SETO (Self and Existential Thoughts and Observations) Lab

Director: Elizabeth Seto, Assistant Professor of Psychology


Welcome to the SETO Lab! I’m Professor Elizabeth Seto, and I’m 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 [email protected]


Student Researchers


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.


Emily Riley ’23

I am a sophomore from West Newbury, Massachusetts majoring in Psychology and History with a minor in Philosophy. I have always been interested in further understanding the relationships we form with ourselves and others. I have found that studying philosophy as well furthers my understanding of psychology and allows me to examine the same questions from the perspectives of two different disciplines. On campus I am on the board for Craft Club and write for Colby’s chapter of HerCampus. This semester I am looking forward to being a Learning Assistant for the Intro to Psychology course. In my free time I enjoy making art, writing, playing basketball, and getting outside.


Lab Alumni


Daniela Bencid-Santana ’21

Community Residence Counselor at McLean Hospital









Megan Hartnett ’20

Community Case Manager at Lakes Region Mental Health Center






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. & Davis, W. E. (in press). Authenticity predicts positive interpersonal relationship quality at low, but not high, levels of psychopathy. Personality and Individual Differences.

Seto, E., Kim, J., & Hicks, J. A. (2021). The illusion of time: Testing the bidirectional relationship between belief in free will and temporal horizons. Social Psychological and   Personality Science, 12(2), 176-185.

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.”