Research

The Psychology of Belief and Judgment Lab (PBJ) is devoted to studying the underlying psychological processes that influence the beliefs people hold about the world and the judgments they make about themselves and others.

Some of the topics we are currently investigating include:

Time: How do people perceive events that have happened in the past compared to events that have yet to happen?

Our research investigates whether people may evaluate the same event differently depending on whether the event has already happened in the past or is about to happen in the future. Specific topics we are examining include how people value an event, perceive the fairness of an event, rely on moral rules vs. consequences, and judge the intentions of an event depending on the event’s temporal location. To date, we have found that future events carry more value than identical past events and that concerns over fairness loom larger in prospect than in retrospect.

Magical Thinking and the Belief in Tempting Fate: How can people believe things that they know aren’t true?

Our work has examined the cognitive processes that underlie the belief in tempting fate. That is, why do rational people have the intuition that certain behaviors prompt negative outcomes even when there is no logical connection? We have examined the structure of this shared belief, the consequences of the belief, and individual differences in the tendency to believe. Related work examines karmic reciprocity (the tendency to do good deeds when one wants something good to happen), and the psychological processes involved in reversing one’s fortune (e.g., knocking on wood).

Visceral States: How does the experience of the body influence our beliefs and preferences?

Our work suggests that one’s current visceral state (e.g., warmth or thirst) leads people to believe that “matching” future events are more likely (e.g., global warming or drought). We have also examined the role of motivation in embodied cognition. We find that when people are physically cold, they are motivated to reduce coldness by engaging in activities that are psychologically warm.

Perspective Taking: How does taking the perspective of another person affect one’s behavior in cooperative and competitive settings?

Our work suggests that there may be a hidden cost to taking another person’s perspective. Specifically, we find that considering another person’s perspective in a competitive context may prompt people to make cynical judgments of others and, in turn, behave more selfishly than they would have had they not thought about the likely behavior of others.

Motivated Perception and Implicit Bias: Can people’s motives literally shape what they see and hear in the physical environment? What are the costs of holding implicit bias?

We find that political partisanship can affect people’s visual representations of a racially-ambiguous target’s skin tone, such that liberals see Barack Obama as having lighter skin tone than conservatives. Regardless of their political affiliation, people’s perceptions of skin color predicted their voting behavior in the 2008 election. Related work uses a technique of conjoint analysis to quantify implicit bias and measure how much people may unknowingly give up to avoid people of particular social identities.

Choice and Preference: Do choices affect or reflect preferences?

After making a choice between two objects, people rate their chosen item higher and their rejected item lower (i.e., they “spread” the alternatives). Since Brehm’s (1956) initial free-choice experiment, psychologists have interpreted this “spreading” as evidence for choice-induced attitude change. Our work challenges this interpretation, noting that the free-choice paradigm (FCP) will produce spreading, even if people’s attitudes remain unchanged.