“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” - Abraham Lincoln


People all have goals that they want to accomplish, but the key question is how they go about achieving their goals. As Abraham Lincoln intuited, success in the face of challenge does not come simply from sheer effort or brute force, but is also a matter of searching for and implementing effective strategies. Our research focuses on such strategic self-regulation—how people control the way they leverage internal and external resources to meet their goals.


We focus on:

(1) Investigating how people naturally manage their resources to achieve their goals,

(2) Examining how people’s mindsets influence the kinds of strategies that they employ, and

(3) Developing and testing scalable psychological interventions that guide people to pursue their goals strategically (e.g., Chen, Chavez, Ong, & Gunderson, 2017).




We study the mindsets and behaviors that people adopt as they pursue well-being goals, such as living a purposeful life, feeling passionate about their work, and experiencing career satisfaction. 


For example, do you think passion is to be found by seeking out the perfect job fit, or do you think that it is cultivated through experience over time in the profession? We call these the “Fit mindset” and “Develop mindset”, respectively (Chen, Ellsworth, & Schwarz, 2015). These mindsets powerfully influence people’s future expectations of their well-being in different lines of work, the kinds of self-regulatory strategies that people employ to achieve passion, and even how much well-being they report in their lines of work (Chen et al., 2015; Chen, Lin, & Yates, in prep).


We are currently developing and testing ways of invoking these mindsets, and tracking the effects of people’s mindsets about passion longitudinally over time.



“If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.” - Kurt Lewin


A big reason why we do psychological research is to address societal issues. In our lab, theory and practice closely inform one another in a full-cycle approach (Mortensen & Cialdini, 2010): We use psychological theory to design psychologically-precise interventions; conducting rigorous research on our interventions in the field, in turn, informs us whether our theoretical hypotheses about the problem (and our solutions) are accurate. We believe in working closely with practitioners to address the needs and challenges that people face.

In designing our interventions, we aim to make our interventions conveniently scalable. For example, we have offered our interventions online in a self-administered format and we have allowed teachers to customize the interventions for their own classes online (Chen, Chavez, Ong, & Gunderson, 2017; Huberth, Chen, Tritz, & McKay, 2015).



What makes people feel and appear competitive? Are people more competitive when a rival evaluates them or when they actively compare themselves to others? How do ranking and status cues (such as institutional rankings and branded products) influence the way people appear to and interact with others? 


We have been excited by questions like these about the psychological processes in organizations (Chen & Garcia, 2010; Chen, Myers, Kopelman, & Garcia, 2012; Garcia, Weaver, & Chen, under review).