How do we discern what friends want and how partners feel? How do we decide which dish will be most palatable and which vacation will be most pleasurable? How do we remember yesterday's step back and envision tomorrow's step forward?

I'm a social psychologist interested in how people answer questions like the ones above - how people think about experiences that are inherently imperceptible (e.g., other minds; future feelings; time and change). One central theme from my research is that people tend to feel confident acting on intuitions, without fully appreciating that their impressions of the world "out there" are subjectively constructed and hence susceptible to individual quirks and situational biases. These miscalibrated intuitions can be especially costly for thinking about wellbeing, because they undermine our ability to live as well as we could. My research explores how people can perceive themselves and others in ways that enable them to structure their experiences more wisely and lead a more enjoyable life.

I get to tackle these ideas with a fantastic lab comprising students and collaborators here at the University of Chicago. Our main interests these days are categorized below.


2016-2017, left to right: Shun Wang (masters student), Kristin Firth (Ph.D. student), Justin Landy (post-doc), Ed O'Brien (excited down), Mike Kardas (Ph.D. student), Emma Levine (excited up), Nadav Klein (post-doc), Sami Kassirer (masters student), Whitney Halperin (research assistant), Alex Kristal (lab manager)

Post-photo updates: James Dungan and Xuan Zhao (new post-docs); Melissa Beswick, David Munguia Gomez, Annabelle Roberts, and Yuji Winet (new Ph.D. students)


2015-2016, left to right: Nadav Klein (post-doc), Mike Kardas (Ph.D. student), Ed O'Brien (red), Alex Kristal (lab manager), Jaewon Yoon (research assistant)

Post-photo updates: Ellen Roney (research assistant), Miguel Ortega (research assistant), Janina Steinmetz (post-doc), not pictured; Jaewon Yoon is now a Ph.D. student in Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School; Janina Steinmetz is now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Utrecht University, Netherlands


2014-2015, left to right ish: Miguel Ortega (research assistant), Janina Steinmetz (post-doc), Jaewon Yoon (research assistant), Ed O'Brien (berry), Brittany Christian (post-doc), Nadav Klein (Ph.D. student), Ellen Roney (research assistant), Haotian Zhou (post-doc)

Post-photo updates: Mike Kardas (Ph.D. student) and Alex Kristal (lab manager), not pictured; Brittany Christian is now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Seattle Pacific University; Nadav Klein is now a post-doc at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago

Time, Change, and Hedonics

Kardas, M., & O'Brien, E. (in press). Easier seen than done: Merely watching others perform can foster an illusion of skill acquisition. Psychological Science.

Klein, N., & O'Brien, E. (2017). The power and limits of personal change: When a bad past does (and does not) inspire in the present. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(2), 210-229. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Roney, E. (2017). Worth the wait? Leisure can be just as enjoyable with work left undone. Psychological Science, 28(7), 1000-1015. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Klein, N. (2017). The tipping point of perceived change: Asymmetric thresholds in diagnosing improvement versus decline. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(2), 161-185. [pdf]

Chopik, W. J., & O'Brien, E. (2017). Happy you, healthy me? Having a happy partner is independently associated with better health in oneself. Health Psychology, 36(1), 21-30. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Kardas, M. (2016). The implicit meaning of (my) change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(6), 882-894. [pdf]

Klein, N., & O'Brien, E. (2016). The tipping point of moral change: When do good and bad acts make good and bad actors? Social Cognition, 34(2), 149-166. [pdf]

O'Brien, E. (2015). Mapping out past and future minds: The perceived trajectory of emotionality versus rationality over time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(3), 624-638. [pdf]

O'Brien, E. (2015). Feeling connected to younger versus older selves: The asymmetric impact of life stage orientation. Cognition and Emotion, 29(4), 678-686. [pdf]

O'Brien, E. (2013). Easy to retrieve but hard to believe: Metacognitive discounting of the unpleasantly possible. Psychological Science, 24(6), 844-851. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., Ellsworth, P. C., & Schwarz, N. (2012). Today's misery and yesterday's happiness: Differential effects of current life-events on perceptions of past wellbeing. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 968-872. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2012). Saving the last for best: A positivity bias for end experiences. Psychological Science, 23(2), 163-165. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., Anastasio, P. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Time crawls when you're not having fun: Feeling entitled makes dull tasks drag on. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(10), 1287-1296. [pdf]


Perspective Taking and Person Perception

O'Brien, E., Kristal, A. C., Ellsworth, P. C., & Schwarz, N. (in press). (Mis)imagining the good life and the bad life: Envy and pity as a function of the focusing illusion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Chopik, W. J., O'Brien, E., & Konrath, S. (2017). Differences in empathic concern and perspective taking across 63 countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(1), 23-38. [pdf]

Chopik, W. J., O'Brien, E., Konrath, S., & Schwarz, N. (2015). MLK Day and attitude change: Liking the group more but its members less. Political Psychology, 36(5), 559-567. [pdf]

Konrath, S., Chopik, W. J., Hsing, C., & O'Brien, E. (2014). Changes in adult attachment styles in American college students over time: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(4), 326-348. [pdf]

*Campbell, T., *O'Brien, E. (equal authorship), Van Boven, L., Schwarz, N., & Ubel, P. A. (2014). Too much experience: A desensitization bias in emotional perspective taking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 272-285. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Hagen, A. L. (2013). The thrill of (absolute) victory: Success among many enhances emotional payoffs. Emotion, 13(3), 366-374. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., Konrath, S., Grühn, D., & Hagen, A. L. (2013). Empathic concern and perspective taking: Linear and quadratic effects of age across the adult lifespan. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 68(2), 168-175. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2012). Polar opposites: Empathy does not extend across the political aisle [invited target article with commentary]. The Jury Expert, 24, 25-39. [pdf]

O'Brien, E., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2012). More than skin deep: Visceral states are not projected onto dissimilar others. Psychological Science, 23(4), 391-396. [pdf]

Konrath, S., O'Brien, E., & Hsing, C. (2011). Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(2), 180-198. [pdf]