- UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS
- GRADUATE PROGRAMS
Social cognition, self-perception, social categorization, stereotyping
I received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Oregon in 1988, and I have been at Brown since 1991. My research interests focus on inductive reasoning in social context. This includes the areas of self-perception, intergroup perception and relations, as well as behavior in social dilemmas. I am particularly interested in the processes of social projection, which determine how and when people assume that others will behave as they themselves do. I have found that social projection can increase the accuracy of social perception, and make people more willing to cooperate with others. However, social projection also contributes to ingroup favoritism and conflict between groups. I regularly teach a laboratory course in social cognition (PY154). At intervals, I teach topical courses to graduate students and seminars to advanced undergraduates.
We are conducting studies to find out to what extent social projection (i.e., the belief that others are like us) can contribute to cooperative behavior in technically "non-cooperative" social-dilemma-type situations.
• The Hyphenated Self: Self-Esteem, Self-Enhancement, and Self-Effacement
. . . and all the children are above average. —Garrison Keillor
Most people have positive self-images. According to findings from a variety of research programs, these self-images are inflated in the sense that many people irrationally enhance their egos. But no single measure is yet accepted as the best index of self-enhancement. Do people see themselves more positively than they see the average other person, do they see themselves more positively than they are seen by their peers, or do they see themselves more positively than they really are according to objective measures (e.g., test scores)? As a fourth measure, I have proposed that people self-enhance by judging their own traits—whatever these might be—more positively than these traits are judged by those people who do not claim to possess them (Krueger, PSPB, 1998). My colleagues and I have explored the differences and dependencies among these alternative measures (Krueger & Mueller, JPSP, 2002; Sinha & Krueger, JRP, 1998). Just how self-enhancement is being conceptualized and measured can have surprising implications for studies seeking to understand whether this bias is beneficial or detrimental to mental health and adjustment. A psychometric analysis of this issue is under way.
Self-esteem? Nein danke?! Most people report high self-esteem (and they think their own self-esteem is higher than that of the average person). Is high self-esteem good for you, aside from the triviality that it feels good to feel good about yourself? The American Psychological Society convened a Task Force to review the literature on this question. Our report (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003) appeared in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In short, we found that low self-esteem is associated with fewer risks and high self-esteem is associated with higher risks (e.g., aggression) than is commonly assumed. On a lighter note, you can check out an essay on why self-esteem may constitute a social dilemma when we depend on others for affirmation of our selves (George Street Journal, 2003).
• Social Projection, Categorization, and Stereotyping
We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are. —The Talmud
Social projection leads to—sometimes exaggerated—perceptions of similarity between the self and others. This phenomenon cannot be fully understood without considering the moderating role of social categorization. Our research, and that of many others, shows that people generalize their own thoughts, behaviors, and feelings primarily to others who belong to the same social group (i.e., ingroup members). Projection to outgroups is far more limited (Clement & Krueger, JESP, 2002). This asymmetry in projection can explain the much older finding of ingroup bias. Because most people have highly favorable self-images (see above), selective projection to ingroups yields a fairly positive set of beliefs. By not reaping the benefits of projection, outgroups end up being described less positive. Currently, we are studying whether the ingroup-outgroup asymmetry in projection is further moderated by the majority or minority status of the group.
NB: Perceptions of similarity (projection) and perceptions of difference (self-enhancement) only seem to be contradictory (see Krueger, 2000, in Handbook of Social Comparison if curious).
Men are from Mars, but then, aren't we all? My current work on stereotyping focuses on the dual question of whether people overestimate gender differences in descriptions of personality (they do) and whether these perceived differences uniquely predict whether a particular attribute is perceived as typical of the target gender (not really; see Krueger, Hasman, Acevedo, & Villano, PSPB, 2003). We are following up this work by exploring the effect of conversational norms (and violations of these) on expressions of stereotypes.
• Going Overboard on Bias?
To study psychology is to study the limitations of human thought. —Mick Rothbart (paraphrased)
The interest in biases and errors is characteristic of research in social psychology. Recently, I have begun to question the wisdom of equating negative, or undesirable, phenomena with interesting phenomena. My first approach to this problem has been to examine the effects of the typical study design and data analysis on substantive conclusions concerning the quality of social perception. It seems to me that in a typical study, rational (or unbiased) social perception is equated with the truth of a null hypothesis (Krueger, AP, 2001). Because most studies are designed to reject null hypotheses, rationality cannot be demonstrated in the standard paradigm. When, for example, p > .05, we do not conclude that perceptions are unbiased, but rather that (a) we cannot tell whether they are biased, that (b) we have insufficient statistical power to conclude otherwise, or that (c) our data merely contain statistical noise. Some reflections on this topic have appeared (Krueger, Psycoloquy, 1998), and a more comprehensive analysis will appear in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Krueger & Funder, BBS).