Magical Beginnings

As a young child, Dr. Luttrell was obsessed with magic tricks. After visiting the local magic shop every Saturday, spending hours practicing tricks, and eventually performing at parties, restaurants, and festivals, he was intrigued by the idea that people’s attention could be controlled, that people’s perceptions don’t always line up with reality, and that we can come to believe things about the world without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes.

After a brief stint in art school, Dr. Luttrell found psychology and realized that a career in this field aligned greatly with his childhood dreams and future aspirations of exploring perception, attitudes, and moral conviction. He realized he could make an impact in this world full of opinions through discovering why individuals hold on so closely to certain beliefs.

“Still inspired by my magic days, I had been casually reading about psychology research and thought maybe I’d set out on a new path. I transferred to a new school, got interested in actually doing research as an undergraduate psychology major. During my PhD and now, my research focuses on in the beliefs and opinions we form, where they come from, and why we can hang onto them so tightly.” – Dr. Luttrell

Little did he know that his passions and inquiries would one day garner national attention in the form of being named  “Rising Star” by the Association for Psychological Sciences.


A Rising Star

When Dr. Luttrell interviewed for the faculty position at Ball State, he knew a position in the department of Psychological Science was a perfect fit. From it’s research focused goals to diverse campus, BSU was a great place to call home.
“When I got the interview and met everybody, I was really excited about the enthusiasm for both conducting high-impact research and investing in quality teaching. Needless to say, it was pretty easy to say “yes” when they offered me the job!” – Dr. Luttrell

After joining the Psychological Sciences Department in 2017, Dr. Luttrell dove into his research. He explores how people form, communicate, and change their opinions, as well the kinds of attitudes that resist change, such as opinions we’re certain of, opinions we tie to our moral compass, and opinions built on emotion and the kinds of messages that persuade people to change their minds.

Dr. Luttrell has built a growing body of research about how people incorporate their moral convictions into their opinions. In his brief time at Ball State University, Dr. Luttrell has published 12 papers (lead author or co-authored in 9) in top journals in his field. His research that shows that people act on their opinions more, hold onto their opinions longer, and resist persuasive communication more when they believe their opinions reflect their moral values. This research has grown to consider how messages can be more or less persuasive when they make moral arguments (e.g., “Increasing diversity is morally good” vs. “Increasing diversity makes good business sense”).

Dr. Luttrell is focused on using his research to improve the way the world works, especially during the time of a pandemic. Without hesitation, his team and him began conducting timely research into decision-making in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were interested in whether people would be more persuaded by arguments to practice social distancing to keep themselves safe versus more moral arguments to practice distancing to protect other people in their community. It turns out that the moral, altruistic argument was more effective, particularly for people who saw public health as a moral issue. Together, this work challenges some prior theories of moral communication and provides an innovative way to consider how public opinion and communication work.” Dr. Luttrell

As the pandemic has continued, Dr. Luttrell has honed in on using his research as tool for the greater good. Presently, he is collaborating with a group of social scientists on a proposal for an NSF grant to track the geographic spread of disease to develop targeted health messages tailored to disease-prone populations

Dr. Luttrell’s outstanding dedication to research reflects his commitment to leave his mark in the field of social psychology and impact upon Ball State’s campus. His continued work has resulted in his receiving several grants, including internal grants from the Digital Scholarship Lab and the Aspire Junior Faculty program, and a grant from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation. Most noticeably, the Association for Psychological Sciences has named Dr. Luttrell as the “Rising Star” within its organization. A prestigious honor that recognizes researchers whose innovative work has already advanced the field and signals great potential for their continued contributions, the APS Rising Star designation is presented to outstanding APS members in the earliest stages of their research career post-PhD.  In the College of Sciences and Humanities, we are eager to see how Dr. Luttrell’s star continues to rise, and we anticipate even greater contributions in the future!

Beyond the Lab

Dr. Luttrell is not just a renowned social psychologist, but also a wonderful teacher and mentor to the next generation of psychologists. Dr. Linh Littleford, Department Chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences, is one of many to speak on the impact Dr. Luttrell is making outside of the lab.


“Dr. Luttrell extends his teaching skills and brings visibility to Ball State University to a global audience in several ways. He mentors, provides opportunities, and supports undergraduate and graduate students as they engage in research and contribute to the psychological literature in significant ways.” – Dr. Linh Littleford

Several of his former undergraduate and graduate students have co-authored articles with him, an opportunity that is a hallmark of Ball State University: providing students with the opportunity to gain the writing, research, and publishing skills necessary for their future education and professions.

“As such, I feel that I can confidently say that [Dr. Luttrell] was one of the most influential people on campus for me as a student, and I am a better academic for knowing him.” – Paulie Stevens, Former Student

In addition to his work with students, Dr. Luttrell produces a regular psychology podcast that has reached a global audience and provides an accessible way to spread insights from social science outside of academia. The podcast, Opinion Science, features interviews with psychologists, political scientists, communication scholars, computer scientists, pollsters, campaign managers, etc., to explore questions about opinions, where they come from, and how they change.

He also maintains a highly produced YouTube channel featuring introductions to important topics in social psychology and blogs frequently about social psychological research on various platforms. These contents have been listened to, watched, or read by hundreds of thousands of people, and he regularly receives communications from instructors across many institutions that they are using his materials in their teaching. Dr. Luttrell believes that though expanding the public engagement in these topics, the communication of important social science research to the general public will be greatly improved and spread awareness of important breakthroughs in research.

Moving Forward

In the future, Dr. Luttrell hopes to continue incorporating unique research methods and analytic approaches to answer important questions about public opinion and persuasive communication. He is interested in conducting field experiments and considering how opinions spread through actual social networks to get closer to capturing these aspects of our psychology as they happen in our everyday life. These distinctive research methods will greatly aid in increasing the body of literature Dr. Luttrell is pursuing while setting him apart from other researchers in his field.  He also hopes to continue to build his outreach and public engagement platforms and focus on connecting with students both in and outside of his classroom.

“We are fortunate to have Dr. Luttrell at Ball State University because our students, department, and university benefit greatly from his expertise and contributions.” – Dr. Linh Littleford

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