Spontaneous and Deliberate Responses

Conflicts between the “head” and the “heart” can be common in everyday life. We may feel romantically attracted to a particular person despite firmly believing that this person is not a good match; and the sight of a high-calorie dessert may elicit an impulse to indulge although we know that it is unhealthy and detrimental for our goal to lose weight. Conversely, we may experience feelings of apprehension and discomfort when encountering members of stigmatized groups even though we intellectually abhor prejudice and wish to express solidarity with minorities; and the idea of shooting down a hijacked passenger plane to prevent terrorists from crashing it into a densely populated area may elicit a negative emotional reaction even when it would save the lives of many more people. Although these examples may seem rather distinct, all of them involve a conflict between a spontaneous reaction and a deliberate judgment. In the Social Cognition Lab, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of spontaneous and deliberate responses by investigating their antecedents, mental underpinnings, and downstream behavioral effects.

Associative and Propositional Processes

A substantial amount of this research has been guided by the associative-propositional evaluation (APE) model, which distinguishes between the activation of associations in memory and the validation of the propositional information implied by activated associations (Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014). The original purpose of the APE model was to provide an integration of seemingly inconsistent findings in the literature on implicit and explicit attitude change. In several follow-up studies, we have used the core assumptions of the APE model to gain deeper insights into the mechanisms underlying various social psychological phenomena. Examples include the role of associative and propositional processes in cognitive consistency (e.g., Gawronski & Strack, 2004), attitude change (e.g., Gawronski & LeBel, 2008), prejudice and stereotyping (e.g., Gawronski, Peters, Brochu, & Strack, 2008), decision-making (e.g., Galdi, Arcuri, & Gawronski, 2008), and evaluative conditioning (e.g., Hu, Gawronski, & Balas, 2017a, 2017b). In our ongoing research, we are using a multinomial modeling approach to gain deeper insights into the role of associative and propositional processes at different stages in the formation and behavioral expression of mental representations (Heycke & Gawronski, 2020). A video on the APE model can be found here.

Contextualized Attitude Change

An important question in research on attitude change concerns the factors that produce long-lasting changes in people’s responses to an object. An equally important, yet frequently ignored, question is whether changes in people’s responses to an object generalize across contexts. Our research on contextualized attitude change indicates that, even when counterattitudinal information effectively influences evaluations in the context in which this information was learned, previously formed attitudes sometimes continue to determine evaluations in other contexts (for reviews, see Gawronski & Cesario, 2013; Gawronski, Rydell, De Houwer, Brannon, Ye, Vervliet, & Hu, 2018). To account for this phenomenon, we have developed a representational theory that specifies the contextual conditions under which spontaneous evaluative responses are determined by either (a) initially acquired attitudinal information; (b) subsequently acquired counterattitudinal information; or (c) a mixture of both (Gawronski, Rydell, Vervliet, & De Houwer, 2010). In several follow-up studies, we have tested a broad range of novel predictions derived from this theory, providing deeper insights into the boundary conditions of contextualized attitude change (e.g., Brannon & Gawronski, 2017, 2018; Gawronski, Brannon, Blask, & Walther, 2020; Gawronski, Ye, Rydell, & De Houwer, 2014; Ye, Tong, Chiu, & Gawronski, 2017). A video on this work is available here.

Moral Judgment and Decision-Making

A central line of ongoing research in our lab is concerned with the psychological processes underlying moral judgments and decisions. Drawing on the distinction between norm-based morality (deontology) and outcome-based morality (utilitarianism), our work aims at identifying the contribution of multiple distinct processes to judgments and decisions in moral dilemmas. Prominent examples of such dilemmas are cases where violations of a deontological norm lead to better overall outcomes (e.g., when causing harm to a small number of people would protect the well-being of a larger number of people). To disentangle the role of multiple distinct factors in responses to moral dilemmas, we have developed a multinomial model to quantify (1) sensitivity to consequences, (2) sensitivity to moral norms, and (3) general preference for inaction versus action (Gawronski, Armstrong, Conway, Friesdorf, & Hütter, 2017). Using our CNI model, our research has provided deeper insights into the effects of qualitatively distinct emotions on moral dilemma judgments (Gawronski, Conway, Armstrong, Friesdorf, & Hütter, 2018), foreign language use (Bialek, Paruzel-Czachura, & Gawronski, 2019), social power (Gawronski & Brannon, 2020), and neuroendocrine factors (Brannon, Carr, Jin, Josephs, & Gawronski, 2019). In our ongoing research, we are investigating individual differences in moral judgments, the role of cognitive reflection, and behavioral correlates such as prosocial and antisocial behavior. A video on the CNI model is available here.

Theory and Measurement

Because the strength of any scientific theory depends on the strength of the data it is based on, our research also includes a strong focus on psychological measurement. One line of work is concerned with the processes underlying implicit measures of spontaneous evaluation. A major product of this research is an integrative framework that describes the interplay of attentional and associative processes in response interference tasks (Gawronski, Deutsch, LeBel, & Peters, 2008). Several studies inspired by this framework have shown that a given factor can produce different effects on otherwise equivalent measures that have been assumed to assess the same construct (e.g., Deutsch & Gawronski, 2009; Gawronski, Cunningham, LeBel, & Deutsch, 2010). Another line of work has investigated the mechanisms underlying two of the most popular implicit measures: the Implicit Association Test (Conrey, Sherman, Gawronski, Hugenberg, & Groom, 2005) and the Affect Misattribution Procedure (Gawronski & Ye, 2014, 2015). Several of our ongoing projects rely on computational modeling approaches to resolve theoretical ambiguities in traditional measurement approaches (e.g., Gawronski, Armstrong, Conway, Friesdorf, & Hütter, 2017; Heycke & Gawronski, 2020). Integrating basic questions of psychological measurement with a broader meta-theoretical perspective, our work is also concerned with fundamental issues in the construction and evaluation of social psychological theories (e.g., De Houwer, Gawronski, & Barnes-Holmes, 2013; Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2015; Gawronski, Sherman, & Trope, 2014).

Research Funding and Awards

Our research has been generously supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research Fund, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, and the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation. In addition, members of the Social Cognition Lab have received numerous awards for their research, including the Theoretical Innovation Prize from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Career Trajectory Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, the Early Career Award from the International Social Cognition Network, the Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, the Best Social Cognition Paper Award from the International Social Cognition Network, the Charlotte-and-Karl-Bühler Prize from the German Psychological Society, the Early Career Best Paper Award from the European Journal of Social Psychology, the Faculty Scholar Award from the University of Western Ontario, the Dissertation Award from Society of Experimental Social Psychology, multiple Graduate Student Travel Awards from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, as well as doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program, the Fonds Quebeqois de la Recherche sur la Societe et la Culture, and the Richard J. Schmeelk Program.


Social-Personality | Department of Psychology | UT Austin
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