Personality Processes Laboratory

Research Overview

Processes Lab students and staff outside the Redmond Barry Building.

Our personalities shape our lives in profound ways. Personality helps explain why different people seek out different environments and experiences, and respond in different ways to the same situations and events. Our traits are also readily perceived by others, and influence how they behave towards us—thereby moulding our social world. The Personality Processes Laboratory seeks to expand our knowledge of the structure of personality, along with its underlying causes and downstream consequences for various aspects of our lives.

One major focus of research in our lab is individual differences in responses to rewards. Some of this research has focused on links between trait extraversion and reward processing—extraverts appear to be more motivated by incentive rewards, such as money. Another kind of reward is information, such as gains in knowledge. People higher in openness/intellect appear to be more motivated by these kinds of rewards. On the other hand, information that reduces uncertainty about an impending event or outcome appears more motivating for people higher on traits relating to negative emotionality, such as anxiety.

A second major theme in our research is the interplay of personality and wellbeing. Personality traits are among the strongest predictors of wellbeing. But which traits are most important for which aspects of wellbeing? What are the mechanisms through which our personality shapes the experienced quality of our lives? And how might the effects of interventions attempting to boost wellbeing vary as a function of people’s personalities?

We have also studied the links that personality traits have with prosociality and morality: What characteristics distinguish morally exceptional individuals from the average person? Who is more likely to give money to charity, or to help someone in need? How does our personality influence the principles we apply to distinguish right from wrong?

Some of us are also interested in testing and refinement of theories within personality neuroscience. Neuroscience methods offer exciting ways to test theories about the mechanisms that might underlie our personalities. Almost all of the work in our lab in this area has involved EEG, which is a relatively easy, cheap, and non-invasive way of recording neural activity at the surface of the scalp. For example, we have used EEG to derive indices of reward processing that are correlated with trait extraversion. We have also used data-driven approaches to decode personality trait scores based on people’s resting neural activity.

Personality Processes LabTo learn more about our lab, visit our dedicated website: Personality Processes Lab


Associate Professor Luke Smillie (Director)

Current graduate students

Beth Clarke
Luiza Bonfim Pacheco
Yana Ryakhovskaya
Emily Spackman

Past graduate students

Dr Rachel Avery
Dr Timothy Bainbridge  
Dr Kate Barford
Dr Hayley Jach
Dr Erin Lawn
Dr Paul Liknaitzky
Dr Reb Rebele
Dr Haisu Sun
Dr Nicholas Tan
Dr Kun Zhao


Dr Jeromy Anglim (Deakin University)
Professor Tamlin Connor (University of Otago)
Dr Andrew Cooper (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Professor Colin DeYoung (University of Minnesota)
Dr Sonja Heintz (University of Plymouth)  
Associate Professor Peggy Kern (University of Melbourne)
Professor Neil McNaughton (University of Otago)
Professor Alan Pickering (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Professor William Revelle (Northwestern University)
Dr Isabel Thielmann (Max Planck Institute for Crime, Security, and Law)
Professor Jan Wacker (University of Hamburg)
Dr Joshua Wilt (Case Western Reserve)

Research Outcomes

Associate Professor Luke Smillie's Psychology Today Blog:
The Patterns of Persons (

Scientific American:

The Conversation:

Research Publications

Recent Representative Research Publications

For a more up-to-date list of publications by the Personality Processes Lab Director, please refer to Google Scholar.

Anglim, J., Horwood, S., Smillie, L. D., Marrero, R. J., & Wood, J. K. (2020). Predicting Psychological and Subjective Well-Being from Personality: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 146, 279-323.

Bainbridge, T. F., Ludeke, S. & Smillie, L. D. (2022). Evaluating the Big Five as an Organizing Framework for Psychological Trait Scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 122, 749–777.

Jach, H. K., DeYoung, C. G. & Smillie, L. D. (2022). Why Do People Seek Information? The Role of Personality Traits and Situation Perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151, 934-959.

Jacques-Hamilton, R., Sun, J. & Smillie, L. D. (2019). Costs and Benefits of Acting Extraverted: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148, 1538-1556.

Lawn, E. C. R., Zhao, K. Christensen, A. Laham, S. M. & Smillie, L. D. (in press). Where the head meets the heart: “Enlightened” compassion emerges at the interface of Big Five Agreeableness and Openness/Intellect. Collabra Psychology.

Ryakhovskaya, Y., Jach, H. K., & Smillie, L. D. (in press). Curiosity as feelings of interest versus deprivation: Relations between curiosity traits and affective states when anticipating information. Journal of Research in Personality.

Smillie, L. D., Bennett, D., Tan, N. P., Suttcliff, K., Fayn, K., Bode, S. & Wacker, J. (2021). Does openness/intellect predict sensitivity to the reward value of information? Cognitive Affective and Behavioural Neuroscience, 21, 993-1009.

Smillie, L. D., Jach, H. K., Hughes, D. M., Wacker, J., Cooper, A. J. & Pickering, A. D. (2019). Extraversion and Reward-processing: Consolidating Evidence from an Electroencephalographic Index of Reward Prediction Error. Biological Psychology, 146, 107735.

Smillie, L. D. & Thielmann, I. (in press). Defining and describing morality: The view from personality psychology. Psychological Inquiry.

Tan, N. P., Bastian, B. & Smillie, L. D. (in press). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Vegetarian Appeals in Daily Life: Comparing Positive and Negative Imagery, and Gauging Differential Responses. Appetite.

Zhao, K., Ferguson, E., & Smillie, L. D. (2017). Politeness and Compassion Differentially Predict Adherence to Fairness Norms and Interventions to Norm Violations. Scientific Reports, 7, 3415.

Research Projects

For project inquiries, contact our research group head.

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Cognitive Psychology and Behavioural Neuroscience, Social and Personality Psychology

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Laboratory Director Associate Professor Luke D Smillie

Department / Centre

Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences

Unit / Centre

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