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True Self and Authenticity

The goal of research on true self and authenticity is generally twofold. The first is to answer a fundamental question: “what is true self, and what is authenticity?” We refer this research effort to as an epistemological approach to understanding true self and authenticity. Research with the epistemological approach has discovered that true self is a core aspect of one’s identity, has a moral essence, and is positively biased; thus, authenticity is more likely to be experienced when one acts in accord with their core values/interests, morality, and positive self-aspects. The second goal is to understand what true self and authenticity do for us, which we refer to as an instrumental approach.  Research with this approach has revealed that people believe true self should be used as guide for making important life decisions to make satisfying decisions. They also believe that desirable outcomes will be earned if they follow their true self and authentic interests. In our lab, we use both approaches to more fully understand true self and authenticity by focusing on antecedents and consequences of following true self (Kim et al., 2021; Kim et al., 2018) and authenticity (Kim et al., 2019; Kim et al., 2018; Maffly-Kipp et al., 2020). We are currently investigating how moral emotion regulation affects felt authenticity and the role of essentialist beliefs in both the epistemological and instrumental approaches to true self.

Existential Meaning and Sense-Making

Whether we like it or not, we eventually face a fundamental question about our existence: What is the meaning of my life? Existentialism and evolutionary science both suggest that our life has no a priori meaning; instead, existential psychology highlights the importance of meaning in life, a subjective sense of feeling one’s life meaningful. Research on existential meaning has examined the sources of meaning and the conditions and psychological states under which people search for meaning. Aligned with this body of literature, our lab investigates unexplored sources of existential meaning (Kim et al., 2022) and how people make sense of various life events and personal experiences, including aging (Kim et al., 2019) and natural disasters (Maffly-Kipp et al., 2021). We are currently working on the projects examining different ways in which people search for meaning in life and the psychological and behavioral consequences of valuing meaning.

Belief in Free Will and Sense of Hope

Do we have free will? Ontologically, the answer could be yes or no. Psychologically, however, it is more important to believe that we have free will. Research has discovered that endorsing a belief in free will is phenomenologically more natural and also has a moral-regulatory function. More recent findings suggest that a belief in free will may also function as an essence of hope (Seto et al., 2021). That is, believing that you have a control over your choice engenders a sense of hope that you can energetically pursue your important goals and know many different ways to attain them. In another recent work with our collaborators, we found that belief in free will helps better cope with two collective traumatic events, hurricane and COVID-19, particularly through the sense-making coping strategies, such as positive reframing and acceptance (Maffly-Kipp et al., 2022). Guided by these empirical findings and related theoretical framework, our lab is currently planning on conducting research that helps better understand the relationship between belief in free will and a sense of hope.

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