Steven Heine


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


My supervisor is great because I receive valuable feedback on everything I submit to him almost immediately. More importantly, I receive an immense amount of moral support (and even pep-talks) from my supervisor. I couldn't be happier with my #GreatSupervisor!

Rachele Benjamin (2017)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

SES, inequality and me : the effects of subjective socioeconomic status and perceived economic inequality on self-centeredness (2023)

Economic inequality is on the rise in much of the world and has been associated with increased anxiety about one’s position in the social hierarchy (i.e., socioeconomic status; SES) and downstream consequences such as increased competitiveness and antisocial behaviour, decreased trust and well-being and other social ills. High socioeconomic status is characterized by a greater access to valued resources and leads to a heightened sense of power which has also been associated with downstream consequences such as increased unethical behaviour and dominance and decreased empathic accuracy. In this thesis, I aimed to replicate the previously found associations between SES and unethical behaviour, dominance, and empathic accuracy and I extended the research on economic inequality by exploring the relationship between inequality and the same outcome variables. I further built on previous research by bringing these two economic factors, inequality and SES, together and exploring their interactive effects. To the extent that the effects of SES on different outcome variables are mediated through a heightened sense of power caused by a greater access to valued resources by high SES individuals, this sense of power should be increased under conditions of higher economic inequality where the distance between people of high and low SES in the amount of resources they have is further exacerbated. While I did not replicate the previously found association between SES and unethical behaviour (Chapter 2), I found a positive association between SES and dominance expectations (Chapter 3) and a negative association between SES and empathic accuracy (Chapter 4). In line with the hypotheses, there was further largely a positive association between perceived inequality and unethical behaviour and dominance and a negative association between perceived inequality and empathic accuracy, and the effects of SES on dominance and empathic accuracy were most pronounced under conditions of high perceived economic inequality. But there was no interaction between SES and inequality in predicting unethical behaviour. Taken together, these results suggest that the effects of SES may depend on the amount of inequality people perceive. In this thesis, I focused on people’s perceptions of both SES and inequality which I assessed and manipulated.

View record

Democracy's (occasional) supporters (2022)

Worldwide, support for democracy’s principles has risen in the past half century. Yet democratic citizens do little to reverse global democratic backslides, even cheering on populist leaders who threaten institutions in place to protect them. I ask for whom democracy is a priority; who is disturbed by democratic backslides, and in any what contexts might they actually approve of this troubling trend? Chapters 2 and 3 uncover ideologically-linked dispositions and contexts explaining people’s reactions to democracy’s decline. Pre-registered laboratory experiments combined with analyses of World Values Survey data indicate that overall, liberals are more distressed than conservatives by low democracy. At the same time, the political context matters: This pattern emerges most strongly when the ruling party is conservative and disappears (though it does not flip into its mirror image) when the ruling party is liberal. The results from these chapters contribute to ongoing debates over ideological symmetry and asymmetry. Going beyond ideology, Chapter 4 identifies a broader set of stable dispositions associated with support for democracy. Moreover, similar to Chapter 3, it finds contexts where those associations weaken or disappear. Three pre-registered experiments reveal that those valuing equality are more supportive of democracy’s principles, and authoritarians and elitists are less supportive. At the same time, when it comes to supporting democracy in practice at the expense of other valued goals, these dispositions show only weak associations. Together, these findings suggest possible discrepancies between self-proclaimed values and actual behavior. Chapter 4 also explores potential differences in people’s feelings towards democracy’s multiple facets; civil liberties, the rule of law, and formal democratic procedures. My results contribute to ongoing research of support for democracy during its period of decline, suggesting that, if democracy is worth protecting, not everyone, in all contexts, will feel the urgency.

View record

Out of my control: The effects of perceived genetic etiology (2016)

Interpersonal judgements regarding other people’s behaviours often involve understanding their underlying causes. People tend to ascribe such causes to some fundamental, vague essence that lies within the individual. The gene has gained prominence in recent decades as a specific instantiation of this essence, although laypeople’s understanding of genetics is often inaccurate and overly simplistic. These inaccurate perceptions lead people to engage in genetic essentialism – the tendency to view genes and their associated attributes in overly deterministic and fatalistic terms. This dissertation discusses eight studies that: a) examine the consequences of genetic essentialism in various domains; b) expand on the existing theoretical framework of genetic essentialism by supplementing it with attribution theory; and c) attempt to find ways that can mitigate the impact of genetic essentialism.

