Motivated Perception & resisting temptations
As people work toward achieving goals, they often encounter temptations that threaten to throw them off course. How do people resolve the conflicts that arise when their immediate desires are at odds with their long-term goals? A great deal of research focuses on cognitive processes that aid self-control, exploring mechanisms and strategies related to how people think about, judge, and evaluate temptations. Work in our lab tests perceptual routes to self- control. We explore biases that occur as people perceive and interpret visual information during self-control conflicts. We ask whether people who are able to successfully resolve self-control conflicts not only think about the world in goal-promoting ways, but perceive it in goal-promoting ways as well. Across multiple studies in multiple goal domains (e.g., dieting, relationships, smoking), we find evidence for perceptual biases that arise during self-control conflicts and suggest functional links between these perceptual biases and behavioral efforts to resist temptations.
MOTivated perception & managing health and fitness goals
Along with our close collaborators at New York University our lab explores the way people's perceptual experiences of the world around them influence their ability to meet their health and fitness goals. We suggest people's active motives and their physical fitness interact to predict their perceptions of distance, which has consequences for exercise behaviors. Moreover, our work tests applied attention interventions aimed at increasing physical activity. When people narrowly focus visual attention on a target, like a finish line, the target appears closer. As a result, people increase the speed with which they walk to the target and experience the exercise as easier.
Motivated perception & mitigating threats
How do people respond to threatening information? We explore the ways people process and perceive active threats--to their physical safety, to their goals, and to their ideological beliefs. In multiple lines of work, we document distortions in the ways people perceive threats. For example, in one line of work we suggest people perceive threats (e.g., a tarantula, a scary man) as physically close relative to neutral or disgusting items. In another line of work, we show that conservative individuals exaggerate threats to their ideological group (e.g., they perceive more people at an opposition rally), which leads them to engage in more collective action. Perceiving threats as more imminent or intense may be a functional response geared toward mobilizing people to mitigate the threat.