Our Research

Implicit Theories of Leadership and Followership:

The Leadership and Group Dynamics Lab has been at the forefront of research related to individuals’ perceptions and implicit beliefs about leaders and followers. Specifically, Implicit Followership Theories (IFTs; Sy, 2010) and Implicit Theories of Leadership Emotions (ITLEs; Sy & van Knippenberg, 2021) originated in the LGD Lab! 

Implicit Leadership and Followership Theories: Implicit Leadership Theories (ILTs) are a foundational idea in the leadership literature (Lord et al., 1982; Lord & Maher, 1992), exploring the beliefs that individuals have about how leaders behave, and in turn, how they tend to interact with others. Implicit Followership Theories (IFTs; Sy, 2010) build on ILTs to show that individuals are also inclined to develop separate cognitive schemas about followers and how they behave. 

Implicit Theories of Leadership Emotions: Published in 2021, Dr. Sy and collaborator Dr. Daan van Knippenberg introduced an innovative idea- that individuals expect leaders to exhibit certain emotions. This theory, Implicit Theories of Leadership Emotions (ITLEs), identifies the emotional prototypes of leaders and related outcomes. This is an ongoing and novel area of research! 

Our current research applies these theories in various contexts. We assess ways to develop and shape individuals’ ILTs, IFTs, and ITLEs about themselves and others, and how these implicit schema can predict other outcomes. 


MINDTAPP (Mind Training Application) is a science-based and patent-pending method enabling users to choose, control, and change their mindsets to improve performance and wellbeing. This mobile application was carefully designed by Dr. Thomas Sy and a team of researchers and developers. It applies psychological research, theories and empirical findings with the aim of making it accessible to a broader audience and thus, enabling them to achieve their objectives. Previous research has highlighted the major impact of expectations and mindsets in determining outcomes, dating all the way back to Merton’s (1948) Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and more specifically, Livingston’s (1969) Galatea Effects. This term refers to the process in which our own individual beliefs and expectations about ourselves impact our performance and outcomes. MINDTAPP serves as a self-guided intervention where users can shape their self beliefs and expectations to produce desired outcomes. This process involves the 3 C’s: Curation, Conditioning and Connection. Users curate or carefully select Mindset Moments (MiMos) that capture previous instances where their desired mindsets were illustrated. They then train their minds through associative conditioning by routinely playing games on the app. Lastly, users can feel inspired, motivated and connected with others by interacting with family and friends on the app while on their journey for self-improvement. Our research has tested the plausibility of MINDTAPP in a variety of contexts including leadership settings, the realm of wellbeing, job interviews and training devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion. In particular, MINDTAPP has demonstrated success in channeling mindsets that produce increases in self-confidence, self-efficacy, happiness and leadership competencies. Additionally, it has been tested for implicit bias reduction. We continue to explore the viability of MINDTAPP in our research and assess its potential applications across various domains.

Contemporary Leadership- Social Media Influencers and Their Followers:

What does it mean to be a leader in today’s modern world, and how is it manifested? Traditionally, leadership has been defined as the act of establishing relationships with followers and guiding them toward shared goals (Bass, 2008). It is fundamentally about the process of influencing others (Yukl, 2013). Sound familiar? Recent research has identified Social Media Influencers (SMIs) as leaders, particularly in topics of taste and opinion (Cheng, Hung-Baesecke, & Chen, 2021). However, a gap persists in understanding to what extent their followers perceive them as genuine leaders within the conventional organizational leadership framework. In our research, we posit that SMIs embody a modern form of leadership, rooted in their parasocial connections with online followers. Drawing from established leadership theories like Implicit Leadership Theories (ILTs) (Engle & Lord 1997), Implicit Leadership Theories of Emotions (ITLEs) (Sy & van Knippenberg, 2021) and the Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX) (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995), we explore the factors that shape this modern form of leadership between SMIs and their followers. Specifically, we seek to identify the schemas, expectations and assumptions affecting perceptions of SMI leadership. Furthermore, we focus on leader characteristics such as the number of followers and their areas of expertise and follower characteristics, including conformity, parasocial relationships, self-esteem and social media intensity. We aim to understand how these factors influence ILTs, ITLEs, and LMX between SMIs and their followers as well as the formation of in-group affiliations. To our knowledge, our studies represent the first investigation of leadership within the context of SMIs, offering insights on factors driving leadership perceptions in the evolving and prevalent domain of social media. 

Follower and Leader Identity:

We are currently conducting studies related to Leader and Follower Identity. Our research examines the development of these identities and how they relate to one another. Stay tuned for our findings soon! 


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