E. J. Masicampo

Assistant Professor of Psychology
(336) 758-6192
Greene Hall 450

Lab Website: http://www.wfu.edu/~masicaej

My research examines the effortful mental processes that seem to separate humans from other animals: resisting temptations and impulses, reasoning and decision making, thinking about and simulating non-present events, and making plans for the future. I examine the reliance of these processes on limited attention and energy. I also examine how these processes function and how they serve people’s goals and motives.

Toward a theory of the human consciousness. One goal of my work is to uncover how conscious thought contributes to human functioning in light of its apparent limitations. Recent research has concluded that the unconscious mind is capable of guiding a wide range of behaviors, with the implication that the conscious thought is not needed for many of the processes that were once attributed to it, including action control and decision making. Some have wondered openly whether conscious thought processes play any helpful role at all. My colleagues and I have argued therefore that conscious thought is not for the direct control of action. We propose instead that its major purpose is to simulate events away from the here and now and that its influence on behavior is mostly indirect, as when a person makes a plan to engage in some later behavior and thus becomes more likely to execute it. We suggest moreover that conscious processes are crucial for enabling interaction with society and culture. Much of my research tests these ideas.

Relevant publications

  • Baumeister, R. F., Masicampo, E. J., & Vohs, K. D. (2011). Do conscious thoughts cause behavior? Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 331-361.
  • Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). Finding positive value in human consciousness: Conscious thought serves participation in society and culture. In K. Sheldon, T. Kashdan, and M. Steger (Eds.). Designing the Future of Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward (pp. 175-189). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Baumeister, R. F., & Masicampo, E. J. (2010). Conscious thought is for facilitating social and cultural interactions: How mental simulations serve the animal-culture interface. Psychological Review, 117, 945-971.

Goal Pursuit and Plan Making. I have long been fascinated by the profound influence of goals on people’s thoughts and attention. My research examines the idea that thoughts and attention serve temporarily active goals and motives, including those activated outside of conscious awareness. If a goal becomes activated by a subtle cue in the environment, then one will begin automatically to think about and attend to that goal. My research has examined one implication of that idea: if too many goals are activated by the environment, thoughts and attention will be constrained and effortful mental processes (e.g., resisting tasty but unhealthy food) will be difficult to execute. My research further examines how people may overcome such difficulties. In one line of work, I have found that thoughts and attention can be freed (thereby restoring the ability to do effortful things like solve difficult problems and resist unhealthy food) by temporarily satisfying ones active goals, as through plan making. I also examine the various factors that determine whether plan making will facilitate goal attainment.

Relevant publications:

  • Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (in press). Committed but close-minded: When making a specific plan for a goal hinders success. Social Cognition.
  • Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (in press). Consider it done!: Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). Unfulfilled goals interfere with tasks that require executive functions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 300-311,
    *Featured as Editor’s Choice, Science (2010), 330, 1023.

Limited Resource Model of Self-Control. My research examines the idea that self-control and decision making rely on a shared and limited source of energy. Acts such as resisting temptations or making difficult decisions seem to consume that energy, and that can leave people temporarily drained and therefore unable to exert further mental effort. I examine the implications of such energy limits for self-control, reasoning, and judgment. I also examine how people overcome that energy limit through motivated food intake and by drawing on others as sources of motivation and information.

Relevant publications:

  • Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2008). Toward a physiology of dual-process reasoning and judgment: Lemonade, willpower, and expensive rule-based analysis. Psychological Science, 19, 255-260.

Moral Judgments and Perceptions of Free Will. I am also interested in how perceptions of free will and responsibility interact with self-control. For instance, I examine whether disbelief in free will undermines self-control. I also examine how people make moral judgments of others.

Relevant publications:

Baumeister, R. F., Masicampo, E. J., & DeWall, C. N. (2009). Prosocial benefits of feeling free: Disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 260-268.

  • Social Psychology