Research Interests




My main research focus at present deals with categorization of people. We know a great deal from cognitive psychology about how people form and use categories in general, but we know relatively little about whether social categories are treated the same ways cognitively as the categories studied by cognitive psychologists. One line of research concerns the ways social categories are alike and different from natural kind, artifactual, and nominal categories. We are also investigating the major dimensions along which social categories are perceived to differ. For example, some social groups are seen to be more homogenous than others, and people join some groups more or less voluntarily while other group memberships are assigned at birth. This work is being done in collaboration with graduate students Beth Haley and Judy Solecki.



Compound Categories

Many of the categories we use in everyday life are actually compound categories. For example, a female professor is identified as a member of both gender and occupational categories. My research is trying to answer the question of whether attributes seen to be stereotypic of the component categories are also represented in the compound. If so, which of the component categories dominates the other? Is a black, female, lawyer, a black person who happens to be female and a lawyer or a lawyer who happens to be both black and female. Graduate student Beth Haley and several undergraduates have assisted on this work.


Traits and Situations

Traits vary in how easily they are confirmed or disconfirmed by specific behaviors in specific situations. Some traits seen to have many manifestations across many situations whereas others seem to be displayed in more constrained ways. There are traits that seem to be central to our impressions of others, and others that are quite peripheral. One line of research is directed toward discovering the major dimensions of the ways traits are seen to differ. Another line of research addresses the issue of whether many traits can be seen to have ability connotations such that people with the trait can behave either consistently or inconsistently with the trait whereas those who do not have the trait (or who have the opposite trait) have less freedom in how to behave. Graduate student Beth Haley and Russ Fazio (Indiana University) are collabators on this project


Attributions of Responsibility

We decide how responsible people are for their behavior not only through an informal analysis of situational pressures, but also by judging the strength of personal dispositions. In the past most research has focused on the former, but my research focuses on how perceptions of strong motives and passions as well as psychological disorders such as mental illness affect perceptions of responsibility. My main concern is in how people judge responsibility in legal contexts, especially when there is an insanity defense in a criminal trial.

Perceptions of Stigma

Annette Towler has taken the lead on this project. We are using multidimensional scaling and clustering analysis to determine fundamental dimensions of stigmatization. The theory to data ratio has been uncomfortably high in this area with many proposals for important dimensions that underlie stigmas and relatively little research, most of which has examined only a few groups. We are also trying to determine whether the clusters and dimensions that emerge from this research actually affect people's behavior to the stigmatized. 

Perceptions of Bias

One of the most important and under-investigated issues in our present social and cultural climate is how and when people perceive bias, prejudice, and discrimination. It seems fairly obvious that members of various minority groups perceive that they are victims of prejudice and discrimination to a greater extent than do people from other groups. That could result from "over-perceptions" of bias by minority group members or "under-perception" by majority folks. Common observation suggests that these are not mutually exclusive and that often both occur. In our preliminary investigations we are studying a variety of circumstances that give rise to perceptions of bias. Judy Solecki has co-authored a review paper on this topic and is doing her dissertation on some experimental tests of key propositions.


Racial Categorization






An underinvestigated variable in racial prejudice is how members of minority groups especially African-Americans are categorized. We (Kim Lawson and I) have been examining the importance of skin color and prototypicality of African-American names as important cues in racial categorization and prejudice. Thus far our research has shown that facial complexion but not names leads white subjects to judge black defendants as more culpable in a race stereotypic crime. Black subjects show the reverse tendency.