SETO (Self and Existential Thoughts and Observations) Lab

Director: Elizabeth Seto, Assistant Professor of Psychology


Welcome to the SETO Lab! I am Professor Elizabeth Seto, and I am a social psychologist interested in studying a variety of topics historically found in existential philosophy. I received my B.A. in Psychology at Baylor University, and my Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology at Texas A&M University. I joined the Psychology Department at Colby College in 2017. I teach Introduction to Psychology (PS111) alongside a wonderful team of psychologists, Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology II (PS215), and Seminar and Collaborative Research course in Experimental Social Psychology (PS336 and PS337).


My research team and I are currently pursuing two lines of research. Our first line of research examines the mechanisms and psychological consequences of belief in free will. Specifically, we are interested in how belief (or disbelief) in free will influences different components of our self-concept and our social behavior. Our second line of research focuses on understanding how people experience authenticity and find true self-knowledge. In other words, under what circumstances do we find or feel closer to our true selves? I welcome the opportunity to discuss my work, and if you are interested in joining my research team, you can find me in Davis 302 or reach me at


Student Researchers


Daniela Bencid-Santana ’21

I am a senior from Westchester County, New York majoring in Psychology; the social aspect of it is especially fascinating to me. During my remaining time in college, I look forward to furthering my understanding of how our relationships change the ways we perceive ourselves and others. Other than psychology, I enjoy playing volleyball on Colby’s club team, ice skating, hiking, volunteering at The Humane Society in Waterville, and listening to music.


Megan Hartnett ’21

I am a senior from Andover, Massachusetts majoring in Psychology with a Concentration in Neuroscience. I am especially interested in studying neurological disorders and their effects on the way people interact with the world around them. During my time at Colby, I want to further my understanding of the way relationships affect perceptions of self and the world. In my free time, I love going outside with the Outing Club, helping keep campus safe with CER, dancing, knitting, and seeking lighthouses.


Hailey Cerrato ’22

I am a junior from Concord, New Hampshire majoring in Psychology with minors in Italian and Chemistry. My favorite aspect during Introduction to Psychology was the social psychology section. I’m most excited to further my understanding of the influence our relationships have on our self-perception. On-campus I’m also involved as a mentor for CCAK, in Colby dancers, and I volunteer at Maine General. During my free time, I enjoy spending time with my friends, watching food videos, reading books, and having dance parties.


Lab Alumni


Lauren Ruddy ’20

Graduate Student at Tulane University School of Medicine









Liam Wilson ’19

Instructor at the Red Cloud Indian School










Yipei Lo ’18

Graduate Student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign






Peer-Reviewed Publications:

Seto, E., Kim, J., & Hicks, J. A. (in press). The illusion of time: Testing the bidirectional relationship between belief in free will and temporal horizons. Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Kim, J., Schlegel, R. J., Seto, E., & Hicks, J. A. (2019). Thinking about a new decade in life increases personal self-reflection: A replication and reinterpretation of Alter and   Hershfield’s (2014) findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(2), e27–   e34.

Seto, E., & Schlegel, R. J. (2018). Becoming your true self: Perceptions of authenticity across the lifespan. Self and Identity, 17, 310-326.

Christy, A. G., Seto, E., Schlegel, R. J., Vess, M., & Hicks, J. A. (2016). Straying from the righteous path and from ourselves: The interplay between perceptions of morality and self-knowledge. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(11), 1538-1550.

Kim, J., Seto, E., Christy, A. G., & Hicks, J. A. (2016). Investing in the real me: Preference for experiential purchases to material purchases driven by the motivation to search for true self-knowledge. Self and Identity, 15(6), 727-747.

Seto, E., & Hicks, J. A. (2016). Disassociating the agent from the self: Undermining belief in free will diminishes true self-knowledge. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(7), 726-734.

Seto, E., Hicks, J. A., Vess, M., & Geraci, L. (2016). The association between vivid thoughts of death and authenticity. Motivation and Emotion, 40(4), 520-540.

Seto, E., Hicks, J. A., Davis, W. E., & Smallman, R. (2015). Free will, counterfactual reflection, and the meaningfulness of life events. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(3), 243-250.


Book Chapters and Other Publications:

Hicks, J. A., Seto, E., & Kim, J. (2016). Meaning of life. In S. K. Whitbourne (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Adulthood and Aging. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kim, J., Seto, E., Davis, W. E., & Hicks, J. A. (2014). Positive and existential psychological approaches to the experience of meaning in life. In P. Russo-Netzer & A. Batthyany (Eds.), Meaning in Existential and Positive Psychology. New York: Springer Press.


Aeon, Invited Article: “When will I be me? Why a sense of authenticity takes its time.”

PsyPost, Invited Interview: “Study Finds Link Between Vivid Thoughts of Death and Authenticity.”

The Conversation, Invited Article: “Believing in Free Will Makes You Feel More Like Your True Self.”

Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Press Release: “When It Comes To Knowing Yourself, Believe in Free Will.”