My research generally concentrates on issues related to motivation and performance. My primary current line of research focuses on mental depletion and its pejorative consequences for subsequent performance and acts of self-control. Our work (Clarkson, Hirt, Jia, & Alexander, 2010) has illustrated how perceptions drive the experience of mental depletion, over and above actual levels of depletion. Furthermore, these perceptions of mental depletion lead to restricted working memory capacity and performance decrements on subsequent tasks requiring self-control and self-regulation. Recently, we have been investigating the experience of replenishment, and how perceptions of replenishment of these mental resources lead to the restoration of performance following depletion. The roles of perspective taking, lay theories, and embodiment cues on the experience of depletion and restoration are currently being explored, as well as the links between physical and mental depletion. Finally, we are examining whether people's perceptions of mental depletion initiate efforts at counteractive self-control, in order to avert the negative consequences of mental depletion on the pursuit of important goals.
Additional lines of research focus on the flexibility with which individuals maintain their self-conceptions. For many years, I have been researching the phenomenon of self-handicapping, specifically looking at the ways in which people sabotage their own performance by embracing handicaps which can later serve as viable excuses for poor performance. We have been addressing some fundamental questions about the effectiveness of this strategy for the individual, both in terms of maintaining favorable self-conceptions of ability (cf. McCrea & Hirt, 2001) as well as the interpersonal costs and benefits of this strategy for how others view the handicapper (Hirt, McCrea, & Boris, 2003). Clearly, the implications of this work suggest that the short-term attributional and self-esteem benefits of this strategy are outweighed by considerable long-term costs (both on interpersonal dimensions and on psychological well-being more generally). Our current work focuses on the social consequences of engaging in self-handicapping as well as self-handicappers' awareness of how their actions are perceived by others. Importantly, our work addresses the reasons for the consistent gender differences that are found in self-handicapping, serving to explain why women are more reluctant to employ this strategy relative to men (Hirt & McCrea, 2009).
I have another line of research that look at the effects that one's affective state has for performance. Specifically, we have focused on the contributions that positive affect consistently makes in facilitating creative performance (Hirt, Devers, & McCrea, 2008). Finally, we have work that investigates the development of allegiance and identification, particularly with regard to sports teams and fanship, and its consequences for personal and collective self-esteem as well as behaviors illustrative of one's commitment and loyalty to the team.