- Name: Artur Nilsson
- Number of lab members or colleagues (excluding PI): I don’t have my own lab, but I’m affiliated with a lab (the JEDI-lab at Linköping University) and I have many collaborators in various constellations.
- Location: Linköping University, Sweden
- Graduation Date: Ph.D., June 2013
- H index: 10+
- Grants: A Fulbright scholarship, a Crafoord research grant, some travel grants, and a few awards (the King Oscar II award for my doctoral dissertation and the Course Literature Honor’s Prize for a textbook I wrote with a colleague).
- Success of lab’s members: Some major grants and awards in Sweden (e.g., from the Swedish Research Council, the National Committee for Psychology, and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond).
- Twitter followers: 60
Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
I am an associate professor of psychology at Linköping University in Sweden. I completed my PhD at Lund University in Sweden, but I also spent a Fulbright year at New York University in the United States.
I study people’s worldviews – their most basic beliefs about the world, values, and moral convictions. I try to figure out how to conceptualize and measure worldviews and I study their impact on people’s lives, for example, on religiosity, moral behavior, political polarization, and receptivity to misinformation. More generally, I try to square the ambition to understand persons as rational, existentially aware, meaning-making creatures with the principles of rigorous science. I would like to contribute to making personality psychology more comprehensive, more systematic, and more in tune with contemporary philosophy. I would like my research to ultimately help people to understand themselves, to become resistant to misinformation, and to be able to interact constructively with others who do not share their view of the world.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I first got interested in personality psychology as a double-degree student of psychology and philosophy. I was fascinated by the psychology of philosophical divisions and started thinking about how people’s views of the world reflect their personalities. My thesis supervisor Bert Westerlundh introduced me to the work of Silvan Tomkins on personal ideologies, which I found fascinating. I also drew a lot of inspiration from the philosophy of mind and classical existentialist philosophy. I felt that contemporary personality theory was missing a critical aspect of personality.
I was accepted into a PhD-program in 2008 with a project focused on the psychology of worldviews. After finishing the PhD in 2013, I continued this path.
Please describe the process of learning, iterating, and creating the project
I had the good fortune of receiving advice from several experienced professors. I initially contacted a professor of cognitive psychology who I knew was interested in philosophical issues in psychology. He got behind my project and helped me to formulate the initial research plan (but moved to a different university before my project started). During my PhD, I was supervised by several other professors with different kinds of expertise, from whom I learnt different skill sets. They helped me to sharpen both the theoretical and empirical parts of my work, to improve my writing, and to understand the field I was trying to make my way into. In my experience, it is very important to have good mentors in science. It takes so much longer to try to figure out everything by yourself.
There were nevertheless hurdles along the way. I was naïve at the start. I didn’t understand the social and psychological aspects of science very well. I didn’t understand that if you are a rookie researcher and you propose a new theoretical perspective, then most researchers are likely to not notice or to ignore your work – they are simply too busy with their own research programs and wedded to their own theories and traditions of research. Researchers today generally start their careers with what the philosopher Thomas Kuhn called “normal science” within well-established theoretical traditions, fields, and programs of research. After building up a track record of publications and citations and a reputation in their field, they might venture into more critical, innovative work. I tried to do things in the opposite order. This is not something I recommend.
The first time I submitted my work to a journal of personality psychology, the editor wrote that the worldviews I studied are not a part of personality “per se” and desk rejected the manuscript. Shortly thereafter, I managed to publish a theoretical paper arguing, from a philosophical perspective, that worldviews are in fact a basic aspect of personality that is often neglected within the field. After this, I have never had a problem convincing the editors of personality journals that my work is relevant to personality psychology, although many researchers still subscribe to a narrower definition of personality.
Please describe the process of launching the project
I gave some talks at the department I was in to let others know what I was working on. I have also been quite open to talking to the press and I have given public talks on a few occasions.