This week psychology major Kai Hakomori (they/them) sat down with the Quest to discuss their thesis research concerning the psychology motivating climate action.
Their thesis uses a survey measuring affect and climate action to attempt to determine what motivates people to take action. Hakomori originally planned to take on a much more ambitious thesis. Interested in affect and motivation, they hoped to do a six week long study where subjects would be given a list of possible climate action tasks (contributing to a community garden, attending a climate protest, etc) and encouraged to perform them. The goal wasn’t to induce emotion, but to measure what emotions motivate the actions. While the core ideas of their thesis are still present, Hakomori had to downsize to accommodate for time constraints.
Hakomori thought they would be doing neurophysiological study or something similar with their thesis, but the summer before senior year they had a change of heart. Suddenly struck by how impending the climate crisis is, Hakomori scrambled to find a way to address it as an individual. They organized a fundraiser with a friend, but were so moved by the issue that they decided to reorient their whole thesis approach to research climate related psychology.
While no classes at Reed directly inspired Hakomori’s thesis, some courses prepared them for their thesis. “The biggest thing I got out of those classes was becoming comfortable with research design.” Classes like Sensation and Perception, Learning, and Behavioral Neuroscience were the most impactful for Hakomori. Hakomori described assignments where they were tasked with creating experiments, and highlighted how, in doing so, they became more engaged in the material. They went from reading about experiments to being an active performer. “It put all my reading into perspective.” This helped them build a strong foundation of proper research practices and provided them with the base knowledge that they needed to tackle their thesis.
Within the psychology major, seniors submit three potential thesis ideas to three different professors in order to fully flesh out their ideas and find the professor who will be the most helpful guide. Hakomori submitted proposals to Professor Glenn Baker, Professor Jennifer Henderlong Corpus, and Professor Greg Jensen. While Jensen eventually became Hakomori’s thesis advisor, Hakomori emphasized Baker and Corpus’s support throughout the shaping of their thesis.
Hakomori’s biggest hope for the future of their research as well as the field of emotion psychology in general is that experts come to a consensus on tricky definitions. “In doing my research I would find three or four definitions of the same things. It gets frustrating after a while.” As for their thesis more specifically, they hope that it suggests that hope and positive reinforcement are powerful tools to encourage climate action, and that further research is done on the topic.
Hakomori doesn’t have any solid plans for life after graduation, but is excited to explore their options. They expressed interest in spending more time in Portland or possibly traveling to Antarctica or Japan. Looking back on their time at Reed and the process of writing a thesis, Hakomori had this to say about the experience. “[Writing a] thesis is kind of messy, and sometimes you have to make compromises. But ultimately that’s OK and is a part of the lesson that thesis represents.”