How does someone’s personality affect their social environment? And how does the social environment affect personality? We study the dynamics of personality in social contexts from a variety of perspectives. We define “personality” broadly to include traits, identities, roles, mental health status, emotions, and motivations; and we study personality in many social contexts, including among strangers, in couples, in small groups, and in online societies. We study what people do, how people perceive what people do, and how people perceive one another’s perceptions. We look at the dynamics of personality on time scales ranging from the first impressions people form in seconds to personality development that takes place over decades. And we use a variety of research methods to answer these questions, including laboratory experiments and observations, computational analyses of big and boutique datasets, longitudinal studies, surveys.

Interpersonal perception in different contexts

In our research on interpersonal perception we are interested in the beliefs and knowledge people have about themselves and one another, ranging from quick, first-impression judgments to lifelong accumulated knowledge about the self and others. All of our work assumes that interpersonal perception is a multiply determined process that depends on the person being perceived, the person doing the perceiving, and the context(s) in which it occurs. Our research typically either measures or manipulates all of these factors to better understand how they work together.

In one ongoing project, we are studying how reputations spread through social networks to strangers through gossip and hearsay. In another project, we are studying how perceivers elicit the behaviors that contribute to their impressions of others. We have also been studying how the concept of gheirat in Iranian culture shapes impressions of character and virtue. And we are studying how socioeconomic status affects the process of impression formation.

Personality, identity, and reputation in online societies

How is personality expressed in online settings, through the “digital footprints” we leave in social media? When people interact online, how do they form impressions of one another? How do those impressions drive important individual decisions (who to follow, who to trust information from) and how do those decisions help explain the larger structure of networks? We are currently using a combination of traditional psychology laboratory methods and data science methods (machine learning, natural language processing, and network analysis) to study personality and behavior on Twitter.

In recent work we have been studying how network connections and tweet language are linked to personality and mental health, how people make decisions about who to follow and why, and sources of accuracy and bias in the impressions people project online.

Personality structure and development over the lifespan

Personality typically becomes more and more stable in adulthood, but it remains changeable throughout the lifespan. We draw on a number of different sources to study personality stability and change. This includes our own data from a longitudinal study, run in collaboration with Gerard Saucier’s lab, to look at how changes in personality traits interact with changes in social roles and values over time in adulthood. We have collaborated with Jennifer Pfeifer’s lab to look at the development of traits like conscientiousness and empathy in adolescence. And we are using other archival datasets, for example to study how socioeconomic status might affect the course of personality change in adulthood.

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