Health, Emotions, & Altruism Laboratory (HEAL)

Living harmoniously in large-scale societies requires individuals to suppress their more selfish inclinations and prioritize the welfare of others. The Health, Emotions, & Altruism Laboratory (HEAL) examines the forces that drive prosociality and morality. Specifically, we investigate how prosocial emotions (e.g., compassion, awe, etc.) promote empathy and altruism toward another person, encourage cooperation and cohesion within groups, and enhance the health and well-being of the individual. We also explore how individuals encourage moral behavior and uphold moral norms through expressing moral outrage toward transgressors, relying on moral character to inform other impressions, and allowing others to regain moral status through redemption.

These projects aim to answer a fundamental question about humans:

How do we transcend our own self-focus to care about other people, groups, and society as a whole?

Prosocial emotions

Promoting empathy and altruism toward another person. In our lab we explore how emotions like compassion, gratitude, and awe activate autonomic and hormonal changes to facilitate empathy and altruism. We also explore moderating factors that may influence the experience of these emotions including characteristics of the observer (e.g., social class) and the target (e.g., egoism).

Encouraging cooperation and cohesion within groups. What compels us to sacrifice our own desires for the greater good of the group? We examine how emotions like awe promote a more collective orientation and feeling of connection to a cause greater than themselves. We also ask how and when awe can result in more negative outcomes like extreme nationalism, radicalization, and cults of personality.

Enhancing the health and well-being of the individual. Health and well-being are markers of a fulfilling life and a thriving society. Efforts to better understand how to achieve these ends have revealed the importance of positive emotions. We argue that prosocial emotions like compassion, awe, and gratitude, which help us transcend our own self-focus, may be the most powerful generators of health and well being. We find that awe makes individuals more humble, more satisfied with their lives, and predicts lower levels of damaging inflammatory markers. We find compassion is particularly good at reducing stress about one’s own problems, by shifting an individuals focus outward.

Encouraging moral behavior & upholding moral norms

Expressing moral outrage toward transgressors. Moral outrage is one way individuals can uphold a society’s moral norms. We explore this affectively ladened phenomenon and how it is influenced by important social relationships. For instance, we investigate how moral outrage may be enhanced or diminished when close others (e.g., friends, romantic partners, or family) or those in power (e.g., CEO) misbehave. Finally, we examine how individuals respond to morally tainted objects such as money, which can also take on moral associations through the process of moral contagion.

Relying on moral character to inform other impressions. Our moral beliefs are some of the most strongly held beliefs that we have. When individuals violate the way we believe people ought to act it has negative repercussions for our judgments of them in a variety of domains. We investigate how a target’s deviant behavior can affect observers’ judgments of that person in different, unrelated domains such as competence. We also study how individual discuss morally charged issues in which they hold opposing views to better understand why moral arguments feel so intractable and how we form impressions of those who disagree with our moral values.

Allowing others to regain moral status through redemption. Once someone transgresses, what happens next? How do they regain their lost moral status? We outline a process of moral redemption. We question whether redemption occurs in real life or whether it represents an abstract notion that is almost impossible to actually achieve.