Our research interests span a diverse range of topics and methodologies, as can be seen from the individual faculty listings. Areas of particular strength include:
Aggression & Violence
Aggression and violence research at Michigan focuses on the cognitive, cultural, evolutionary, and learning processes that shape individual differences and situational consistencies in aggressive and violent behavior. [more]
Attitudes & Persuasion
Attitudes and persuasion research at Michigan addresses basic issues of attitude formation, attitude change, and attitude measurement, as well as a range of applied issues, ranging from racial attitudes to attitudes towards the death penalty. [more]
Culture & Cognition
Work in this area explores cultural differences in human thought and behavior. [more]
Decision research at Michigan spans several departments and professional schools and is organized in the Decision Consortium. Topics range from basic cognitive processes involved in decision making to expert systems, organizational studies and policy issues. [more]
Work in this area addresses the antecedents and consequences of emotional experience and emotions' role in human cognition and behavior. [more]
Evolution & Psychology
Evolutionary theorizing plays prominent role in many areas of psychological research at Michigan, which is home to an interdisciplinary program in Evolution and Human Adaptation (EHAP). Relevant topics include the application of evolutionary theorizing to basic issues of cognition, emotion, and behavior. [more]
Group, Intergroup, and Interpersonal Processes
Historically, Michigan played a leading role in groups research, much of which was conducted at the Research Center for Group Dynamics. Current research in this area focuses on intergroup relations and group decision making. [more]
Psychology & Law
At Michigan, researchers in this area address a broad set of issues related to jury decision making and attitudes toward capital punishment. [more]
Social Identity, Race, & Prejudice
Research in this area addresses topics like racial and ethnic identity, stereotyping, social stigma and intergroup relations. [more]
Several faculty in social psychology and other areas of the psychology department study self and self-processes, with a special emphasis on the relation of basic self-processes such as self- esteem, self-objectification, and social identity to mental health and achievement-related outcomes. [more]
Social cognition research at Michigan covers the full range of social cognition topics, from person perception and stereotyping to the interplay of feeling and thinking, the role of conversational processes in human judgment, and the interplay of conscious and nonconscious processes [more]
Aggression & Violence
Aggression and violence researchers at the University of Michigan study questions related to the biosocial foundations of human aggressive and violent behavior. Investigations concern both the situational determinants of such behavior and the development throughout the life course of individual differences in the propensity to behave violently. While the theoretical orientation of most researchers is social cognitive, these questions are addressed from a variety of perspectives including evolutionary theory, cultural differences, learning and information processing, and mass media effects. Research approaches range from longitudinal field studies to laboratory experiments.
Faculty in Psychology with active interests in Aggression and Violence include:
Eugene Burnstein: Burnstein is investigating the causes of intergroup conflict and aggression. His interests range from the role of evolved mechanisms and resource competition to deceptive communications in affecting the risk for aggression and violent interactions.
Rowell Huesmann: Huesmann has proposed that individuals are characterized by a system of world schemas, scripts, and normative beliefs that influence information processing in social problem solving and contribute to individual differences in aggressive behavior. With longitudinal field studies that follow children into adulthood, he is investigating the role of cultural and the mass media, parents, peers, and predisposing personal factors in molding these social cognitions. With laboratory research he is examining the immediate influence of these cognitions on affective responses to provocation and observing violence. With preventive intervention studies in the field, he is examining whether these social cognitions can be changed resulting in changes in aggression and violence. -- Rowell Huesmann's Profile.
Ethan Kross: Kross's work examines how aggressive impulses and retaliatory behavior can be effectively controlled through various implicit and explicit self-regulatory processes.
Richard Nisbett: Nisbett is interested in the interaction of culture and cognition in the decision making that leads to aggressive and violent behavior. He has proposed that the culture in which individuals grow up influence their affective and cognitive reactions to provocations . In particular, Nisbett studies "cultures of honor" in which violence is considered to be an appropriate response to an insult.
Daphna Oyserman: In her early research Oyserman showed how individual differences in self-concept were related to risk for delinquency and aggression in adolescents. This has led to more recent field research investigating the development of self- concept in high risk environments and how self-concept relates to socio-emotional outcomes including aggression in such contexts. Her current research also examines how to intervene in the schools to prevent negative outcomes such as aggression in such environments.
Related research is being conducted as part of the Culture and Cognition Program and the Aggression Research Program of the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research.
