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How do fundamental social goals influence how we perceive, attend to, and interpret the actions of those around us?
Walking across a crowding shopping mall, a college campus, an airport, or a conference hall, we encounter complex arrays of people who vary in their race, gender, attractiveness, clothing style, and demeanor. In these complex environments, we are rarely able to pay equal attention to everyone we see , or even to every feature of any given individual in a crowd. Rather, we selectively direct our attention toward a smaller subset of individuals and characteristics. This selective direction of attention often occurs without conscious intent, and can have important consequences for later thoughts and actions.
Who do we attend to, think about, and later remember? And how are the answers to this question linked to our goals at the moment? Do we notice and remember different people if we are feeling self-protective as opposed to amorous, for example?
Our Functional Social Cognition Lab explores the processes that influence the selective and automatic direction of our limited perceptual and cognitive resources. We've been developing a conceptual framework that begins to articulate the role that fundamental social goals play in governing these processes. We focus, in particular, on the ways in which self-protection, mating, status-striving, social affiliation, and disease avoidance goals selectively facilitate attention toward people who have characteristics relevant to those goals. Integrating theory and research on selective attention processes, the influence of goals on social cognition and behavior, and evolutionary/ecological theories of motivation and social cognition, our framework yields novel hypotheses about how social goals influence attention to, perceptions of, and cognitions about individuals who differ in gender, physical attractiveness, and ethnicity.