Name Matthew A. Andersson
Affiliation The University of Iowa
Dissertation Title “Approach-Avoidance Sociology: Motivational Systems and Social Stratification”
Chair Jennifer Glanville and Steven Hitlin (Co-Chairs)
Areas of Specialization Social Psychology, Social Stratification, Health, Emotion
Abstract for dissertation chapter (“More than a Feeling: Emotional Well-Being and the Activation of Education”):
Having capital is not the same as using capital; capital can only improve life chances if it is activated. Previous research has pointed to structural and rational factors motivating activation. However, Weber’s (1947) concept of “affectual action” posits that “feeling states,” which are not rational or goal-oriented, vary between actors and possess important motivational properties. Following this lead, I argue that emotional well-being represents a promising approach to understanding the nature and extent of capital activation, because people with greater well-being demonstrate flexibility, support and persistence during activation efforts. Using a representative panel sample of middle-aged adults (MIDUS RDD: 1995-2005), I find that two distinct components of emotional well-being – the presence of positive emotion and the absence of negative emotion – serve to activate education (human capital), leading to especially favorable gains in health, sense of control and voluntary social involvement. Moreover, an auxiliary fixed-effects analysis of activation (based on the MIDUS 1995 Identical Twins sample) yields activation effects even after controlling for early life-course factors such as genes and primary socialization. In total, I find that capital activation is a powerful source of social stratification that rivals the importance of capital itself.
Matt Andersson’s work has appeared in Social Forces, Social Psychology Quarterly, Sociological Quarterly, Social Indicators Research, Stress and Health and other outlets. He researches personal well-being at the intersection of social psychology and social stratification. In a recent paper now under review (“More than a Feeling: Emotional Well-Being and the Activation of Education”, 2013 ASA Social Psychology Graduate Paper Award), Andersson argues that emotional well-being represents a promising approach to understanding the nature and extent of the use of capital, what he refers to as capital activation. This paper demonstrates that capital activation is a stage of social stratification which rivals the importance of possessing capital in the first place, detailing how people with greater well-being demonstrate flexibility, support and persistence during activation efforts. Using a panel sample of middle-aged adults, as well as an auxiliary sample of identical twins, he finds that emotional well-being serves to activate education (a prime indicator of human capital), leading to especially favorable gains in health, sense of control and voluntary social involvement. This paper expands stratification theory by suggesting how individual orientations interact with capital to explain inequality.
Andersson’s general approach focuses on mechanisms, theories and methodological issues relevant to personal well-being. Before turning to sociology, Andersson had researched well-being from a clinical standpoint as an undergraduate, analyzing using an experimental design under what circumstances the disclosure of traumatic events leads to gains in physical well-being and renewed social connections (with Colleen Conley). Andersson retains his undergraduate interest in personal well-being, reflected across a range of sociological projects: examining how social connections shape and reflect trust in diverse others (with Jennifer Glanville and Pamela Paxton), how dispositional optimism shapes social network composition and buffers life setbacks durably; how parental warmth experienced during childhood conditionally shapes mental and physical health during adulthood; methodological design and contextual effects relevant to happiness (with Jennifer Glass and Robin Simon); the utility of vignette data for shedding light on mental illness stigmatization processes (with Sarah Harkness); and links between various indicators of personal well-being and the subjective experience of dignity (with Steve Hitlin).
Next year, Andersson will be finishing his dissertation, and working on an NSF-funded project creating a mixed-methods dataset on peer citation dynamics in sociology and medicine (with Freda Lynn and Michael Sauder). After finishing at Iowa, he aims to work at a research university