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Attitudes & Persuasion
Attitudes and persuasion researchers at the University of Michigan address questions of attitude formation, attitude change, attitude structure, attitude measurement, and how attitudes guide behavior. Many of these questions are examined with topics having applied and practical significance, such as racial attitudes, political attitudes, attitudes towards the death penalty, and the effects of media on aggression and stereotypes. In addition to the social psychology program, attitude research is conducted at the Survey Research Center, the Center for Political Studies, The University of Michigan Business School, and the departments of sociology, political science, and communication, providing a rich interdisciplinary environment for research in this field.
Social psychology faculty with research interests in attitudes and persuasion include:
Phoebe Ellsworth: Ellsworth investigates attitudes toward the death penalty and explores the societal developments underlying their change over time.
Rowell Huesmann: Huesmann focuses on the role that beliefs and attitudes play in controlling aggression and social conflict. He is investigating both cross-cultural differences in attitudes and beliefs related to the approval of interpersonal aggressive behavior and in the development in childhood and adolescence of individual differences in normative beliefs about the appropriateness of aggression. His information processing theory emphasizes prominent roles for early environment and the mass media in shaping such beliefs. ---[Rowell Huesmann's Profile] ---
Norbert Schwarz: Schwarz conceptualizes attitudes as a judgment problem and investigates how people construct attitude judgments on the spot, giving rise to pronounced context effects. His work illustrates that construal models can account for stability as well as change in attitude judgments without assuming that people hold enduring attitudes.
Oscar Ybarra: Ybarra investigates attitudes towards social groups, such as Whites' attitudes towards Blacks and vice versa and people's attitudes toward immigrant groups. Much of this research is guided by the integrated threat theory, which is based on the idea that when evaluating social groups, people take into account the varied types of threats (realistic, symbolic, and interpersonal) that such groups pose.
The University of Michigan also has an extensive network of programs examining attitudes and persuasion, including the Survey Research Center, the National Election Study , the Inter- University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the Center for Political Studies, the Interdepartmental Program in Mass Communication, and the Yaffee Center for Persuasive Communication, providing a rich interdisciplinary environment for research in this field.
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The Social Psychology Area includes a vibrant focus on human emotions. It serves as a hub that has sponsored a regular Emotion Lab meeting that draws students and faculty from across the Department and University. Among the overarching goals of those who study emotions at the University of Michigan is an effort to understand the evolutionary design and functions of emotions, the social and cognitive causes and consequences of emotions, and the extent to which emotional processes vary by culture.
Faculty within the Social Psychology Area who study emotions include:
Phoebe Ellsworth: Ellsworth has made substantial contributions to the research literature on emotions with her work on cognitive appraisals. Cognitive appraisals are the subjective interpretations of events that most directly determine which emotions people experience. More recently, Ellsworth has contributed to our field’s understanding of cultural variations within emotion processes. She argues that cultural differences in appraisals can account for cultural differences in experienced emotions.
Ethan Kross: Kross's main line of research examines how different emotions (anger, sadness, worry, anxiety) can be adaptively controlled and the role that psychological distance plays in this process. He adopts an integrative approach to investigating these issues, utilizing methods and measures from multiple levels of analysis (behavioral, social-cognitive, cognitive-neuroscience, health) to shed light on this issue. [Ethan Kross's Lab Page: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~ekross/].
Randolph Nesse: Nesse has made significant contributions to our field’s theoretical understandings of the adaptive value of negative emotions. His classic paper “What good is feeling bad?” charts the evolutionary origins and significance of several negative emotions. His current work centers on the evolutionary significance of depression, or low mood. He argues that low mood prompts disengagement from unsuccessful goal pursuits.
Norbert Schwarz: Schwarz investigates the influence of moods and emotions on human judgment, reasoning, and decision making. His influential mood-as-information model conceptualizes how people use their feelings as a source of information in judgment and decision making. His work also shows that being in a positive mood fosters a heuristic reasoning style, whereas being in a negative mood fosters a systematic reasoning style. His current research in this area extends this work to the informational functions of bodily sensations and other phenomenal experiences.
Faculty in other areas of the Department and across the University also study emotions and have close ties to students and faculty in the Social Psychology Area. These include Susan Nolen-Hoeksema in the Personality Area, Kent Berridge in the Biopsychology Area, Namdi Pole in the Clinical Area, Brenda Volling in the Developmental Psychology Area, Arnold Samoroff and Ann Shields in the Developmental-Psychopathology Program, and Stephan Taylor and Israel Liberzon in Psychiatry.
