Self and Motivation Lab Dr. Lora Park

The Self and Motivation Lab at the University at Buffalo, directed by Dr. Lora Park, focuses broadly on questions pertaining to the self, motivation, well-being, and interpersonal processes. Using cross-sectional, experimental, and daily diary methods, we investigate (a) how the pursuit of self-esteem via contingencies of self-worth – the desire to protect, maintain, and enhance self-esteem in particular domains – undermines motivation, well-being, and relationships; (b) how concerns about belonging – due to being sensitive to rejection or a member of an underrepresented group (e.g., women in male-dominated STEM fields) – lead to negative effects, which can be alleviated through interventions; and (c) how people’s lay theories of happiness shape their goal pursuits and well-being. Overall, our research advances knowledge and understanding of how people’s experience of themselves affects motivation, well-being, and relationships, and identifies interventions to improve important societal outcomes, such as broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM.


CORE THEMES of our research are:

(a) Contingencies of self-worth and the pursuit of self-esteem.  In this line of research, we examine how threats to domains of contingent self-worth, such as experiencing failure, rejection, or financial insecurity affects people’s desire to protect, maintain, and enhance their self-esteem, with implications for motivation, well-being, and interpersonal relationships. We also examine why people come to base their self-esteem in particular domains and ways to alleviate the effects of threats to self-worth and well-being.

b) Concerns about belonging and interventions. In this line of research, we study the consequences of people’s concerns about belonging.  With past funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we have examined how concerns about appearing romantically desirable to others affect women’s attitudes and interest in STEM fields.  With current funding from NSF, we study how subtle situational cues, such as giving students positive feedback in college math courses, affect students’ self-efficacy, belonging, performance, and interest in STEM. In other work, we have examined antecedents and consequences of Appearance-based Rejection Sensitivity – a personality processing system characterized by anxious concerns and expectations of being rejected based on one’s physical appearance. 

(c) Lay beliefs about well-being.  In a third line of research, we examine how people’s lay beliefs about happiness being cumulative (Delaying Happiness beliefs) versus fleeting (Living in the Moment beliefs) shape their goal pursuits, affective reactions, and well-being. In another line of work, we investigate people’s lay theories of the consequences of social media use and how these beliefs shape people’s overall well-being. 

CORE VALUES of our lab are:

To generate new knowledge and advance understanding of how aspects of the self shape motivation and behavior using a range of scientific methods.  

To create a culture of collaboration and growth by supporting curiosity, connection, and openness to learning.

To contribute to broader societal issues by applying research theories and findings to help solve real-world problems.

Our lab is committed to values of equity, diversity and inclusion. We welcome students and collaborators from all backgrounds regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, religion, or physical ability. We recognize the intrinsic value of every human being and strive to promote an inclusive environment where people feel psychologically safe to share and discuss their ideas.