Dr. Lauren C. Howe 


University of ZURICH

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR

RESEARCH

Lauren C. Howe © All rights reserved.

Here's a sampling of some of my lines of research:

WHEN EXPERTS WHO 'PRACTICE WHAT THEY PREACH' SEEM JUDGMENTAL

Common wisdom assumes that experts who lead by example - who embody the standards that they advocate to others in their own lives - will be more compelling. However, my dissertation research shows that experts who emphasize their high standards intimidate people who worry about falling short (with Benoît Monin). We demonstrated that doctors who emphasize their own commitment to a healthy lifestyle seem more judgmental of patients who have unhealthy habits, and this drives overweight patients away. In the quest to inspire others to make positive changes, experts and other leaders need to be sensitive to the social context. Leaders may be more effective when they are aware of the social concerns that their followers have, like concerns about how a leader will view them if they are struggling.  Click here to access a publication and here to read an article that I wrote for the New York Times about these studies. 


HOW HUMAN CONNECTION AND SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS MOTIVATE US

Different lines of my research explore the varieties of ways in which human connection and social relationships motivate behavior. In one paper, I show that having tighter ties with co-workers can prevent potential whistleblowers from speaking up when they witness wrongdoing at work. This is because being closer with others at work prompts potential whistleblowers to imagine that a wrongdoer feels remorse for their actions - and this makes potential whistleblowers worry more about the consequences a transgressor would take if the crime were reported and leads to their silence. In another paper, I discuss how the opportunity to work together with others toward a collective goal can inspire people to follow sustainable and prosocial norms, like donating money to help victims of a disaster and reducing paper towel use to save the environment.


HOW MINDSETS SHAPE REACTIONS TO CHALLENGES IN LIFE
Is remote work something that people are simply good at (or not), or a skill that anyone can learn and develop? Building on research about the impact of fixed vs. growth mindsets about personal traits and abilities, we find that employees' mindsets about remote work predicted emotional adjustment to and productivity during the rapid switch to remote work prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read a publication on this from Microsoft's New Future of Work conference. Other lines of my research examine how mindsets play a critical role in other challenges, as in this publication which shows that viewing symptoms as a "positive signal" that treatment is working improves patient experiences and outcomes during medical treatment for life-threatening peanut allergies. These lines of research consider how attitudes play a particularly important role in shaping outcomes, as I write in this paper.


WHY HUMAN CONNECTION MATTERS IN HEALTHCARE
We might think that having a friendly doctor is nice, but not essential: that it's just a fluffy, feel-good thing that boosts Yelp reviews, but what really matters is a doctor's medical competence. Instead, my research (with Alia Crum) illustrates the many ways in which social connection with a provider is just as critical as perceived medical expertise to effective healthcare. Here is a publication showing that warmer providers bolster the extent to which patients respond to a healthcare treatment, another demonstrating that provider warmth increases the number of minutes patients believe a doctor spent with them, and another discussing why rapport with doctors could enhance treatment effectiveness.


WHEN MINDSETS PREVENT PEOPLE FROM BOUNCING BACK AFTER REJECTION
Whether it's a failed grant proposal, not getting a job, or dealing with a bad breakup, some people recover readily
from rejection, while for others the pain leaves scars that linger for years. My research (with Carol Dweck) finds that people who respond to rejection by questioning their self-definitions - in other words, wondering what the person who rejected them glimpsed about them and found undesirable - are haunted more by the ghosts of their romantic past. In addition, we find that people with more fixed mindsets (i.e., who believe that personality does not tend to change) are more likely to see rejection as self-definitional. Click here to access a published paper on this research, here for an article about these studies I wrote for The Atlantic, and listen to my interview on KQED about this topic.


HOW EXPRESSING UNCERTAINTY CAN INCREASE EXPERTS' PERSUASIVENESS
Does expressing uncertainty make the public less confident in experts - or might it actually bolster trust and persuasion? My research (with Jon Krosnick) tested this question in a survey of a nationally representative sample of American adults. Studying predictions about sea level rise caused by global warming, I found that scientists expressing uncertainty as a range of possible futures increased the public's trust in environmental scientists and improved attitudes toward adaptation policies. But accompanying these predictions with the acknowledgment that some uncertainty is irreducible undermined these effects. For a published paper on this research click here, and watch a video of us presenting these findings at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.