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Evolution & Psychology
At the University of Michigan evolutionary psychology is not an isolated division, but a perspective that informs broadly much research and thinking in many areas of psychology. This said, the consideration of evolutionary explanations for psychological traits requires special methods, especially comparisons between species and between groups, and careful observations of whether behavior regulation mechanisms match predictions made from evolutionary hypotheses. The University of Michigan has a long-standing reputation for expertise in this area, arising initially from the University's Evolution and Human Adaptation program that initiated much work
in the field during the late 1980s and led to the founding of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society here in 1989. The Evolution and Human Adaptation Program continues the across campus initiative with a weekly lecture series that brings together faculty and students from Anthropology, Biology, Psychology, Philosophy, Sociology, Medicine, Natural Resources, Complex Systems, Culture and Cognition, and many other Departments and Programs. While the EHAP does not offer a degree, students who are affiliated with the program are able to get advice from faculty conducting evolutionary work similar to their own and can find a community of like-minded and critical minded scholars and researchers. Michigan is the only university to have such a wide-ranging interdisciplinary effort to bring evolutionary principles to bear on the problems of social science, philosophy, and medicine.
In Psychology, an evolutionary perspective is particularly valued, as evidenced by the large number of faculty investigating evolutionary questions. A core group of faculty are investigating how natural selection shaped the emotions.
In the Social Psychology Area, Phoebe Ellsworth studies the interface between cognition and emotion. Randolph Nesse investigates the situations in which high and low mood are useful and how they become dysregulated to states of mania and depression. Norbert Schwarz explores how moods and emotions guide reasoning about social phenomena. Eugene Burnstein studies kinship and the special kinds of altruism that arise in kin relationships. Richard Nisbett explores the evolutionary underpinnings of human cognition and their interplay with cultural influences. Richard Gonzalez investigates mathematical models of adaptation in both decision making and group behavior. Oscar Ybarra: Ybarra studies how people's self-representations are altered toward unpredictability during competitive interactions, social vigilance in person perception, and disclosure in intimate relationships.
In Bio- Psychology Kent Berridge investigates the functions of brain systems that regulate attention, motivation and pleasure. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema in Personality Psychology studies the role of rumination and its relationship to depression and women's roles. Barbara Smuts is an expert on relationships among primates and in dog behavior. Warren Holmes studies cues that allow ground squirrels to recognize kin and how those cues influence behavior. While these are some of the faculty most involved in evolutionary studies, many more could be listed.
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Group, Intergroup, and Interpersonal Processes
Michigan social psychologists have made some of the most important contributions to the understanding of how groups affect individuals. This includes the pioneering experimental and field studies by Festinger, Kelley, Schachter, and Back on cohesion, communication, and conformity in groups followed by classic analyses of social networks and social power; group structure and group performance, social facilitation, and family size, birth-order, and intellectual development. Many of these interests continue to the present along with more recent programs of research on the polarization of attitudes in groups, group decision making, bargaining and negotiation, group identity and intergroup relations, and the evolutionary analysis of interpersonal relations and group life. The faculty working in these areas have appointments in the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research as well as the Department of Psychology. In addition they along with interested students typically participate in a variety of research groups such as the Decision Making Consortium, the Evolution and Human Adaptation Program, the Group Dynamics Seminar, the Culture and Cognition Lab, the Complex Systems Program, the International Workshop on Race and Ethnic Relations, and the Warsaw University summer seminars on adaptation to post-communism.
Social psychology faculty with active research in this area include:
Eugene Burnstein: Burnstein's research is concerned with the psychological adaptations that evolved to deal with the problems of living in groups. It considers a broad range of problems such as those associated with resource acquisition (e.g., collective and individual foraging strategies), resource sharing (e.g., altruism, reciprocity, and cooperation), deceptive communication (e.g., cheating, “false advertising”, and their detection), and intergroup relations (e.g., alliances and conflict).
Phoebe Ellsworth: Ellsworth's interest in group processes centers on jury decision making. For a description see the Psychology & Law section.
Stephen Garcia: Garcia studies social comparison processes at the interpersonal and intergroup levels to understand and identify factors which precipitate competitive versus cooperative behavior.
Richard Gonzalez: Gonzalez’s research deals with how groups make decision and how groups influence individual decision making. He is also involved in developing and testing complex systems that permit the modeling of macro-level behavior from simple micro-level assumptions (e.g., the emergence of coordinated group behavior from simple assumptions of interacting individuals).
