I am currently a graduate student in the Cultural Evolution and Optimal Experience Lab headed by Dr. Leonard Martin. Broadly, I am interested in researching how innate biological traits influence the modern perspective individuals have of themselves and of their environments. This person-environment interaction is essential to understanding how and why people interact the way they do.
According to I-D Compensation theory, humans today live in ways very different than what may be optimal for them. Anthropological evidence has found that roughly 12,000 years ago humans shifted from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agrarian lifestyle that required people to settle down and develop binding contracts (e.g., land ownership, trading). In the past humans used to live with autonomy, move freely from community to community, and live in egalitarian societies. However, their new lifestyles meant they needed to conform to rules and norms more frequently (e.g., not eat a neighbor's crops), remain in one place in order to farm year-round, and develop hierarchies to ensure that rules were followed and tasks were completed (e.g., feudal societies). Suddenly, humans were not living in accord with how they had evolved in order to survive and thrive. The discord between their hunter-gatherer biology and their delayed-return environment caused problems that we still experience today. Our research aims at answering the following questions: 1) Is this societal/biological mismatch hurting us? 2) If so, how? 3) Once we know how it is affecting us, are there things people can do to mitigate this inconsistency?
Currently, I am exploring how being placed into either an ancestral or modern mindset (e.g., cooperation as beneficial, nature being complete on its own v. competition as beneficial, nature needing human intervention) can influence how well someone is able to engage in introspection. In one study, a participant is given an initial measure of an attitude or trait, placed in one of the two societal mindsets, and then given a behavioral measure of that same attitude or trait. Our hypothesis is that participants who are primed to be in a mindset similar to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors will have a stronger relationship between their attitudes and behavior compared to participants in a modern mindset. Previous research has suggested that humans in our ancestral past were better able to engage in behavior that was congruent with their personally held beliefs and attitudes. This was at least partially due to their culture, which fostered autonomy. In contrast, modern societies exert many pressures on their members to conform to cultural norms and expectations, some of which may not align with an individual's values. For example, employees may be expected to socialize with their coworkers throughout the day to create a collegial environment, but some people at the company may be dispositionally introverted and would not naturally approach their peers for conversation. Because such instances of ignoring personal preferences for behavior, in order to adopt cultural expectations, are so common in today's modern society, our lab believes that people today automatically ignore their personal preferences. However, if we encourage people to be in a state of mind that is congruent wiht our evolutionary psychology, it is possible that they can start to behave more autonomously as a result of being more connected with the self.
Through this study and others, we hope to learn more about the ideal environments that promote optimal experience and how these environments influence how we see ourselves and present ourselves to others. It is imperative to discover what conditions provide psychological satisfaction and well-being as our surroundings become more and more distant from those of our evolutionary ancestors.
I began as a graduate student in the UGA Psychology BBS program in the Fall of 2013 as a student in Dr. Leonard Martin's lab (more information below) and received my M.S. in Psychology in May of 2016. I received my B.S. in Psychology from UGA in May 2011.
Currently ABD, my dissertation investigates the mediating role of identity and self-esteem on the relationship between threat and prejudice. After establishing support for this model, I plan to test a prejudice-reduction intervention in the lab.