Home / Research / Labs / Evolutionary Social Cognition Lab (Kenrick-Neuberg-Becker)

Evolutionary Social Cognition Lab (Kenrick-Neuberg-Becker)

Lab Research Area:

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.

We are currently exploring the following questions, and others like them:
  • What types of people draw our attention? What makes certain people more memorable? What physical characteristics are most influential in processing a social experience
  • How do important social goals (e.g., to protect oneself, to find romance) influence the ways in which we perceive and come to understand the individuals around us?
  • What happens to social perception when people are motivated to seek revenge, or to try to help others?
  • Does fertility affect social cognition?
  • How do individual differences interact with people's social surroundings? Does a personal belief translate to projecting functional relevant emotions to other people? For example, does belief in a dangerous world promote seeing anger in other people when it isn't really there?
  • Do some social stimuli always trump others? For example, do people always notice someone who may be dangerous? If not, when do typically important stimuli get missed?
  • Are people with clinical disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder or anxiety disorder, compelled to look at, process, and remember social stimuli differently than other people? For example, perhaps sufferers of OCD are more acutely aware of another's dirty fingernails.

This research is currently funded by grants from The National Science Foundation.

Lab Directors and Co-Principal Investigators:

Douglas T. Kenrick, PhD, Professor of Psychology

Steven L. Neuberg, PhD, Professor of Psychology

D. Vaughn Becker, PhD, Associate Professor, Human Systems Engineering Program

Select Publications

In the News!

Doctoral student Jaimie Krems has been been selected to receive the prestigious  Philanthropic Education Organization Scholar Award. PEO awards "are one-time, competitive, merit-based awards for women of the United States and Canada ...who will make significant contributions in their varied fields of endeavor. Priority is given to women who are well established in their programs, study or research."  Congratulations Jaimie!! (posted 4/06/16)