James Jackson:Research efforts include carrying out a number of national surveys and one international survey of black populations focusing on issues of racial and ethnic influences on life course development; attitude change; reciprocity; social support; and coping and health. Jackson is currently co- investigator of a study taking place at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute on the effects of race upon misdiagnosis. Teaching centers on social factors in health, race and racism, and sources of misdiagnosis in black populations
Denise Sekaquaptewa: Sekaquaptewa studies the role of stereotypes in intergroup relations. For a description see the Social Cognition section.
Oscar Ybarra: Ybarra investigates stereotyping processes and biases that occur in intergroup perception such as misanthropic memory and the belief that outgroup stereotypes are less open to disconfirmation relative to the ingroup stereotype. Ybarra is also interested in conflict resolution, in particular the manner in which people judge the severity of conflict in intergroup and intragroup situations.
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Psychology & Law
Psychology & Law researchers at the University of Michigan study questions related to jury decision making, eyewitness testimony, legal and extra-legal influences on verdicts, and attitudes towards the death penalty. Faculty and student research has employed a wide range of methods, including laboratory experiments, field studies, simulations, surveys, and archival analyses. The University of Michigan Law School, one of the top ten law schools in the country, has several faculty who teach courses and conduct research on topics related to Psychology & Law.
Faculty in the Social and Cognitive Psychology Area with active research programs in Psychology & Law include:
Phoebe Ellsworth: Ellsworth studies jury decision making, including 1) jurors' competence to perform different aspects of their task (e.g., finding facts, assessing witness credibility, applying law) and ways to improve their performance, and 2) the effects of the composition of the jury (racial, attitudinal) on decision making. She is also an expert on capital punishment and the psychology of attitudes about the death penalty.
Stephen Garcia: Garcia uses the lens of social comparison theory to understand conflict resolution, including defendants' willingness to accept plea bargains and disputants' willingness to accept winner-take-all solutions. Garcia is also interested in leveraging the psychological perspective to help inform legal issues related to competition in the marketplace.
Richard Gonzalez: Gonzalez’s interest in psychology and law deals with eyewitness identification decisions (e.g., modeling how a witness selects someone from a police lineup). He also has interests in jury decision making.
Colleen Seifert: Seiffert's work in this area addresses the role of memory in jury reasoning. Case presentation results in a great deal of information in memory, from many sources and with varying degrees of certainty and relevance. How do jurors, or reasoners more generally, attribute and correct information in memory based on knowledge or inferences about its current status? Using laboratory studies, the influence of information on later judgments can be determined. Other work examines information status in memory with cognitive measures of interference to identify "guilty knowledge." Ongoing research extends the paradigm to witness memory and forensic investigation.
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In Michigan's Social Psychology Area, research on the self focuses on basic processes in self-concept and self-esteem, and the relationship of social identities to coping, achievement, and psychological well-being.
Marita Inglehart: Inglehart's research focuses on stress and coping, in particular in a health context. A central concern in her research is to gain a better understanding of the role of cultural factors in the health and coping context. In related work, she applies social psychological theorizing to issues of health care and the education of health care providers.
Ethan Kross: Kross is interested in understanding the psychological and neural processes that distinguish adaptive and maladaptive forms of self-reflection and the role that perspective-taking in the form of psychological distance plays in determining which of these two forms of self-reflection people engage in. He examines this issue using a variety of methodologies and samples (e.g., young adults, children, clinical samples, older adults). [Ethan Kross's Lab Page: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~ekross/]
Daphna Oyserman: One line of Oyserman's research focuses on adolescent development in high-risk contexts, with a special interest in the motivational impact of self-concept and social identity, and their influences on academic and socio-emotional outcomes, including mental health. Another line of research addresses cultural influences on how the self and others are defined, and the cognitive and motivational consequences of these differences. Current funded research includes a school- based preventive intervention based on her research on self and identity.
In addition, several faculty in other areas of psychology (such as Susan Nolen-Hoeksema and Robert Sellers in personality, and Jacque Eccles in developmental psychology) do research on self processes, providing a rich environment for the study of the self.
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The Social Psychology Area includes an active group of faculty and students interested in social cognition. Many of them participate in a weekly Social Cognition Lab meeting. Social cognition research addresses the cognitive factors underlying social perception and judgment and the mental processes involved in interpersonal and intergroup interaction.
