Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

James Shepperd

James Shepperd

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.

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.

Gun Attitudes – My graduate students and I take a psychological approach to understanding the gap between people who support gun rights and people who support gun restrictions. We propose that both groups share a fundamental need for safety but differ in how they believe that need is best achieved, and their attitudes reflect this difference. We propose that bridging the gun divide requires solutions that respect and address the safety needs of both groups.

Primary Interests:

  • Health Psychology
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Motivation, Goal Setting
  • Self and Identity

Journal Articles:

Courses Taught:

  • Advanced Social Psychology
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Introductory Psychology
  • Personality Psychology
  • Research Methods
  • Self and Identity
  • Self-Esteem and Identity Regulation
  • Social Psychology
  • Statistics

James Shepperd
Department of Psychology
University of Florida
P.O. Box 112250
Gainesville, Florida 32611-2250
United States

  • Phone: (352) 273-2165
  • Fax: (352) 392-7985

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