social cognition

Socrates remarks in Phaedrus that he is incapable of understanding "true" wisdom on the grounds that he does not "know himself." Because we lack complete self-knowledge, we make regular use of social information to resolve all kinds of uncertainty: we consult with family and professional mentors before making important decisions; we talk to friends and confidants to figure out how we feel about recent developments in our lives; we read reviews before buying products online. I am interested in understanding the process through we glean information from our social environments and how this information helps us understand who we are.

 

emotion and motivation

In Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre writes of a pupil who asks his mentor for advice about a moral dilemma. Though it seems that the pupil wants guidance, Sartre posits that what the pupil actually wants is validation. Of all the people he could have asked for advice, he sought out a specific person, possibly because he knew what advice the mentor would give before the question was even asked. In the same way, we proactively shape our own emotional lives through our choice of affiliative partners. I am interested in how people form impressions of others, how our motivational states govern our use of these impressions, and how we use affiliation to maintain desired emotions.

 

uncertainty and decision-making

As Dr. Temple Grandin notes in The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, "Rules are not absolute. They are Situation-based and People-based." Dr. Grandin's insight eloquently illustrates that people are rarely able to rely on simple rule-based reasoning when making complex economic and social decisions. Instead, people must integrate information from the external social world and from internal affective states to resolve uncertainty and guide decisions. Though research in neuroeconomics has made great advances in understanding how social and affective influences affect the decision-making process, much less is known about how people resolve uncertainty in order to make decisions.