View record

The Shared Psychological Process Underlying Different Forms of Uncertainty (2014)

How do people react when their meaningful worldviews are violated? What does it even mean to experience a lack of meaning? Drawing on work from both social and cognitive psychology, I advance two main hypotheses. First, humans employ a single domain-general process for recognizing and interpreting all violations of meaning and unexpected experiences. Second, as a result of this generality, all violations of meaning can trigger responses that have more to do with this broad process than with the specific problem at hand. Eight studies support these predictions from a number of methodological approaches. Experiences as superficially different as cognitive dissonance, mortality salience, and viewing surreal art all motivate people to affirm important beliefs that are not directly relevant to the experience. Acetaminophen, a drug known to inhibit physical pain and feelings of rejection, also prevents this motivation to affirm following meaning violations. In an ERP paradigm, acetaminophen inhibits activation associated with consciously recognizing that a mistake was made. Finally, these effects appear to occur spontaneously during everyday moments and are not restricted solely to artificial laboratory experiments. These findings speak to a broad process for identifying mismatches between one’s mental model and reality. Discussion focuses on the implications of this process for studying a range of experiences, including uncertainty, meaning, goal frustration, dissonance, and existential anxiety.

View record

Compassion and Convention: Differential Approaches to the Omnivore's Dilemma (2012)

As omnivores, humans benefit from considerable nutritional flexibility. However, this blessing also comes with a curse, as humans also face a higher risk of consuming harmful substances or eating an improperly balanced diet, a phenomenon that Rozin (1976) calls “the omnivore's dilemma.” Previous research has shown that this dilemma is especially pronounced when dealing with meat, but has focused almost exclusively on Western participants, leaving several important questions unanswered. This dissertation extends the literature on the omnivore’s dilemma in three principal ways. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that providing people with visual reminders of the animal origins of meats reduces willingness to eat novel animals, but not willingness to eat commonly consumed animals, across Euro-Canadian, Asian-Canadian, Euro-American and Indian samples. Studies 3 and 4 examine what factors influence people’s decisions to eat animals, within Euro-Canadian, Hong Kong Chinese, Euro-American and Indian cultural contexts. Perceived animal intelligence and appearance were chief predictors of disgust, and reflecting on animals’ psychological attributes increased disgust, especially among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Concordant with past research, disgust was a major predictor of willingness to eat animals, but social influence (frequency of consumption by friends and family) also emerged as a strong predictor, especially among Hong Kong Chinese and Indians, providing evidence that friends and family have a stronger influence on one’s food choices in collectivistic cultural contexts. Studies 5 and 6 examine differences between vegetarians and omnivores in North American and Indian cultural contexts. In Study 5, we found that Euro-American vegetarians were more concerned with the impact of their food choices on the environment and animal welfare, more concerned with general animal welfare, endorsed universalism more, and Right-Wing Authoritarianism less than omnivores, yet among Indian participants, these differences were not significant. In Study 6, we showed that Indian vegetarians more strongly endorsed the belief that eating meat is spiritually polluting, were more religious, and were more concerned with the domains of Purity and Authority, whereas these differences were largely absent among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Taken together, this research provides greater insight into how people resolve the omnivore’s dilemma in different cultural contexts.

View record

Is There Cultural Variability in Implicit Self-Esteem? (2012)

Cultural psychology research has cast doubt upon the assumption that self-enhancement motivations are universal – the majority of empirical research finding that those from East Asian cultural backgrounds self-enhance less than those from Western cultural backgrounds. However, measures of implicit self-esteem (ISE) – automatic and unconscious global self evaluations – do not often yield cultural differences. By using a diverse range of approaches, this dissertation seeks to shed light on the question of whether variability exists in implicit self-esteem across individuals from East Asian and Western cultural backgrounds. In Study 1, two different ISE measures provided divergent results regarding possible cultural variability in implicit self-esteem. In search for a valid measure of ISE, Study 2 simultaneously tested the convergent and predictive validity and cultural variation of popular and new ISE and explicit self-esteem measures. Since no single ISE measure in Study 2 was found to have adequate validity, Study 3 attempted to boost the validity of ISE measures. This was done based on the argument that ISE is better defined as a context-dependent/domain specific construct rather than a global self-evaluation, yet did not yield evidence in favour of the validity of any ISE measure. Supplementary analyses for Study 2 and the final two studies took an alternative approach to the problem of this dissertation and found cultural variability in phenomena theoretically connected to implicit self-esteem. In particular, cultural variability was evident in the theoretical correlates of implicit self-esteem from Study 2. Study 4 found evidence that cultural variability in the tendency to value an object after one owns the object (i.e., the endowment effect) is likely due in part to cultural variability in feelings about the self. Study 5 provided evidence that cultural variability exists in the tendency to display in-group favouritism after being arbitrarily assigned to a group (i.e., the minimal group effect), and that this cultural variability is explained in part by self-esteem. Taken together, these studies provide converging evidence that 1) implicit self-esteem measures are currently not a viable option for assessment of cultural variability, and 2) cultural variability in implicit self-esteem is likely.

