Professor Hart’s research program grew out of his interest in the psychological consequences of humans’ sophisticated cognitive abilities and conscious self-awareness. Intelligence and self-awareness confer profound advantages, allowing people to acquire vast knowledge and understanding of the world and to appreciate its awesomeness. At the same time, expansive consciousness burdens people with knowledge of all the awful things about existence—perhaps most notably, mortality—making for a precarious emotional life that exposes people to psychological turmoil and dysfunction.
Hart’s research explores the psychological processes involved in managing (or mismanaging) this predicament, with a special focus on close relationships (e.g., romantic relationships), self-esteem, and worldviews (i.e., belief systems, such as religion and political ideology). He specializes in attachment theory and terror management theory (TMT), both of which share a view of humans as motivated by the need to feel secure. The idea is that many of our goals—large and small, individual and social—are ultimately rooted in the need to feel loved, worthwhile, and to imbue life with meaning; and that relationships, self-esteem, and worldviews work together to maintain emotional security. Some current projects involve applying insights from attachment theory and/or TMT to the study of socio-political beliefs and attitudes.