Welcome to the Social Psychology in Education & the Environment (SPIEE) website—home of Hunter Gehlbach and his lab group.  I am an Associate Professor at UC-Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and the Director of Research at Panorama Education.  An educational psychologist by training and a social psychologist at heart, a former teacher and coach, my interests integrate three main areas. 

First, my most enduring research efforts revolve around improving the social side of schools.  Enhancing the social climate of schools and classrooms stands as one of three essential pillars (along with motivation and self-regulation) in helping students thrive at school.  Because social relationships lie at the core of social climate for both students and teachers, much of my work has focused on improving teacher-student relationships.  In several studies I have tried to improve these relationships through similarity—showing students and teachers how they might have more common ground than they realized.  Other research focuses on social perspective taking—our capacity to discern the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of others—as a means to improving the social connections between teachers and students.

Second, as the threat of climate change increasingly imperils the future of all our youth, I am increasingly optimistic of the potential for social psychological interventions to address a number of our greatest challenges.  I’m currently exploring how these approaches might improve environmental science courses and address sustainability issues more broadly.

Third, in addition to these substantive interests, I enjoy helping social scientists and practitioners design better questionnaires.  A primary goal of this work is to help schools accurately take the pulse of how their students and teachers are doing.  (See especially my work on assessing social-emotional learning with Panorama Education.)  However, some of my recent work is starting to explore how surveys might be used as interventions to actually improve the school experiences of educators and students.

Members of the SPIEE lab group typically have interests that overlap with one or more of these core interests (the social side of school, environmental education, and/or survey design).  Many also share an appreciation of field experiments as a particularly compelling methodological approach.  However, they also have unique scholarly interests.  The overlap (or “optimal misfit”) between the core interests of the group and the unique interests of its individuals that is the hallmark of our vibrant team.


City of Santa Barbara as shown at the chalk art festival