Research

As a social cognitive psychologist, I am interested in how people process information about their social world. My research focuses on social questions like “Does the race of a suspect influence an officer’s decision to use lethal force?” and “Does the way a person construes a goal influence their self-control?” To answer these questions, I analyze behavior across multiple levels (social, cognitive) with multiple methods (experimental studies, secondary data analysis, and computational modeling).

I am also concerned with increasing the reproducibility of psychological science. This concern manifests in my own research, as well as my work on meta-science and replication. Read below for a description of my ongoing research projects.

Shooting Bias

Recent shootings of unarmed Black men have raised questions about police use of lethal force. Why do officers and civilians mistakenly shoot unarmed people? What roles do race, expertise, and prior information play in this decision? And how can we reduce those mistakes through training?

I answer these questions using several different methods, including simulated shooting tasks in the laboratory and secondary data analysis of actual police shootings of civilians. In the former approach participants (police and civilians) see immersive life-sized videos of people carrying weapons or not and must make decisions about whether to shoot or not using a modified Glock handgun. For the latter approach, I compile information about police shootings of civilians from independent databases, internet searches, and direct communication with police departments.

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The drift diffusion model.

I model the decision to shoot with a computational model, the drift diffusion model (see image above). This model describes decisions as a process where people repeatedly sample information from their environment until a threshold is met, triggering a decision. It decomposes decisions into three psychological components: start point (β; e.g., whether people are initially biased to shoot Black men), threshold (α; e.g., whether people are more cautious about making decisions for Black men), and evidence accumulation (δ; e.g., do guns look more like guns when held by Black men)?

Meta-Science

I am committed to increasing research standards and reproducibility in psychological science. Materials and data from all my work may be found here. I have also contributed to several large-scale projects on reproducibility, including the Reproducibility Project and Many Labs 3. In addition, I have also contributed to the discipline by conducting high-powered replications of embodiment research. This work has focused on the role of physical states on cleanliness and physical posture on power.

Recent embodiment work has proposed that states like cleanliness might unintentionally influence moral judgments. However, there is debate about whether these states exacerbate or attenuate the severity of moral judgments. To test these accounts, I have conducted direct replications and extensions (i.e., tests of moderators) of well-cited studies in this area. My work demonstrates that these effects are small at best and have generated considerable discussion about how to interpret replication studies and psychological evidence.

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Top: “Powerless” poses; Bottom: “Powerful” poses

Work on expansive “power” poses (see images above) has captured much public attention because of their potential real-world benefits for achieving desired goals. However, this work suffers from a critical issue: in studies individuals are not made aware of the true function of the power pose, whereas in the real world they must know the function of the pose in order to deliberately use it. My colleagues and recently tested the role of awareness in a direct replication of the seminal power pose study for a special issue on power poses. Our results did not support the premise that power poses have behavioral benefits and point to a need to refine existing theories on power poses. This special issue is currently being compiled for release.