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Dr Travis Proulx

Senior Lecturer

School of Psychology

+44 29208 76455
Tower Building, 70 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT
Available for postgraduate supervision


Research summary

The Psychology of the Absurd

What do David Lynch movies, Stroop effects and Cognitive Dissonance experiments have in common? 

They represent absurdities: inconsistences between our understanding of reality and our experiences. My research examines the common ways that people respond to inconsistencies, either by Assimilating the inconsistency, Accommodating their understanding, Affirming their beliefs, Abstracting new knowledge or Assembling new creations (The 'Five As': Proulx & Inzlicht, 2012).

In collaboration with others, I have developed the Meaning Maintenance Model - a discipline-spanning framework that offers an integrated account of inconsistency compensation phenomena. 

My recent work uses pupillometry to examine the physiological arousal ('the feeling of the absurd') that results from inconsistent experiences and that motivates compensation efforts. 













Research topics and related papers

Expectancy Violation and Compensation


Proulx, T., Inzlicht, M., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2012). Understanding all inconsistency compensation as a palliative response to violated expectations. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(5), 285-291.

Jonas, E., McGregor, I., Klackl, J., Agroskin, D., Fritsche, I., Holbrook., C, Nash., K., Proulx., T., & Quirin., M. (2014). Threat and Defense: From anxiety to approach. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 219-286.


Zarzeczna, N., von Hecker, U., Proulx, T., & Haddock, G. (2020). Powerful men on top: Stereotypes interact with metaphors in social categorizations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 46(1), 36.

Sleegers, W. W., Proulx, T., & van Beest, I. (2019). Confirmation bias and misconceptions: Pupillometric evidence for a confirmation bias in misconceptions feedback. Biological Psychology, 145, 76-83.

Proulx, T., Sleegers, W., & Tritt, S. M. (2017). The expectancy bias: Expectancy-violating faces evoke earlier pupillary dilation than neutral or negative faces. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology70, 69-79.

Sleegers, W. W., Proulx, T., & van Beest, I. (2017). The social pain of Cyberball: Decreased pupillary reactivity to exclusion cues. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology69, 187-200.

Sleegers, W. W., Proulx, T., & van Beest, I. (2015). Extremism reduces conflict arousal and increases values affirmation in response to meaning violations. Biological Psychology108, 126-131.

The Meaning Maintenance Model


Proulx, T., & Inzlicht, M. (2012). The five ‘A’s of meaning maintenance: Making sense of the theories of sense-making. [Target Article] Psychological Inquiry, 23, 317-335.

Proulx, T., & Heine, S. J. (2010). The frog in Kierkegaard's beer: Finding meaning in the violation-compensation literature. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(10), 889-905.

Heine, S. J., Proulx, T., & Vohs, K. D. (2006). The meaning maintenance model: On the coherence of social motivations. Personality and Social Psychological Review, 10 (2), 88-111.


Randles, D., Proulx, T., & Heine, S. J. (2011). Turn-frogs and careful-sweaters: Non-conscious perception of incongruous word pairings provokes fluid compensation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(1), 246-249.

Proulx, T., Heine, S. J., & Vohs, K. D. (2010). When is the unfamiliar The Uncanny?: Meaning affirmation after exposure to absurdist literature, humor, and art. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 817-829.

Proulx, T., & Heine, S. J. (2009). Connections from Kafka: Exposure to meaning violations improves implicit learning of artificial grammar. Psychological Science, 20, 1125 – 1131.

Proulx, T., & Heine, S. J. (2008). The case of the transmogrifying experimenter: Affirmation of moral schema following implicit change detection. Psychological Science, 19 (12), 1294 – 1300.

Attitudes Towards Political Outgroups


Proulx, T., & Brandt, M. J. (2017). Beyond Threat and Uncertainty: The Underpinnings of Conservatism. Social Cognition35(4), 313-323.


Reiss, S., Klackl, J., Proulx, T., & Jonas, E. (2019). Strength of socio-political attitudes moderates electrophysiological responses to perceptual anomalies. PloS one, 14(8), e0220732.

Suhay, E., Brandt, M. J., & Proulx, T. (2016). Lay Belief in Biopolitics and Political Prejudice. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550616667615.


2019 – present: Coordinator and Instructor, Department of Psychology, Cardiff University. (Thinking About Human Behaviour)

2016 – 2019:  Instructor, Department of Psychology, Cardiff University. (Social Psychology)

2011 – 2016:  Coordinator and Instructor, Department of Social Psychology, Tilburg University.  (Social Cognition, Existential Psychology) Minor Coordinator, Department of Social Psychology Graduate Masters Program.

 2007 – 2010:  Coordinator and Instructor, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University. (Psychology of Meaning; Adolescent Development: Rationality, Morality, Identity; Cultural Psychology)




 April 2016 - Present:

Cardiff University

Senior Lecturer – Social Psychology

 January 2011 – April 2016:

Tilburg University

Assistant Professor – Social Psychology

 January 2010 – 2011:

Simon Fraser University

Assistant Professor – Social Psychology

 September 2008 – December 2009:

 University of California, Santa Barbara

Postdoctoral Researcher - Self and Intergroup Relations Lab

Supervisor: Brenda Major

Postgraduate education

January 2006 - September 2008:

University of British Columbia

Major: Developmental Psychology

Degree: Ph.D.

Supervisor: Michael Chandler

Ph.D. Dissertation: Jekyll & Hyde & Me: Age-Graded and Cultural Variations in Perceptions of Self-Unity

 January 2004 – December 2005:

University of British Columbia

Major: Developmental Psychology

Degree: M.A.

Supervisor: Michael Chandler

M.A. Thesis: Listener’s Gaze: Communicative Intent and Word Learning

 September 2001 – December 2003:

 University of British Columbia

Major: Interdisciplinary Studies

Degree: M.A.

Supervisor: Darrin Lehman

M.A. Thesis: Absurdity as the Source of Existential Anxiety: A Critique of Terror Management Theory

Undergraduate education

September 1997 – May 2001:

University of British Columbia

Major: Psychology

Degree awarded: B.A.

Honours and awards

Awards/external committees



Postgraduate research interests

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information  regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application.

I am interested in supervising PhD students in the areas of:

Worldviews and cognitive dissonance

Ideological contempt