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

. 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

. Well-being in the time of COVID-19: Do metaphors matter?. IJP, 2021.

Dataset Article

. Lives versus Livelihoods? Perceived economic risk has a stronger association with support for COVID-19 preventive measures than perceived health risk. Scientific Reports, 2021.


. What makes thinking for pleasure pleasurable?. Emotion, 2020.

Preprint Dataset Article


Historical prevalence of slavery predicts contemporary American gun ownership
Feb 19, 2022 2:00 PM
'A True Friend with Six Hearts' - Using Firearms to Cope with Psychological Threat
Feb 29, 2020 11:00 AM
Guns as a Coping Mechanism
Feb 9, 2019 9:30 AM
Higher Population Density and Lower Meaning in Life
May 27, 2018 10:30 AM


Here is a selection of papers that are currently in progress. While we’re very excited about them of course, we ask that you do not cite anything on this page until the peer-review process has completed its work.

  • ‘A true friend with six hearts’: Holding a firearm helps gun-owners deal with the threat of electric shock, with Sara Medina DeVilliers & Xiaowen Wang. In this manuscript describing a preregistered experiment, we find that when expecting a painful electric shock, participants from gun-owning households felt more calm (as indicated by their physiological responses) when holding a non-firing pistol than holding a control object, whereas those from non-gun-owning households felt less calm when handling the gun. Draft current as of October 12, 2021
  • Shifts in residential mobility predict shifts in culture, with Youngjae Cha & Shigehiro Oishi. In this manuscript, we use representative cross-national data from 18 industrialized nations to show that in years when residential mobility is lower than usual in a country, citizens are less likely to say that hard work leads to success, are less optimistic, and less individualistic; findings that are echoed in microdata from a nationally representative sample both of Americans who have successfully moved and those who wished to move but were in the same location a year later. Draft current as of September 3, 2021
  • Worries about appearing prejudiced decreased among conservatives after the 2016 election of Donald Trump, with Hyeonjin Bak & Jessica Mazen. In this manuscript describing a preregistered analysis of data from over 90,000 visitors to the Project Implicit website over four years (2015-2018) we find that conservatives (but not liberals) reduced the degree to which they reported being motivated to avoid responding with prejudice for external reasons – finding, in other words, that conservatives in the Trump era felt less constricted by political correctness or the approbation of their peers when expressing their prejudices. This reduction in the external motivation to avoid responding with prejudice mediated the relationship between political orientation and explicit racial attitudes, and that the weakening of conservatives’ external motivation to control their prejudice in the age of Trump predicted changes in their explicit attitudes (i.e. moderated mediation). We find, furthermore, that this pattern of results is unique to the external motivation to avoid acting with prejudice, not anti-prejudice motivations more generally (as the internal motivation to avoid responding with prejudice were not differentially affected by the Trump era across the political divide). Draft current as of September 23, 2021
  • False growth mindsets in teachers negatively impact student beliefs and achievement, with David Silverman & Stephanie Wormington. In this manuscript describing a preregistered analysis of a nationally representative sample of over 3,800 9th-graders and more than 300 of their mathematics teachers in over 60 public schools, we find that false-growth-mindset beliefs in teachers are widespread and come with motivational and academic consequences for students in these classrooms, including viewing their teachers as having ‘fixed’ ability beliefs and holding entity theories about their own intelligence, both of which predict lowered end-of-year grades. Draft current as of January 11, 2021


Here are my conference posters, in case you’d like to take a look: