Change Lab: Research

Humans are expertly equipped to operate in environments of change. When it gets too hot, we secrete water on the surface of our skin to help us cool. When it gets too bright, our eyes rally armies of cone cells to help us see. And yet, many important changes in modern life unfold in ways that may be more difficult for our psychological machinery to manage. The climate transforms surely, but slowly. Relationships erode not after one big fight, but after smaller signs at some point add up. We must trust, invisibly, when others proclaim they've shed their past destructive ways. Who we are today isn't always who we'll be tomorrow. From ever-evolving technologies, to societal cycles, to shifting attitudes and identities—change abounds.

The Change Lab at Chicago Booth (directed by Prof. Ed O'Brien) takes a social psychological approach to tackling such issues. Our view is that only by understanding how people appraise change themselves (e.g., as opposed to the objective magnitude of that change) will one be able to meaningfully influence behavior (e.g., motivating people to finally confront decline or to fully appreciate improvement). People's behavioral responses to change "out there" largely depend on their internal construals of the kinds and degrees of change that they believe have emerged - all of which are dynamically shaped by contextual demands (e.g., affective feedback; past experience; shifting reference points and perspectives). Our research therefore seeks to supplement traditional approaches to these questions (e.g., Bayesian modeling of inherent future uncertainty) by adopting a more active top-down approach (e.g., theoretically unpacking where people's priors originate from in the first place), as well as by extending beyond domains of uncertainty altogether (e.g., assessing how people perceive and react to changes that they know for sure have unfolded or will soon unfold). We utilize a wide variety of methodologies to help accomplish this goal, ranging from running randomly-assigned laboratory experiments (both in person and online), to designing economic games and other behavioral tasks, to collecting field data and conducting meta-analyses of data sets from elsewhere.

The research questions we're currently exploring (with examples of ongoing/recent projects) are:

i. How do people evaluate improvement vs. decline?

O'Brien (in prep)

Garcia-Rada, John, O'Brien, & Norton (under review)

O'Brien (2020), Current Directions in Psychological Science

O'Brien & Klein (2017), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

ii. How do people evaluate their own change vs. others' change?

Wald & O'Brien (in prep)

Roberts & O'Brien (in prep)

Li, Hsee, & O'Brien (in prep)

Kardas & O'Brien (2018), Psychological Science

Klein & O'Brien (2017), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

O'Brien & Kardas (2016), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Campbell, O'Brien, Van Boven, Schwarz, & Ubel (2014), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

O'Brien (2013), Psychological Science

O'Brien & Ellsworth (2012a), Psychological Science

iii. What kinds of change do people categorize as more or less important?

O'Brien (under review)

Klein & O'Brien (2019), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

O'Brien (2015), Journal of Experimental Psychology: General

iv. How (and why) do experiences vary in their rates of change?

Kardas, Schroeder, & O'Brien (under review)

O'Brien (2019), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

O'Brien & Kassirer (2019), Psychological Science

Konrath, Chopik, Hsing, & O'Brien (2014), Personality and Social Psychology Review

Konrath, O'Brien, & Hsing (2011), Personality and Social Psychology Review

v. How does change impact psychological wellbeing?

Winet & O'Brien (in prep)

Christensen & O'Brien (in prep)

Kristal, O'Brien, & Caruso (2019), Psychological Science

O'Brien & Roney (2017), Psychological Science

O'Brien & Ellsworth (2012b), Psychological Science