Self, Emotion, and Behavior Lab

The Self, Emotion, and Behavior Laboratory focuses on topics related to social motives, emotions, self-reflection, and interpersonal behavior. We are particularly interested in the conditions under which self-focused thought has negative effects on people’s emotions and behaviors, as well as cognitive perspectives that are associated with hypo-egoic mindsets.  Our current research projects primarily involve five broad areas:


I have been interested in self-presentation for many years but had not conducted much research in this area for some time.  We have recently conducted a set of new studies of self-presentational authenticity.  Some people come across pretty much the same in all situations, whereas others foster rather different social identities in different contexts ("self-presentational persona").  Our research focuses on why different people have different numbers of persona and whether having many personas is associated with lower or higher social success, relationship quality, and mental health. We are also studying the relational implications of trying to convey images of oneself that are discrepant from one's  self-views and are developing measures of the degree to which people attend to and manage their impressions.

Overreactions to Trivial Events

People often react strongly to events that pose no tangible threat whatsoever  with excessive anger and force that far exceed the necessary response. For example, people may become enraged in response to another driver's mildly annoying behavior, become extremely angry during “friendly” discussions in which the outcome of the debate has no real consequences, and react defensively to meaningless criticisms. Importantly, these kinds of reactions underlie a great deal of conflict, aggression, and suffering, including road rage, domestic violence and child abuse, anger in response to differences of opinion, aggressive reactions to humiliation, culture-of-honor violence, and extreme collective reactions to inconsequential slights against one's national, ethnic, or religious group. Our research suggests that perceptions of social exchange violations are centrally involved in these overreactions.

Intellectual Humility and Conceit

Dr. Rick Hoyle and I have combined our graduate students into a team to study intellectual humility (the recognition that one's beliefs may, in fact, be incorrect) with a grant from the Templeton Foundation. People are often unrealistically certain of the accuracy of their beliefs involving, for example, politics, religion, lifestyles, and matters of taste and fashion. Believing that one has an inside route to the truth not only fuels conflict but also interferes with cooperation and compromise (as demonstrated by political stalemates and unwillingness to negotiate). We are developing measures of intellectual humility/conceit and studying the implications of intellectual humility for emotion, interpersonal behavior, and close relationships.


Psychological research on selfishness is surprisingly rare, but placing excessive importance on one’s own needs and desires relative to other people plays an important role in human relationships.  We have just started a line of research on individual differences in “selfism” (a term coined by Erskine and Phares to reflect trait selfishness) as well as situational factors that momentarily increase selfish tendencies in everyone.

Hypo-egoic Phenomena

Although people are typically self-focused and egoistic, they sometimes experience states in which their inherent self-centeredness subsides somewhat. When they enter a hypo-egoic state, certain phenomena become more likely, such as flow, awe, mindfulness, forgiveness, humility, wisdom, transcendence, and mystical experiences.  We are doing research on the hypo-egoic basis of these experiences and the beliefs that tend to promote them.  

Research Facilities

Much of our research is conducted in the laboratory of the Duke Interdisciplinary Behavioral Research Center (IBRC). The IBRC was constructed in 2004 as a state-of-the-art facility for experimental social and behavioral science research. The lab is equipped with two large computer/questionnaire labs (one 10 person, one 16 person), twelve acoustically sealed cubicles (10 one person, 2 two person) with networked desktop systems, four audio-video recording rooms (two 1-2 person, two 1-6 person), two psychophysiology recording rooms (equipped for the measurement of galvanic skin response, heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, EMG, ECG, respiration and finger pulse amplitude), and a 14-person seminar-style room. We also have 7-room research suite in the basement of the Sociology/Psychology Building.

We also acquired, through a Major Research Instrumentation Grant from the National Science Foundation, a mobile behavioral research laboratory. The "ResearchMobile" consists of four rooms that are equipped with computers, audio-visual recording/playback equipment, and the capability for psychophysiological measurement.

Duke ResearchMobile

Research Group

Graduate Students

Kate Diebels
Katrina Jongman-Sereno
Dina Gohar

Undergraduate Students

Jennifer Acosta
Nadine Goldberg

IBRC Research

Ashley Hawkins