My research focuses on person perception—how we view others. Specifically, I examine physical perceptions of other people’s bodies, and social cognition—our ability to get inside the heads of other people. My research thus far demonstrates that this spontaneous ability is flexible; it can be extended to agents without minds (or heads), resulting anthropomorphism, and can be withheld from other people, resulting a dehumanised perception. I also study how cognitive abilities necessary for person perception are applied to non-human animals, objects, and entities.
I take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of person perception and social cognition. I use the tools of neuroscience, including fMRI, EEG, hormones, facial EMG, GSR, heart-rate, eye-tracking, and patient populations in addition to behavioural measures that include economic games, surveys, and vignette studies. In addition, my work is particularly relevant for the social sciences and humanities because my focus in on the social process, not necessarily the brain.
As such, it is able to constrain theory in disciplines such as history, literary studies, philosophy, political science, and economics. Below, I briefly summarise my work in each discipline relevant to social cognition.
People use social cognition to explain other people’s behaviour, but may not use this process to predict the behaviour of others. My research examines what social contextual cues triggers social cognition engagement, and its explanatory function.
Social cognition is a cold, calculating cognitive process that can trigger affective responses. My research explores how social cognition is similar or different to other forms of cognition, how it influences other cognitive abilities, and how it is impacted by as well as impacts other forms of cognition.
Monetary contexts require different cognitive skills than social contexts because monetary contexts focus on profit maximisation, whereas social contexts are governed by moral rules and social norms. My research examines differences in social cognition use in both types of contexts.
Children are born prepared to engage social cognition, often displaying advanced perceptual and cognitive skills in infancy related to person perception that are pruned as they are socialised. My research examines which skills are available in infancy, and how these skills change during socialisation.
People are hyper social creature capable of extremely good and bad behaviours. Other specifies are limited in their social cognitive repertoires. My research examines how shared ancestry and environment promotes particular aspects of social cognition.
Legal and Policy Studies
The law punishes bad minds. My research examines how the salience of people’s minds affects legal decision-making, as well as how social cognition is employed or not in different legal and political contexts, and how this employment affects behaviour.
Human beings’ cognition is special compared to other species. My research makes an argument for such special status by exploring how flexible social cognition may be the special feature of social cognition, rather than the content of social cognitions.