Mechanisms of Person Perception & Impression Formation and Updating
In a series of studies, I have been investigating with my colleagues the question of forming first impressions of others, by considering motivational factors (e.g., personal needs and expectations) underlying different types of first impressions that are formed spontaneously (quickly and with limited awareness or intention). My research adopts a dynamic approach of person perception by investigating different types of characteristics (e.g., traits, goals, attitudes or stereotypes regarding the person's social groups) that could be inferred from others' behaviors in parallel, and potentially bias one's perceptions of others. In multiple studies, my colleagues and I show that first impressions are resistant to change and highly likely to affect people's judgments of others, unless people take their time and engage in elaboration during their judgments [link] or consider (spontaneously or elaboratively) the situational factors that might have affected others' actions ("contextualization", e.g., one's goal to be quick when taking the elevator). Our recent work shows that the chronic tendency to spontaneously contextualize others' actions varies across individuals (e.g., liberals show a higher tendency than conservatives) and is partially explained by individuals' chronic tendencies to take the perspectives of others when trying to understand their actions [link].
"Our work shows that people can spontaneously associate multiple inconsistent (positive and negative) traits with a person."
Imagine that you see a new colleague of yours taking the elevator up one flight. What do you think your first impression of this colleague would be? The literature on inference-making suggests that you might infer that your new colleague is a “lazy” person, regardless of having any awareness or intention of forming an impression of this person’s traits. This tendency to overly rely on traits as the way of making sense of others’ behaviors has critical implications for the perseverance of stereotypes. Inferences about a person’s traits can facilitate the formation of stereotypes and impede regulation and change in stereotypes by facilitating stereotypical interpretations of other’s behaviors, even the ones as simple as taking an elevator.
Biases in Intergroup Interactions, and Being a Target of Stereotypes
Intergroup bias is a widely shown phenomenon in social psychological research; people (especially members of majority groups) tend to show a preference for the members of their own group (e.g., ethnic, gender, racial, ideological, age group). These biases are manifested in various ways, from attitudes (e.g., higher likelihood to have more favorable attitudes for ingroup members) to decision-making (e.g., biases to recruit ingroup members as employees) and behavioral interactions (e.g., greater physical proximity, eye contact and time dedicated when interacting with ingroup members).
"We found that perception of time slows in cross-race interactions"
My work contributes to this literature by focusing on perceptual and attributional biases in the domain of intergroup interactions, such as cross-race, cross-gender and inter-ideological interactions [link]. Going beyond descriptions of the existing biases, my research aims to provide alternative explanations for mechanisms underlying those biases. For instance, in our work on time perception, we demonstrate a novel form of perceptual bias in which time perception is slowed as a result of intergroup anxiety [link1][link2]. Currently, by using eye-tracking techniques, I examine with my collaborators the behavioral and physiological mechanisms underlying this time perception bias in intergroup interactions [OSF link]. Also, in our ongoing work, we use an alternative
approach to understand the mechanisms underlying intergroup biases by using Hidden Markov Modeling to model the brain states (determined through Electroencephalogram methodology) during cross-race and same-race interactions in threatening conditions.
My recent work in Social Neuroscience Lab, on the other hand, focuses on the experience of being a target of stereotypes, in other words, identity threat. With the SNL team, we examine various consequences of identity threat on self-perception, motivation, and performance. Given my research on memory and attribution, I am particularly interested in stigmatized
individuals' (women's and ethnic minorities') emotional memories and attributions related to their performance in stereotyped STEM domains. We found in previous studies that recalling identity-threatening memories (such as poor performance in a math class) negatively affects women's self-esteem and perseverance in the math domain. As a follow up to this work, we are currently in the process of launching an intervention study that incorporates existing memory updating techniques into stigmatized individuals' autobiographical performance memories. This study will examine the formation and updating of identity threatening memories over time, and the role of memory updating (if effective) in rehabilitating perceptions of self and stigmatized domains.