William Fleeson

Email:  fleesonw at wfu.eduFleeson BP
Hultquist Family Professor of Psychology
(336) 758-4232
Greene Hall 460



Research Interests & Relevant Publications

A significant feature of the human condition is that it is not at all clear how to live life, yet something must be tried.  Some of these efforts add to successful, satisfying lives, while others lead to dead ends, frustrated hopes, and wasted resources.  My fascination with this feature of the human condition has led me to the study of self-regulation:  what people do, try to do, and are able to do to improve the quality of their lives.  I am currently working on three research projects.

  1. The Morally Exceptional. One of ethics’ greatest challenges is how it can enable individuals to transform from morally ordinary to morally exceptional. We propose that identifying and studying those who belong to the latter category – those individuals who have achieved moral exemplarity compared to others—can provide us with critical moral guidance. Just as literature can only be truly understood and comprehended by studying the best works in the cannon, we believe that a complete understanding of morality and virtue can only be arrived at through examining the morally exceptional; for example, those who risked their lives to save others during the Holocaust (Monroe, 2006). Just as much attention has been paid to how geniuses and high-performing teams in business function and thrive—we believe the morally excellent represent another form of “genius” that is equally deserving of such attention. In this research, our team is driven by four questions in particular:
    1. How do we identify the morally exceptional?
    2. Are the morally exceptional in fact morally exceptional?
    3. How did the morally exceptional get that way?
    4. What are the psychological processes that maintain and produce their morally exceptional behavior?
  2. Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms.  Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious mental illness, associated with severe personal distress, suicidality, interpersonal instability, and significant costs to society.  This research is tailored to address several significant problems in the understanding of this destructive disorder.  By advancing understanding of the psychosocial factors that trigger its symptoms, we hope to improve diagnosis and treatment in a way that helps alleviate the personal and societal costs associated with borderline personality disorder.
  3. Social-Cognitive and Other Mechanisms Constituting Traits.  Although it is well-known that traits exist and that they influence our behavior, it is relatively unknown how they do so.  The purpose of this line of research is to examine how traits work, that is, how they influence our behavior, feelings, and thoughts.  For example, what causes some people to be polite and others to be rude, or some people to be hard-working and others to be lazy.  This line of research investigates the causal mechanisms underlying traits, including goals, beliefs, and homeostatic principles.

Curriculum Vitae

Courses Taught

  • Personality Research
  • Research Methods I
  • Research Methods II
  • Seminar in Personality


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