View record

Moral uncertainty promotes prosocial behavior : exploring the self-signaling motivation for prosocial behavior (2010)

Self-signaling theory posits that individuals engage in prosocial behavior in order to gain positive information about the self. Previous self-regulatory approaches to prosocial behavior have primarily focused on helping as means to self-repair (e.g., the negative state relief model), or as a means to stay self-consistent (e.g., self-verification theory), thus overlooking the motivation to obtain self-knowledge. Four studies tested a key prediction of self-signaling theory, that uncertainty about the self as a good and moral person should increase prosocial behavior, while certainty should decrease it. Study one used a correlational design to examine the relationship between personal uncertainty and volunteerism. Study two manipulated uncertainty about a positive moral characteristic and measured subsequent agreement to help. Study three examined the effect of uncertainty about a negative moral trait on helping behavior. Finally, study four manipulated both uncertainty, and the valence of self-information, while measuring charitable donations. All four studies find the hypothesized positive relationship between uncertainty and prosocial behavior. These findings support the idea that individuals help in order to gain information indicating they are good and virtuous, thus decreasing uncertainty about the self. Limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed.

View record

Approach-avoidance motivation across cultures (2008)

People everywhere strive for an ideal view of the self, but the conception of “ideal” differs importantly across cultures. In Western societies, the ideal self entails the possession of high self-esteem, whereas in East Asian cultures the ideal self entails maintenance of “face,” or successful performance of social roles and obligations. Within each cultural context, aspirations for an ideal self are facilitated by a network of psychological processes. One such psychological process is approach and avoidance motivations: approach motivation is useful for Westerners’ pursuit of high self-esteem whereas avoidance motivation is useful for East Asians’ concerns for face maintenance. Review of prior research renders support to this theorizing. Because approach and avoidance motivations are fundamental psychological processes, cross-cultural research on this topic is a great venue for investigating the ways in which culture shapes psychological processes. This dissertation examines the implication of cultural differences in approach and avoidance motivations in two domains. Studies 1 and 2 investigated the motivational consequences of a fit between culturally encouraged motivation and focus of self-regulation that a task at hand calls for. In comparisons of Canadians and Japanese, these studies found that individuals’ motivation for a task is enhanced when culturally encouraged motivation matched with focus of self-regulation required for the task. The second set of studies (Study 3 and 4) examined cognitive consequences of approach-avoidance motivation cultural difference. These studies found that a type of information that people are attuned to differs as a function of cultural differences in approach-avoidance motivations. Implications of the findings and future directions are discussed.

View record

Genetic Attributions and Gender Differences: The Effect of Scientific Theories on Evaluations of Sexual Behaviours (2008)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

The story of fitting in : cultural fit and subjective well-being (2023)

The present study explored the relationship between cultural fit and subjective well-being. Using data from wave 7 of the World Values Survey, which sampled from 94,278 residents in 64 nations, we examined the extent to which cultural fit, or the fit between an individual’s cultural values and their country’s averaged cultural values, predicts their composite well-being using multilevel modelling. Results showed a significant effect of individual cultural fit predicting composite well-being within countries. Moderation analyses were conducted using national-level tightness, individualism, relational mobility, and cultural heterogeneity. The national-level tightness of a country was the only moderator that consistently exhibited a positive effect on the relationship between cultural fit and subjective well-being, highlighting the importance of considering cultural context when investigating cultural fit and well-being. Exploratory analyses were also conducted. We conclude with a discussion of the relevance and limitations of our findings.

View record

How do we feel when angels turn out to be demons?: The experience and effects of misperceiving moral character (2019)

In everyday life, we make important judgments about other people’s moral characters (Goodwin, Piazza, & Rozin, 2016). These judgments help us understand others (Hartley et al., 2016), predict what they are likely to do, and plan our decisions around them (van der Lee, Ellemers, Scheepers, & Rutjens, 2017). However, despite the importance of assessing character accurately, we occasionally encounter seemingly good people who surprise us by revealing bad moral character. How do we feel when we learn we have misjudged someone’s moral character? In the present work, I apply theory from the Meaning Maintenance Model (MMM; Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006) to investigate why such apparent misperceptions of character are aversive. In Chapter 2 (Study 1), I review how misperceiving character in everyday life predicts a sense of meaning violation, negative affect, and doubt regarding one’s judgments of others. In Chapter 3 (Study 2), I review how experimentally manipulating misperceptions leads to similar consequences, and I compare these consequences to the effects of witnessing unsurprising immoral behaviour. Taken together, these findings contribute to our understanding of how social perception provides meaning, and highlight the importance of moral character perception in meaning.

