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Kurt Gray on Developing an Open-Access, Online Measure of Imagination

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With the $5,000 he received from the SAGE Young Scholar Award, Kurt Gray hopes to explore new streams of research. 

Winners of the SAGE Young Scholar Award receive a one-time award, which can be used for research, study or conference travel-related purposes and a one-year membership to SPSP. At least five awards per year are given to scholars who represent a variety of personality and social psychology research areas. 

Kurt said he plans on spending the money from the SAGE award on a web server and services that will help him assess people’s creativity and develop an open-access online measure of imagination. 

“This measure is about understanding how much people’s thoughts move forward from previous thoughts,” Kurt said. “Creativity is all about escaping the gravity of past and this measure is about how well your thoughts can escape previous thoughts within your stream of consciousness.” 

With the web server, he will measure the difference between people’s self-reported thoughts with latent semantic analysis. 

Kurt became interested in this topic after talking to a friend who is a sociologist. 

“(We were talking) about how there’s network models of social groups and social brains, but none for individual human experience, because our subjective experience doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of analysis,” he said. “This project is an attempt to quantify and connect subjective human experiences.”

With the award money, Kurt will not only further his own research, but others’ research, as well. By developing this measure, he hopes to give back to the field that gave him the SAGE Young Scholar Award. 

Other researchers will be able to use these tools and help move forward the study of subjective human experience, something the late Daniel Wegner, Kurt’s adviser at Harvard, saw as central to the study of social psychology. 

Along with the online resources, Kurt also wants to use the money to go to conferences such as the Association for the Scientific Study for Consciousness and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, where he can discuss these ideas with others both inside and outside of social psychology. 

Kurt’s advice to other SAGE Young Scholar applicants is to research interesting questions, even if they are not currently popular in the field.

“Don’t be afraid to go against the grain,” he said. Kurt speaks from experience, as his research challenging ideas in moral judgment helped win him the award.

“Asking new questions can be scary, but at least it is never boring,” he said. 


About Kurt Gray:
Kurt received his BSc from the University of Waterloo, and then pursued a doctorate in social psychology at Harvard University. He is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In addition to being given a SAGE Young Scholar Award, Kurt has also received the Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.

About the SAGE Young Scholar Awards:

These $5,000 awards are given to outstanding your researchers between 3 to 7 years into their first academic faculty positions, and can be used for research, study, or conference travel. The awards are intended to provide recipients with funds that can be flexibly applied in extending their work in new and exciting directions, and are a recognition of both accomplishment and potential. The deadline to apply for a 2018 SAGE Young Scholar Award is midnight at the end of the day on Friday, September 15. Apply or nominate a peer now.

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