How do we manage the self in a social world?

It’s an interesting puzzle: the struggles between the individual and the collective, the tension between the self and the nonself—and also the harmony between them. Attending to and using resources from both the self and its social context are necessary for social functioning, but how do we manage that balance to thrive?

I work to understand this puzzle and answer these questions with my research. I’m especially interested in how we manage our attention to information from these two worlds, and ultimately, how that impacts important aspects of our lives, such as our beliefs, relationships, goal pursuit. Here are some general questions that stem from that interest:

Managing attention to the self and nonself

By default, we operate from the perspective of the self, and tend to focus on self-relevant information. But why do some people focus on more or less self-relevant information than others? How does this perspective and focus impact how we see ourselves, others, and subsequently interact with the world around us? And importantly, what happens if we are able to shift focus away from the self?

I’m fascinated by the idea that the information—whether relevant or not to the self—on which we focus and use to construct our experience might have real consequences for our beliefs, interactions, motivations, and goal pursuit.

Managing the self when pursuing goals

We’ve all heard sayings like “it’s a dog eat dog world” or “you get what you give” which avow that the key to success is either focusing on the self, or the opposite, focusing away from the self. It’s an age-old debate. While these perspectives don’t agree on an answer, they do both tap into a valuable insight: that the resources we use are key in striving for and achieving our goals. How do people manage those resources to strive for their goals? How can we use each approach to help us toward our goals? Does one approach, focusing on or away from the self, indeed work better for long-term success?

I'm interested in exploring how we manage the interplay of the self with its social context when pursuing our goals, why, and how we can do it better.