The ASPIRE Lab: Affect, Self-regulation, Personality, Interpersonal Relationships, & Ethics

Ben Wilkowski (

Prospective Graduate Students:

The ASPIRE Lab is currently accepting applications for graduate students! 

We are especially interested in applicants whose research interests align with our broad focus. Our interests might be wide-ranging, but there is a focus! We study how people’s goals and emotions are used to coordinate social behaviors and bind them into social relationships and groups. This broad focus allows graduate students to focus on a variety of possible more specific topics in their own research.

Please see the Department of Psychology’s Information Page for more on how to apply.

Research Interests:

1) Goal-Contents: What do people want? This question seems almost foundational to psychological science, but no past taxonomy has gained widespread acceptance. To help rectify this, we first conducted a lexical analysis of the structure goal-relevant words in the natural English lexicon, and found that they could be broadly summarized in terms of goals for Prominence, Inclusiveness, Negativity-Prevention, and Tradition (the PINT Taxonomy of Goals; Wilkowski, Fetterman, Lappi, Williamson, Leki, Rivera, & Meier, 2020). A follow-up study explored the structure of generally-undesirable goals (or “vices”) and found that they could be summarized in terms of Elitism, Rebellion, and Disrepute (Wilkowski, Williamson, Rivera, Fetterman, & Meier, 2022). Our current work focuses on understanding the social and emotional correlates and consequences of these goals. For example, in a recent paper, we found that political conservativism simultaneously reflects the unifying ““value” of Tradition, as well as the divisive “vice” of Elitism; while Liberalism simultaneously reflects the unifying “value” of Inclusiveness, and the divisive “vice” of Rebellion (Wilkowski, Rivera, Williamson, DiMariano, Meier, & Fetterman, in press). We are also currently writing a paper which shows that pursuing goals that are more generally-desirable (rather than undesirable) and more conservative (rather than liberal) are both independently associated with greater happiness and subjective well-being (Peck, Wilkowski, & DeMariano, in preparation). Interestingly, though, they are associated with well-being for different reasons – generally-desirable goals because of their role in satisfying needs for belonging and competence; while conservative goals are associated with well-being because of their relationship with beliefs in a just world.

2) Self-Regulation: How do people achieve their goals? One central focus of ours is to examine the processes people use to pursue their goals in everyday life. For example, we have proposed an Integrative Cybernetic Model, which examines a multitude of self-regulatory processes used to pursue goals in daily life (e.g., planning, testing, self-control; Wilkowski & Ferguson, 2016). In another paper, we examined several competing theories of why self-control sometimes fails and people give into temptation (Wilkowski, Ferguson, Williamson, & Lappi, 2018]). More recently, we have examined the effectiveness of different self-control strategies, finding that more ‘proactive’ strategies are often quite successful (Williamson & Wilkowski, 2020); and we are most recently examined how ‘good’ (i.e., goal-congruent) habits help people achieve their goals in day-to-day life (Williamson & Wilkowski, 2022).

3) Individual Differences in Anger: Ben has a long-standing interest in studying individual differences in anger and aggression-proneness, largely from a social-cognitive perspective (Wilkowski & Robinson, 2008). While this has been a lesser focus of his in recent years, he would be interested in rejuvenating this research with a new graduate student!

4) Graduate Student Research: Graduate students working in the ASPIRE Lab are given the freedom to extend the broad focus of the lab in different directions. For example, Erika DiMariano is currently preparing a manuscript which documents the different functions role models can serve in motivating members of disadvantaged groups (e.g., first-generation college students) to pursue difficult goals (e.g., college graduation; DiMariano & Wilkowski, in preparation). Similarly, Josiah Peck is currently preparing a manuscript which documents how individuals who have switched political parties over their life course  use psychological conflicts with personal values and other social roles to help narrate and explain this change in their identity (Peck & Wilkowski, in preparation).

Lab Members:

Benjamin Wilkowski, Ph.D.
Primary Investigator
Ben Wilkowski picture

Originally from the Columbus, Ohio, area, Ben earned his B.A. in psychology and philosophy from Ohio University in 2002, and his Ph.D. in social/personality psychology from North Dakota State University in 2008. He came to the University of Wyoming in 2008 and has been here ever since. When he’s not working, he’s a father of three fantastic children, and spends as much time as possible hiking, skiing, running, and enjoying all that Laramie WY has to offer.

