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Social Psychology Research Laboratories

Area Research Topics

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:

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.

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.

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

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 Communication Studies Program, and the Yaffee Center for Persuasive Communication, providing a rich interdisciplinary environment for research in this field.


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].

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.  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. 

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:

Phoebe Ellsworth: Ellsworth's interest in group processes centers on jury decision making. For a description see the Psychology & Law section.

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).

Denise Sekaquaptewa: Sekaquaptewa studies the role of stereotypes in intergroup relations. For a description see the Social Cognition section.

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.

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.


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:]

Social Cognition

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Denise Sekaquaptewa and Oscar Ybarra.

Affiliated faculty include Robert Sellers in personality psychology. Related progams include the Program for Research on Black Americans, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.