Human Nature and Potentials Lab

Moral Potential: Beyond immediate self-interests

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, and we all develop a sense of group-transcendent fairness. 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.

Emotional Potential: Optimal Subjective Experiences

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, meaning, and self-transcendent emotions. 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. We also found that meaning is perceived as more self-transcendent than happiness is. And even young children appreciate awe-inspiring experiences. 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, even from very early in life.

Realizing the Potential of the Self:

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 important social and psychological benefits. To understand the processes underlying self-realization, 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.