Erika DiMariano
4th year graduate student
Erika DiMariano picture
Originally from Trophy Club, Texas, Erika obtained her B.S. in Psychology from Saint Mary’s College of California in May 2020. She joined the ASPIRE lab as a graduate student in 2020, earning her M.S. in 2022. Her primary research focuses on the motivating function of role models in underrepresented groups.
Josiah Peck
3rd year graduate student
Josiah Peck picture
Originally from Columbia, MO, Josiah obtained his B.S. in Counseling from Central Bible College and his M.S. in Counseling from Missouri State University. He joined the ASPIRE Lab in 2021 to focus on social/personality psychological research. His primary research interest is in the self and identity, including identity change and social/well-being outcomes associated with goal content, values, and identity processes.


Lab Alumni:

Elizabeth Ferguson Leki, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Ferguson Leki picture

Originally from Mobile, Alabama, Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming in 2017. While in the lab, Liz’s research focused on guilt and shame; and she maintained an active collaboration with the Psychology and Law Lab. She now works at Under Armour as a Senior Manager in their Data Science division. There, she puts to work many of the advanced statistical skills she learned at UW.

Zach Williamson, Ph.D.
Zach Williamson picture

Originally from Mountain View, Wyoming, Zach obtained his PhD in psychology from the University of Wyoming in 2021. While in the ASPIRE lab, his research focused on the use of strategic self-control and the importance of developing goal-supportive habits. He is now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Western Wyoming Community College, where he puts his knowledge of psychology and teaching to use to advance the education of Wyoming college students.

Emilio Rivera, Ph.D.

Emilio Rivera Picture

Originally from Junction City, Kansas, Emilio obtained his Ph.D. in psychology from University of Wyoming in spring of 2023. While in the ASPIRE Lab, Emilio’s interests focused on social interdependence, power, and aggression. He also collaborated with the Social Cognition and Law lab on research related to police shooting decisions and misuse of force, and he authored a methodological paper on how to ensure participants provide high-quality data in internet-based research. He recently started a position as a junior Research Methodologist at Gallup, where he continues to put the methodological skills he learned at UW to use.


Representative Publications:

Wilkowski, B.M., Rivera, E.,* Williamson, L.Z.,* DiMariano, E.,* Meier, B.P., & Fetterman, A. (in press). Toward a comprehensive, data-driven account of American political goals: Recognizing the “values” and “vices” within both liberalism and conservativism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, [pdf].

Rivera, E. D.,* Wilkowski, B. M., Moss, A. J., Rosenzweig, C., & Litman, L. (2022). Assessing the efficacy of a participant-vetting procedure to improve data-quality on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Methodology, 18(2), 126-143. [pdf]

Williamson, L.Z.,* & Wilkowski, B. M. (2022). What we repeatedly do: Evaluating the determinants and consequences of habit enactment during daily goal‐pursuit. British Journal of Psychology, 113, 1-24.

Wilkowski, B. M., Williamson, L. Z.*, Rivera, E.*, Fetterman, A., & Meier, B. P. (2022). What is the “opposite” of a value?: A lexical investigation into the structure of generally‐undesirable goal‐content. Journal of Personality, 90, 357-374.

Williamson, L.Z.*, & Wilkowski, B.M. (2020). Nipping temptation in the bud: Examining proactive self-control in daily life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(6), 961-975. [preprint pdf]

Wilkowski, B. M., Fetterman, A., Lappi, S. K.,* Williamson, L. Z.,* Leki, E. F.,* Rivera, E.,* & Meier, B. P. (2020). Lexical derivation of the PINT taxonomy of goals: Prominence, inclusiveness, negativity prevention, and tradition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(5), 1153. [preprint pdf]

Wilkowski, B.M., Ferguson, E.L.*, Williamson, L.Z.*, & Lappi, S.K.* (2018). (How) does initial self-control undermine later self-control in daily life? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44, 1315-1329. [preprint pdf]

Wilkowski, B.M., & Ferguson, E.L.* (2016). The steps that can take us miles: Examining the short-term dynamics of long-term daily goal pursuit. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 516-529. [preprint pdf]

Wilkowski, B.M. & Robinson, M.D. (2008). The cognitive basis of trait anger and reactive aggression: An integrative analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12, 3-28. [preprint pdf]

*Denotes graduate student author


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