining how people respond to unwanted and threatening information. Currently I am examining how people will sometimes avoid potentially threatening information altogether. For example, people may delay or avoid medical screening, thereby remain blissfully ignorant of possible medical problems.
Other Projects – I am also pursuing three additional lines of research that are closely (although perhaps not obviously) tied to the description of my research above.
Barriers to Screening for Mouth and Throat Cancer – Although mouth and throat cancer is easily treatable if detected early, the mortality rate for mouth and throat cancer is marked higher among African Americans than European Americans because of differences in rates of screening. I have funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to explore psychological barriers to screening among rural African Americans.
Religiousness and Risk Behavior – Religious adolescents are less likely than non-religious adolescents to engage in a variety of risk behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use, but it is unclear why. Dr. Wendi Miller and I received a large grant from the Templeton Foundation to explore how religiousness eventuates in lower risk behavior. We are exploring a theoretical model we developed that proposes numerous routes by which religiousness leads to lower risk behavior. This research stems directly from my research on risk perceptions and behavior.
Smokers' Responses to Genomic Risk Feedback – In collaboration with Dr. Isaac Lipkus at Duke University and several other colleagues, I have funding from the National Cancer Institute to examining how smokers respond to genomic feedback regarding their cancer risk. Roughly 50% of smokers are null on a particular gene (GSTM1) and, as a result, are more susceptible to lung cancer. We are examining interest among college smokers in learning genomic risk feedback and how they respond to feedback about their genetic risk for lung cancer.