Stephen Garcia: Garcia is interested in decision making and the psychology of competition. To explore these types of questions, Garcia uses an array of decision-making paradigms such as ultimatum games, resource dilemmas, and the willingness to enter joint ventures.
Richard Gonzalez: Gonzalez' research focuses on decision making. One line of work investigates the influence of task information and information extracted from the behavior of others in complex decisions, e.g. decisions about one's stock-market portfolio. Other research examines individual differences in heuristic reasoning processes, judgment as a function of giving advice versus rendering personal judgments, and the psychological grounding of the probability weighting function.
James Hilton: Hilton pursues research relevant to the relation between implicit attitudes and behavior. This research has shown, for example, that implicit attitudes, such as those assessed by the IAT, reflect environmental associations rather than object-related likes and dislikes. For this reason, implicit attitudes may be poor guides for overt behavior. Hilton also investigates the influence of interaction goals on social information processing, the role of suspicion in person perception, and the manner in which stereotypes of social groups may function as theories that people use to make sense of group- relevant information.
Rowell Huesmann: Huesmann is interested in social-cognitive models of social problem solving that account for individual differences in aggressive and prosocial behavior and in situational effects on such behavior. He has developed an information processing model that emphasizes the steps of cue evaluation based on world schemas, script generation, and script evaluation based on normative beliefs. He is conducting studies to investigate the processes through which the relevant schemas, scripts, and beliefs are formed in childhood and changed in adulthood. - WEBPAGE
Richard Nisbett: Nisbett is interested in the influence of culture on cognition, including causal judgment, counterfactuals, and dialectic reasoning. His current research explores differences between East Asian and Western reasoning styles. Other research interests include the effect of aging on the use of cultural scripts, the etiology of cultural differences in social cognition, and the influence of relational schemas on social preferences, as well as the emergence of biases in reasoning and decision making.
Daphna Oyserman: Oyserman's work in social cognition addresses the influence of chronic and temporary self-construals on cognition, communication, and behavior. Some of this work explores individualism and collectivism in experimental and cross- cultural studies. Other work focuses on the role of "possible selves" in social behavior and school performance. Oyserman tests her theories in laboratory and field experiments as well as large-scale school interventions, testing the influence of changing self-concepts on school performance.
Norbert Schwarz: Schwarz is interested in the contextual and situated nature of human cognition. One line of work addresses context effects in social judgment, including how people construct attitudes on the spot, how conversational norms influence information processing, and how the answers to public opinion questions are shaped by the questions asked. Another line of work explores the interplay of feeling and thinking and investigates how affective states (like moods and emotions) and cognitive experiences (like ease or difficulty of recall, or perceptual fluency) influence reasoning. Additional research interests include aging and social judgment and the ways in which people determine if their lives are good or bad, and getting better or worse.
Denise Sekaquaptewa: Sekaquaptewa investigates how people explain events that are consistent and inconsistent with social group stereotypes and how biases in explanation can be used as implicit measures of stereotyping to predict behavior in interactions with members of the outgroup. In another line of work, she investigates how solo-status, that is, being the sole representative of one's social category (e.g., gender or ethnic group), influences cognition and behavior.
Oscar Ybarra: Much of Ybarra’s research focuses on person perception and moral judgment. His work documented the existence of social vigilance tendencies in person perception, which generally take the form of perceivers quickly judging that others have immoral characteristics, but being cognitively skeptical about others who supposedly have moral characteristics. Ybarra has also applied these principles to research in cognitive aging as an attempt to understand why older adults may be at risk of being swindled. His other research interests include the effect of power on social cognition, the influence of interaction goals on self- representation, and the interplay of culture and cognition.
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Social Identity, Race, & Prejudice
Our research in these areas includes topics like stereotyping and prejudice, intergroup perception, intergroup relations, social stigma, solo status, and ethnic and racial identity. These research programs involve laboratory studies as well as survey methodology. General research questions include: How does social context and/or culture influence social identity? How are people motivated to be non-prejudiced? What is the influence of stereotypes on performance? How can we understand the experiences of members of stereotyped groups?
Social area researchers in this area include James Jackson,Daphna Oyserman, Denise Sekaquaptewa,and Oscar Ybarra.
Affiliated faculty include Margaret Shih and Jane Dutton in organizational psychology, Robert Sellers in personality psychology, and David Williams in socioiology. Related progams include the Program for Research on Black Americans, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Women’s Studies Program.
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