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Professors Lakusta and Bragger Receive Grant for Servant Leadership Research

Posted in: CHSS News, News, Psychology News, Research

Photo of Dr. Lakusta and Dr. Braggar

Dr. Laura Lakusta and Dr. Jennifer Bragger, professors in the Department of Psychology and Co-Directors of the Servant Leadership Research lab, are the recipients of a three-year, $474,000 National Science Foundation award to study the cognitive and developmental antecedents of servant leadership.


This study will longitudinally investigate (1) Theory of Mind (i.e., understanding another person’s mental states), (2) ability to recognize (i.e., perceive and categorize) the essential characteristics of servant leadership, and (3) specific first-hand experience in serving and/or leading. Utilizing methods in both cognitive and organizational psychology, their research proposes clear hypotheses that build on findings in leadership theory, organizational science, and cognition, thus building a bridge between areas of psychology that have traditionally been studied separately.

While the outcomes of servant leadership are well-documented, only 11 studies have investigated predictors of servant leadership and none have investigated how leaders develop to think and behave in ways that create a cycle of servant leadership. Motivated by state-of-the-art leadership and cognitive psychology theories, this project will systematically address this gap in the literature.


Dr. Lakusta and Dr. Bragger will explore how experiences serving others and engaging in service-oriented leadership influence the development of a servant leadership style in part by collaborating with the Bonner Foundation as well as a variety of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

In line with STEM initiatives, this project strongly promotes the involvement of a diverse set of students from underrepresented groups. Students will be mentored through all aspects of the research by two psychology faculty (each with a different area of expertise – I/O and Cognitive Psychology), as well as a Faculty Associate, Dr. Jennifer Urban, (who has expertise in Human Development – character analysis, positive youth development, longitudinal design, and pathway modeling). This offers students a unique exposure to interdisciplinary scientific research, with the goal of instilling in them an appreciation for scientific discovery.


Dr. Lakusta and Dr. Bragger’s research has evolved from 1) Dr. Lakusta’s grant-funded research in developmental psychology 2) Dr. Bragger’s history of engaging in service learning through collaborations with MSU’s Center for Community Engagement and Bonner Leader program 3) a multi-year collaboration between Drs. Lakusta and Braggers team teaching undergraduate and graduate seminars on the development of service-based leadership and 4) Dr. Bragger’s experiences teaching and directing the interdisciplinary minor in Leadership Development and Civic Engagement.

In addition to their collaboration, Dr. Lakusta is also the Director of the Cognitive and Language Development Lab and in 2019, she received the University’s Distinguished Scholar Award. Dr. Bragger is also the Co-Director of the Lead Lab with Dr. Valerie Sessa, where they are conducting a longitudinal assessment of leadership development in college students and a shared leadership group study.