Research

My background is in mainstream social-personality psychology, but my current research interests fall into many areas.

Much of my current work focuses on some hard problems in the science of creativity: (1) are some people more creative than others?, (2) how do people come up with good ideas, and (3) how can researchers assess creativity?

Along with some valiant graduate students and many great collaborators, I have been arguing that creative thought is deeply executive and requires the ability to control thought and attention. Creativity thus starts to look a lot like intelligence. We have published several papers in Intelligence and Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts on the role of executive and strategic mechanisms in creative thought. A recent paper in Trends in Cognitive Sciences gives a good snapshot of our approach.

Regarding assessment, we have developed a family of methods for scoring divergent thinking tasks that overcome many of the problems of traditional methods. In ongoing work, we're exploring some new kinds of domains, such as crafting creative metaphors and coming up with jokes.

A related line of work is in the science of aesthetics. I have argued for bringing aesthetic experience under the umbrella of mainstream emotion science, and as part of this I have shown how appraisal theories of emotion extend and expand theories of aesthetics in useful ways. I won the Berlyne Award, an early career award given by Division 10 of the American Psychological Association, for this line of work. More recently, I have become interested in aesthetic experiences that are off the beaten track, such as confusion, awe, chills, and absorption.

Of the emotions, my favorite is probably interest. I have published extensively on what makes things interesting, the role of interest and curiosity in models of motivation, and the role of interest in aesthetic experience.

I have a long-standing interest in self-awareness and its role in motivation and action. In an ongoing line of work funded by NIH, I am examining how implicit and explicit aspects of self-awareness influence how people expend and withhold effort, assessed via cardiovascular reactivity.

Finally, I'm interested in experience sampling methods. My collaborators and I have used experience-sampling to study a range of cognitive and social processes, such as mind-wandering, social disinterest, and the expression of clinical and sub-clinical features in everyday life. In some recent work, we used experience sampling methods to study mechanisms of change in a psychotherapy outcome trial with a sample of depressed community adults.