At UMaine, LaBouff has expanded his research focus and involved dozens of undergraduates in his work. He plans to continue to investigate how both real environments and imagined interactions influence attitudes and actions, and how religion is related. And now that he has developed a definition of and a method for measuring humility, LaBouff intends to address the relative scarcity of that personality trait by studying how to actively cultivate and practice it.
To continue his religion research, LaBouff is conducting a follow-up study in three houses of worship in Bangor, Maine, to see how they activate the religiousness of Mainers. In addition, he and Bergeron are planning to add a physiological component to their Muslim bias studies.
LaBouff also is collaborating with Rob Glover, the Honors Preceptor who joined the Political Science Department faculty last year, to examine the political, racial and religious implications of public reactions to the Dream Act and Arizona’s Proposition 200.
“Religion has played a central role in these intergroup relations across time. Each of these studies is designed to help us figure out how to humanize other groups, remove barriers, and increase empathy and understanding to create positive interaction,” LaBouff says. “The more we can humanize those groups, the more we can understand them, the less likely we are to hate them.”
Empathy and compassion — really understanding how another person feels in a situation, from their motives to their emotions — are remarkably powerful forces, LaBouff says. They have the potential to diffuse conflicts and prejudice, increase altruism and build community.
“They’re challenging,” he says, “but I’m hopeful that our research and the research of others will help us to understand these qualities and how their expression (or lack thereof) helps to shape our world.”