am currently working on several research topics, which are briefly summarized
below. In each domain, I am collaborating with graduate students and/or
I am interested in many topics within the domain of attitudes. I have previously published work on attitude change, the functions of attitudes, attitude-behavior consistency, the effect of attitudes on learning and memory, dissonance theory, the relation between attitudes and values, and the heritability of attitudes.
One current line of research in my lab relates to the measurement of attitudes. This work is being done with Richard Goffin, an industrial-organizational psychologist here at Western, and Graeme Haynes, one of my former Ph.D. students. We have found that asking respondents to rate their attitudes on a relative scale (e.g., on a scale ranging from “More Unfavorable Than Other University Students” to “More Favorable Than Other University Students”) produces ratings that predict measures of behavior better than does asking respondents to rate their attitudes on an absolute scale (e.g., on a scale ranging from “Extremely Unfavorable” to “Extremely Favorable”). Traditionally, attitudes have been measured on absolute scales, so our findings have some interesting implications. One possible explanation of our findings is that relative judgments may force respondents to compare their own behavior in the attitude domain to other people’s behavior, thereby making the evaluative (attitude) rating more closely related to overt actions.
The social psychology of justice is a central focus in my lab. I have previously published work on relative deprivation (feelings of resentment about one’s outcomes), belief in a just world, the tolerance of one’s own disadvantaged status, the influence of self-presentation motives on the expression of discontent, and perceptions of personal versus group discrimination.
In one line of current research, I am working with Carolyn Hafer, a faculty member at Brock University, and Irene Cheung and Paul Conway, Ph.D. students in my lab, on the role of justice considerations in people’s willingness to treat others negatively. Sometimes, people may feel that a target group does not have to be treated “fairly” – justice considerations can be ignored in decisions about how to treat members of the group. For example, people might be willing to harm members of a target group even though those individuals do not really “deserve” to be treated negatively. This process has been called excluding target persons from the “scope of justice”. In other cases, people may treat members of a target group negatively because they believe that the target group deserves such treatment. For example, people might be willing to punish members of a target group in retaliation for perceived negative actions by the group. In our studies, we are trying to understand the conditions under which these two types of harmdoing occur. We suspect that most cases of harmdoing occur because perpetrators believe that the targets deserve to be harmed, whereas it is quite rare for individuals to exclude target persons from the scope of justice. The factors we are examining in our research include perceived similarity, conflict of interest, and individual differences in the belief in a just world.
Another of my research interests is humor. I have previously published research on the role of self-perception in judgments of funniness, the effects of disparaging humor on attitudes and stereotypes (e.g., the effect of hearing lawyer jokes on attitudes toward and stereotypes of lawyers), and the behavioral effects of observing another person being ridiculed.
I continue to work with Leslie Janes, a faculty member at Brescia University College, on the effects of ridicule – a phenomenon we term jeer pressure. We have shown that when people observe someone being ridiculed, they (the observers) tend to conform more closely to situational norms. Observing ridicule appears to make people apprehensive about being ridiculed themselves, which leads them to conform to norms in the setting (so they do not stand out). In contrast to this effect of observing a target person being ridiculed by another individual, observing someone engage in self-ridicule (making fun of themselves) does not increase conformity and in fact may have positive effects such as increased creativity. We are currently investigating the effects of other-ridicule and self-ridicule on regulatory focus (e.g., other-ridicule may produce a prevention focus) and on the effectiveness of persuasive messages (e.g., self-ridicule might produce more attitude change than other-ridicule or no ridicule).
I am interested in a variety of topics within the broad domain of social cognition. I have previously published work on counterfactual thinking, misattribution effects, self-inference processes, and social comparison.
In one line of research, together with Leslie Janes, I am investigating the tendency for perceivers to be “vigilant” for differences between stimuli in the environment. We hypothesize that people are naturally attuned to ways in which stimuli differ, as opposed to ways in which stimuli are similar. The reason for this bias may be that differences between stimuli are often more informative than similarities between stimuli. We have shown that unexpected differences between two objects elicit greater surprise than unexpected similarities between two objects. We have also found that people recall differences between stimuli better than similarities between stimuli. We are currently investigating the implications of this bias for stereotypes and interpersonal attraction.