Selected Publications

American gun-owners, uniquely, view firearms as a means of keeping themselves safe from dangers both physical and psychological. We root this belief in the experience of White Southerners during Reconstruction - a moment when a massive upsurge in the availability of firearms coocurred with a worldview threat from the emancipation and the political empowerment of Black Southerners. We show that the belief-complex formed in this historical moment shapes contemporary gun culture: the prevalence of slavery in a Southern county (measured in 1860) predicts the frequency of firearms in the present day. This relationship holds above and beyond a number of potential covariates, including contemporary crime rates, police spending, degree of racial segregation and inequality, socioeconomic conditions, and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential election; and is partially mediated by the frequency of people in the county reporting that they generally do not feel safe. This Southern origin of gun culture may help to explain why we find that worries about safety do not predict county-level gun ownership outside of historically slave-owning counties, and why we find that social connection to historically slaveholding counties predicts county-level gun ownership, even outside of the South.
PNAS Nexus, 2022

What are the effects of reading fiction? We propose that literary fiction alters views of the world through its presentation of difference - different minds, different contexts, and different situations - grounding a belief that the social world is complex. Across four studies, two nationally-representative and one preregistered (total n = 5,176), we find that the reading of literary fiction in early life is associated with a more complex worldview in Americans: increased attributional complexity, increased psychological richness, decreased belief that contemporary inequalities are legitimate, and decreased belief that people are essentially only one way. By contrast, early-life reading of narrative fiction that presents more standardized plots and characters, such as romance novels, predict holding a less complex worldview.
PSPB, 2022

We discuss the cultural power of changes in nation-level residential mobility. Using a theoretically-informed analysis of mobility trends across the developed world, we argue that a shift from a culture full of people moving their residence to a culture full of people staying in place is associated with decreases, among its residents, in individualism, happiness, trust, optimism, and endorsement of the notion that hard work leads to success. We use the United States as a case study: while the U.S. has historically been a highly-residentially-mobile nation, yearly moves in the U.S. are halved from rates in the 1970s and quartered from rates in the late 19th century. In the past four decades, the proportion of Americans who are stuck in neighborhoods they no longer wish to live in is up nearly 50%. We discuss how high rates of mobility may have originally shaped American culture, and how recent declines in residential mobility may relate to current feelings of cultural stagnation. Finally, we speculate on future trends in American mobility and the consequences of a society where citizens increasingly find themselves stuck in place.
American Psychologist, 2021

How have attempts at political persuasion changed over time? Using nine corpora dating back through 1789, containing over 7 million words of speech (1,666 documents in total), covering three different countries, plus the entire Google nGram corpus, we find that language relating to togetherness permanently crowded out language relating to duties and obligations in the persuasive speeches of politicians during the early 20th Century. This shift is temporally predicted by a rise in Western nationalism and the mass movement of people from more rural to more urban areas, and is unexplained by changes in language, private political speech, or nonmoral persuasion. We theorize that the emergence of the modern state in the 1920s had psychopolitical consequences for the ways that people understood and communicated their relationships with their government, which was then reflected in the levers of persuasion chosen by political elites.
PSPB, 2020

Indirect measures of attitudes or stereotypes, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), assess associations that are relatively automatic, unintentional, or uncontrollable. A primary argument for the IAT’s use is that it can predict relevant outcomes beyond parallel direct measures, such as self-report (a claim referred to as demonstrating incremental predictive validity). Prior work on this issue relied primarily on least squares linear regression analyses, which are unable to correct for measurement (un)reliability and may then seriously inflate false positive rates in claims of incremental predictive validity. Properly accounting for the impact of measurement reliability requires using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM). In a pre-registered analysis, we investigated 10 IATs and 250 outcomes variables ( N > 14,000), and found that 69.6% of outcomes were reliably correlated with the IAT. Among outcomes that were associated with both the IAT and self-report, the IAT showed incremental predictive validity in 58.6% of cases using least squares linear regression analysis and 59.2% of cases when using SEM, with the two analytic approaches reaching the same conclusion 91.4% of the time. Though the two analysis strategies largely converged, discrepancies were large enough to suggest a non trivial percentage of conclusions drawn from least squares linear regression will be erroneous. As only SEM properly accounts for measurement reliability, it should be adopted in future analyses. To facilitate that goal, we provide tools for researchers to complete SEM analyses on tests concerning the incremental predictive validity of the IAT.
JESP, 2019

Firearms are one of the central flashpoints in American life, and yet the motivations underlying their ownership have been generally understudied by psychologists. In this paper, I review work from across the social sciences to model the psychological utility that people get from gun ownership. I propose the Coping Model of Protective Gun Ownership, arguing that those who own their weapon for protection are using their gun symbolically as an aid to manage psychological threats - to their safety, control, and sense of belongingness - that come from their belief that the world is a dangerous place and that society will not keep them safe. I discuss the ramifications of this coping strategy and present a research agenda for exploring this framework.
Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2019

Which is more enjoyable: trying to think enjoyable thoughts or doing everyday solitary activities? Wilson et al (2014) found that American participants much preferred solitary everyday activities, such as reading or watching TV, to thinking for pleasure. To see whether this preference generalized outside of the United States, we replicated the study with 2,557 participants from 12 sites in 11 countries. The results were consistent in every country: Participants randomly assigned to do something reported significantly greater enjoyment than did participants randomly assigned to think for pleasure. Although we found systematic differences by country in how much participants enjoyed thinking for pleasure, these differences were fully accounted for by country-level variation in 5 individual differences, 4 of which were positively correlated with thinking for pleasure (need for cognition, openness to experience, meditation experience, and initial positive affect) and 1 of which was negatively correlated (reported phone usage).
JPSP, 2018

Recent Publications

More Publications

. High replicability of newly-discovered social-behavioral findings is achievable. Nature Human Behaviour, 2023.


. Pandemic boredom: Little evidence that lockdown-related boredom affected risky public health behaviors across 116 countries. Emotion, 2022.


. Socioecology and fiction. BBS, 2021.


. A trade-off model of intentional thinking for pleasure. Emotion, 2021.

Preprint Article

. The cultural dynamics of declining residential mobility. American Psychologist, 2021.

Preprint Article

Media Coverage

Sometimes our work is covered by the media. Here’s what that coverage looks like.

On guns in America

On residential mobility

On walkability

On reading fiction

On the psychological impacts on income inequality

On thinking enjoyably and its difficulty

And, sometimes I get to go on podcasts or webinars. Here’s what that looks and sounds like.