View record

The subjective inequality scale: A new way to measure economic inequality (2018)

Economic inequality has become a major topic for the public and policy makers alike. Objective, aggregate indices of inequality have been associated with many social and health ills. But a less investigated question is whether perceptions of inequality are associated with different social and health problems. To this end, we developed the Subjective Inequality Scale (SIS), a measure of perceived inequality and judgments of the (un)fairness of inequality. In Study 1, we reduced an initial pool of 92 items to 19. In Study 2, we further reduced the items and conducted an exploratory factor analysis on the final eight-item scale. We also explored the extent to which the SIS correlates with related measures, and how participants of different demographic backgrounds differ in perceptions of inequality and judgments of fairness of inequality. Finally, in Study 3 a confirmatory factor analysis showed that the 2-factor solution has good psychometric properties including model fit and reliability. We further showed that the SIS is correlated with different mental health and social issues (viz. subjective wellbeing, status anxiety, trust, depression, anxiety, and stress, hope of success, fear of failure, perspective taking, empathy, hubristic pride, authentic pride, and social dominance orientation). Some of these associations with health and social variables were moderated by subjective socioeconomic status. These findings suggest that the SIS is a useful tool in understanding the psychological correlates of perceived inequality and potential demographic moderators. It can further help researchers identify potential consequences of perceived inequality.

View record

Culture Influences Rates of Mind Wandering (2015)

Mind-wandering – the decoupling of the mind from external stimuli such that it is engaged in a greater degree of self-generated mental activity – requires both a) a focus on internal psychological states and b) a cessation of effortful engagement in the external world. Cultures differ on both dimensions. Members of Asian cultures tend to focus less on internal psychological states than do members of European-heritage cultures. Members of Asian cultures tend to believe that effort is intrinsically rewarding and to value cultivation of one’s capacity for effort. We thus hypothesize that Asian-heritage participants will mind-wander less than European-heritage participants, even during a task where performance is not directly incentivized. In this study, we show that European-heritage UBC students do indeed mind-wander more than either Asian-heritage UBC students or Japanese exchange students when they are participating in an easy and repetitive task.

View record

Implicit essentialism: genetic concepts are implicitly associated with fate concepts (2012)

Genetic essentialism is the tendency for people to think in more essentialist ways upon encountering genetic concepts. The current studies assessed whether genetic essentialist biases would also be evident at the automatic level. In two studies, using different versions of the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998), we found that participants were faster to categorize when genes and fate were linked, compared to when these two concepts were kept separate and opposing. In addition to the wealth of past findings of genetic essentialism with explicit and deliberative measures, these biases appear to be also evident with implicit measures.

View record

A potential developmental barrier for immigrants? Mixed evidence that a sensitive period affects acculturation (2011)

Although much research has found that younger immigrants acculturate to a new host culture better than older immigrants do, little work has been done to investigate whether this is due to one’s duration of exposure to the new cultural environment, or one’s age of exposure, while one may still be in a sensitive developmental period. We conducted two studies to determine whether duration of exposure or age of exposure has a greater influence on acculturation. Study 1 found an interaction between these two factors, such that participants’ identification with North American culture increased the longer they stayed in Canada, but only for immigrants who arrived before the age of 15. It also showed that implicit measures may better show linear effects of acculturation than explicit measures. Study 2, however, failed to replicate findings from Study 1, and no consistent pattern emerged from the implicit measures that were used. Overall, there is inconsistent evidence for the existence of a sensitive period for acculturation, suggesting that more empirical investigations are required.

View record

The role of the conscious self in the Meaning Maintenance Model and other theories of threat compensation (2010)

There are currently a number of competing theories of threat compensation, which attempt to explain why humans affirm schemas and cultural worldviews following events that are distressing, anomalous or unexpected. Central to many of these theories is the role affirmations play in preserving self-identity. The Meaning Maintenance Model is one threat compensation theory that does not require the self to be threatened, in that it claims any violation of expectations is threatening, even those that are not directly related to the self, nor are necessarily consciously perceived. The role of the self as a necessary mediator between the perception of threat and evoked response is empirically tested in three studies. Results show that a subliminal presentation of incoherent word pairs can produce the same type of schema affirmation seen with other explicit and implicit threatening stimuli. Furthering this, the same subliminal threat also produces changes in behaviour that are not consciously directed, in this case by increasing implicit learning ability and working memory.

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations

Academic Unit(s)


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Read tips on applying, reference letters, statement of interest, reaching out to prospective supervisors, interviews and more in our Application Guide!