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Strategic Self-Regulation

"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 tries to better understand such strategic self-regulation—how people control the way they leverage internal and external resources to meet their goals, by:

  1. Examining how people’s mindsets influence the kinds of strategies that they employ (Chen, Powers, et al., 2020, PNAS; Chen, Ellsworth, et al., 2015, PSPB; Chywl, Chen, et al., 2020, PSPB); 

  2. Investigating how people naturally manage their resources to achieve their goals (Chen, Ong, et al., 2021, AERA Open; Chen, Teo et al., 2022, npj Science of Learning);

  3. Developing and testing scalable psychological  interventions that guide people to pursue their goals strategically (Chen, Chavez, et al., 2017, Psych Science; Chen, Teo et al., 2022, npj Science of Learning).

Motivating Well-Being

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, PSPB; Chen & Ellsworth, 2020, Passion for Work: Determinants and Consequences). 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.


We have developed and tested ways of invoking these mindsets, examined cultural differences, and tracked the effects of people’s mindsets about passion longitudinally over time (Chen, Lin, et al., 2021, Frontiers in Psychology; Chen, Lee, et al., 2020, EJWOP; Chwyl, Chen, et al., 2020, PSPB; O'Keefe, Horberg, Chen, & Savani, 2021, JOB).

Scalable Interventions

"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, helps us refine practically useful theories.

For example, a Strategic Resource Use intervention we designed significantly improved students' self-reflection on their learning, and raised students' performance in introductory college statistics classes by one-third of a letter grade, on average (Chen, Chavez et al., 2017, Psych Science). We have since scaled up that intervention through cutting-edge ECoach technology (Huberth, Chen et al., 2015, PLOS One) to reach more than 12,000 students across campus (Chen, Teo et al., 2022, npj Science of Learning). Our ongoing research is analyzing even more recent efforts at scaling the intervention to reach more than 95,000 students.

Because we value societal impact and scalability, we believe in working closely with practitioners to address people's needs and challenges; and we prioritize scalability in our intervention design (which often means leveraging educational technology to make interventions more accessible).

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