While Eastern Kentucky University is primarily known as a teaching institution dedicated to student success— and powering Kentucky communities with graduates who work as essential employees— EKU faculty also conduct ground-breaking academic research as part of EKU’s comprehensive mission.
Dr. Jonathan Gore, director of undergraduate research and a professor of psychology at EKU, is one of those researchers. Gore is a social and cultural psychologist. In other words, he studies how people influence their culture, and how culture influences them back. His aim is to pioneer “TED-talkable topics that challenge conventional wisdom.”
“I like being on the precipice between the known and unknown,” said Gore. “There’s always more to find out.”
Recently, Gore has dedicated his time to three primary areas of research. The first, and he says the most fruitful so far, is a study on relational goal motivation, or motivation by the inclusion of a loved one in pursuit of a goal. Gore has found that often, working with a loved one is more motivating than working alone for the sake of achieving a personal goal.
“Because you’re connected to that person, it fosters enhanced motivation to pursue that goal together, more than if you had done it out of your own interest.” said Gore. “So in some ways it challenges conventional wisdom about intrinsic motivation.”
Gore’s second area of research centers around the effect of resource availability on psychological outcomes. Also a challenge to conventional wisdom, his findings indicate that the stability of resources is a better predictor of positive outcomes than the amount of resources available. For example, a reliable paycheck and constant social support tends to be better than a large, but sporadic paycheck and a wide but inconsistent social network.
“Resources can affect cultures on a macro level, but they also affect people on an individual level. That’s what we’re looking at,” he said.
The next ten years of Gore’s academic life, however, will center around a slow-growing yet promising concept called physical self-construal. He theorizes that some people define themselves by the vitality and function of their body. Particularly prominent in men, the idea, Gore says, has the potential to revolutionize gender psychology.
“I think this project could really take off and give a bunch of insight into psychology in many different regards,” said Gore.
The inspiration for most of Gore’s research projects—and the most rewarding part of carrying them out— is his students. Students often come to him with ideas that he fosters all the way to publication. He has co-authored over 70 publications that way. “Involving students in your research is one of the best forms of teaching,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been able to get grad student-level work out of undergraduates. I’d put any of our psychology majors up against any major anywhere.”
Gore’s dual role as a researching professor and director of undergraduate research has given him unique insight into the importance of research experience at the undergraduate level.
“All institutions should be investing in undergraduate research,” said Gore. “There are a lot of students who have great ideas and a great work ethic. We just need to encourage them with our financial and emotional support.”