On Personality, Perception and Projection

This summer, several student-faculty teams are tackling research projects in the arts and sciences—from asthma to accounting audits, bilingualism and women in leadership. Some are funded through the Provost’s Summer Research Fellowships, and others are individual projects. Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll cover the teams’ progress as they seek to answer complex questions in their fields.

Have you ever compared your personality traits to those of Jesus, or spiritual heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer? How and why people do that—or even go a step further, projecting their own personality traits onto their perceptions of religious figures—are questions that Dr. Jonathan Gerber (psychology) and Hannah Reimel ’17 are examining this summer in their project “Studies in Social Projection (Religious and Otherwise).”

Using a new method to analyze existing data from fellow researchers, they’re exploring individual differences in personality projection. So far, says Dr. Gerber, significant variability in the data implies a great difference in how much people project. It seems that Christians don’t all have the same beliefs about how similar their personalities are to that of Jesus or famous Christians.

For Hannah, studying projection has been illuminating in more than one way. “I now have more knowledge not only in the realm of social projection, but also more knowledge about the skills and tools needed to conduct good research,” she says.

Last year, Hannah helped Dr. Gerber with an academic paper published in a top-tier journal; the current project will likely provide material for two additional papers. These experiences will be invaluable for Hannah’s future career. She hopes to work in policy and to promote justice within the prison system—a job requiring skills similar to those used in academic research.

The research project entails “getting really, really hands-on with data,” says Dr. Gerber. It’s essential, he says, to know “where to look for answers and what questions to ask, which is what you need for policy.”

Even just a few weeks into the research, Hannah says that what she’s gained from the experience has greatly surpassed her expectations.

Read about Dr. Angie Cornwell (biology) and Courtney Olbrich ’19 >>
Read about Dr. Kaye Cook (psychology), Taylor-Marie Funchion ’18 and Si-Hua Chang ’16 >>
Read about Dr. Karl-Dieter Crisman (math), Min-Sun Kim ’17 and Luke Cui ’18 >>
Read about Dr. Melinda Eichhorn (education) and Courtney Vitale ’17 >>

By Morgan Clayton ’19, history