Current work in the lab falls under two primary programs of research, described below. Taken together, both lines of work examine our dynamic ability to perceive and understand other people, leveraging theory and methods across multiple disciplines to better understand these dynamic processes at the levels of mind, brain, and behavior.
Group-Based Influences on Social Perception
How do the groups to which we belong influence the way we see other people? For example, how are our inferences about others' emotional experiences, mental agency, and personality shaped by their group affiliations? Integrating theory and methods from social psychology and perceptual psychophysics, we've begun to tackle these questions, most prominently in the domains of race and pain perception.
Perceptual contributions to racial bias in pain perception
The pain of Black patients is systematically under-diagnosed and under-treated, compared to the pain of Whites. While other research has considered higher-level factors fueling such biases (e.g., failures in empathy, explicit stereotypes and prejudice), we examine whether racial bias in pain recognition stems from a perceptual source, as well. How do target and perceiver race shape the threshold for recognizing pain? What perceptual and neural mechanisms underlie bias in pain recognition? Do biases in pain perception predict biases in pain care? Ultimately, we hope that answers to these questions will inform our approach to designing theoretically-motivated interventions geared at attenuating these biases in medical health professionals.
Recognizing facial expressions of cognition and comprehension
While a great deal of previous work on emotion perception has focused on recognition of the “basic” emotions (e.g., fear, happiness), we’re also used to making inferences about subtler, cognition-related mental states. How quickly and accurately can we diagnose confusion, boredom, understanding, and thought based on their corresponding facial expressions? How are these inferences shaped by race, gender, and group-based stereotypes? In particular, we're currently interested in whether or not specific miscategorizations (e.g., perceiving confusion on a Black face as boredom) lead to downstream discrepancies in social behavior.
Dynamic social learning
How does the brain support our ability to change our minds about other people? While we form rapid impressions of other people based on their behavior – whether it’s experienced, observed, or overheard – people can still surprise us. What principles govern this process neurally, and how is this process shaped by both bottom-up and top-down factors?
The neural bases of impression updating
Using fMRI, we've observed that a distributed network of brain regions supports impression updating, and that activity in a subset of these regions is preferential for diagnostic changes in behavior, beyond mere moment-to-moment inconsistencies. We've also observed that perceptions of behavioral frequency are a critical factor in the updating process: behaviors that are perceived to be more rare (for example, highly immoral and highly competent behaviors) drive updating on both behavioral and neural levels.
Modeling feedback-based social cognition
While much of this previous work focused on relatively passive or observational forms of social learning, we frequently form impressions by interacting directly with and receiving feedback from other people. In collaboration with our colleagues at Stanford and NYU, we're currently using computational modeling approaches to better characterize the dynamics supporting this form of learning. For example, how are social impressions gleaned through interaction and feedback contextualized and generalized? How are these learning processes deployed differentially in social (versus non-social) contexts, or when learning about the self, versus learning about others? Finally, we're investigating how people's expectations of others’ behavior are shaped by their environments, with potential downstream consequences for learning.