My primary research centers on morally-relevant judgments, traits, and behaviors. Much of my current research can be loosely grouped under three questions. I apply a variety of approaches to these topics, including experimental and correlational studies, secondary data analysis (including meta-analysis and integrative data analysis), use of novel and existing survey data, and biological analyses.
1. What are the antecedents and consequences of judgments about moral tradeoffs?
My primary doctoral research explored the psychology of moral tradeoffs between avoiding causing harm to others and seeking to optimize outcomes of moral situations (i.e., sacrificial moral dilemmas). In this work, I explored various antecedents to dilemma judgments, such as self- vs. other-focused affect, self-awareness, trait reflectiveness, psychopathic traits, lay utilitarianism, religiosity, and endogenous testosterone and cortisol. I often applied a process dissociation approach to such work to examine patterns of judgments invisible to standard dilemma measurement techniques.
My dissertation focused on the perceptual consequences of dilemma judgments, that is, on the social inferences people make when others make dilemma decisions. In this work, I tested whether lay people have accurate expectations of how religious people and atheists respond to dilemmas (they do), how this might color perceptions of religious and nonreligious people who make dilemma judgments (religious people who violate expectations are seen as incompetent, opposite the usual pattern), and whether it depends on how religious the participant is (probably not).
2. How is honesty instantiated in everyday life, and how can we best measure it?
In my current position as a postdoc on the Honesty Project at Wake Forest University, I'm involved in several lines of research exploring honesty in daily life. Some things I'm working on right now include lay conceptions of the elements of honesty, estimating rates of academic dishonesty in college, and developing self-report measures of state and trait honesty for use in ecological momentary assessment studies. Most of these are still in the early stages, so join the Honesty Project mailing list here to be alerted to new publications and presentations on these topics.
3. How can we best measure things people are extremely motivated to self-present on?
I have a strong overarching interest in how to measure things that participants don't want to (or can't) tell us about. Many of the topics I've focused on center on people's deeply-held values (moral values and judgments, religiosity, meaning in life) or involve behaviors that people are strongly motivated to report or not report (truthfulness, academic dishonesty, questionable research practices, substance misuse). Consequently, I often have to find ways to get around the social desirability (or undesirability) of the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors I'm interested in.
Some of the measurement approaches I've used in this vein include process dissociation, informant reports, random response techniques, Bayesian truth serum, and modifications to self-report measures. In upcoming work, I plan to incorporate ecological momentary assessment and euphemistic/dysphemistic self-report items, and I have longer-term plans to expand my IRT skills to improve item selection in self-report measures.
Here's a few examples of measurement issues I've worked on in the past:
How standard measurement techniques in sacrificial dilemma work can mask the most interesting parts of such work (Reynolds & Conway, 2018)
What self-other agreement on posttraumatic change tells us about measuring such change among survivors of ethnopolitical violence (Reynolds, Blackie, et al., in press)