Human Nature and Potentials Lab

Beyond immediate self-interests: Moral transcendence

We may naturally care about our own interests, but what are our tendencies and potentials to transcend narrow self-interests? We explore this question by studying children and adults’ judgment and behaviors in situations involving moral conflicts between the self, others and groups at large. We have found that even young children hold normative expectations to contribute to the common good. Understanding our capacities for moral transcendence may contribute to a more complete picture of human nature, so that we can bring out the best within us.

Optimal subjective experience: Happiness and meaning

Our inner world is the ultimate reality we live in. In this line of work, we explore what constitutes and enables optimal subjective experience that features happiness and meaning. One of our key findings is that normative values is perceived as essential to happiness: children and adults think morally bad people are not happy, a robust tendency across ages, languages and cultures. Philosophers have debated much about the happiness and meaning of human existence; we are interested to examine what these subjective experiences mean to ordinary people from the very young to the very old.

Becoming who we really are: Competence and achievement

Realizing our potentials is one of the best things we can offer to ourselves and to the world. In a series of studies, we found that possessing culturally-valued competence has unexpected social and psychological benefits. To understand the processes underlying competence acquisition, we study achievement-related cognition and have found interesting developmental changes on the early understanding and valuation of goals, abilities and unique ideas/skills. At the heart of our current exploration is what cognitive and motivational factors enable us to recognize and realize our unique potentials.