This section features University of Toronto faculty members who are a part of the SPRG community. These faculty direct research labs with which SPRG graduate students and post-docs are affiliated. Click on a faculty member’s name to see an expanded description of his or her research interests and contact information.

Dr. Erika Carlson

Photo of Dr. Erika Carlson
Phone: (905) 569-5805Website:Lab websiteWebsite:Department Website
Research Interests

Broadly speaking, my research examines how well people know themselves and their reputation. My primary line of research examines if, when, and how people figure out their reputation. In a second line of research, I examine bright spots and blind spots in self-knowledge of personality traits as well as whether self-knowledge can be improved. For example, can mindfulness interventions improve self-knowledge of our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving? I also study personality pathology in the context of self-knowledge.When is pathology related to poor insight into one’s traits versus poor insight into the impact one has on others?

Dr. Alison Chasteen

Photo of Dr. Alison Chasteen
Phone: 416-978-3398Fax: 416-978-4811Website:Website
Research Interests

My research interests lie in two areas. I am interested in stereotyping, prejudice, and stigma across the adult lifespan. I investigate issues from both the perceiver’s and the target’s perspective. I am also interested in examining cognitive processes such as memory and attention within a social context.

Dr. William Cunningham

Photo of Dr. William Cunningham
Website:Social Cognitive Science LabWebsite:Curriculum Vitae
Research Interests

Our research takes a cognitive science approach to understand the nature of emotion. In particular, we seek to uncover how basic cognitive processes combine and interact to create emotional experience that can guide perception, action, and thought. To better understand these processes, our lab uses methods and theories from both social psychology (e.g., models of attitudes and latency-based evaluation measures) and cognitive science (e.g., biological models of emotion, fMRI/EEG methods, computational modelling). By using the “toolboxes” of each discipline with their distinct strengths and weaknesses, a more complete picture of emotion is likely to emerge. Current research examines how motivation and emotion-regulation (which can occur at both automatic and controlled levels of processing) contribute to emotional and evaluative states. This work suggests that affective states are dynamically constructed moment to moment from multiple component processes that integrate relevant information from various sources such as automatically activated attitudes and situational contexts. This work is applied to the study of prejudice (and prejudice reduction), decision-making, political attitudes, and morality.

Dr. Norman A.S. Farb

Photo of Dr. Norman A.S. Farb
Address Department of Psychology 3359 Mississauga Road Mississauga Ontario L5L 1C6 CanadaPhone: 905-828-3959
Research Interests

I study how emotion reaction habits determine long-term well-being.  Currently, I am an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. I am currently developing methods for testing the basic axioms for how mindfulness training is thought to promote well-being, using a combination of neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and behavioural approaches.

Dr. Brett Q. Ford

Photo of Dr. Brett Q. Ford
Website:Affective Science & Health Laboratory
Research Interests

My research centers on two inter-related questions: (1) what do people believe about emotions and (2) what strategies do people use to regulate their emotions? Using multi-method and interdisciplinary approaches — including experiential, behavioral, and physiological assessments — my lab examines the structure of these beliefs and strategies, the factors that shape them, and their implications for health and well-being.

Dr. Cendri Hutcherson

Photo of Dr. Cendri Hutcherson
Address 1265 Military Trail Department of Psychology Toronto Ontario M1C1A4 CanadaWebsite:Toronto Decision Neuroscience Lab
Research Interests

Why is cheesecake so hard to resist? When is it easier or harder to be generous? What orients our moral compass, and how do we manage to steer a course with it? Dr. Hutcherson’s research makes the assumption that answering these questions requires some understanding of the architecture of the brain, as well as the computational mechanisms it uses to make a decision. Her research harnesses a variety of methods, including dynamic behavioral analysis, computational modeling, fMRI, EEG, and machine learning. Dr. Hutcherson is interested at the broadest level in understanding all aspects of decision-making. Specific, ongoing research topics include 1) an investigation into the computational mechanisms that support different forms of self-control; 2) the use of computational modeling and neuroscience methods to understand absolutist moral commitments (i.e., sacred moral values); and 3) using neurocomputational models of altruism to reveal the psychological dynamics underlying generosity.

Dr. Emily Impett

Photo of Dr. Emily Impett
Research Interests

As social beings, we regularly commit time, effort and other resources to meet other people’s needs. This is especially true in close, communal relationships—including our relationships with family members, close friends, and romantic partners—as it is in these relationships in which our partners’ needs are intrinsically tied to our own. For example, we are often called upon to make sacrifices for family members and friends, and we engage in sexual activity to benefit our romantic partner. The work in our lab is focused on understanding why people give even when doing so involves considerable costs to the self, as well as identifying the conditions under which giving helps and when it hurts. We draw on approach-avoidance motivational theory to understand why people choose to give to close others, as well as to shed light on the circumstances under which giving is beneficial versus costly in close relationships. We draw on theories of communal relationships to understand if there are particular people for whom giving to others feels particularly good and authentic. Finally, we draw upon recent insights on emotions and emotion regulation to look how people deal with the emotions that arise when they give to a partner and how emotional experience and regulation shape the ultimate outcomes of giving.

Dr. Yoel Inbar

Photo of Dr. Yoel Inbar
Phone: 617-910-0449Website:http://yoelinbar.net
Research Interests

My research concerns the interplay between two general mental processes that influence judgment: rational, deliberate analysis, and intuitive, emotional reactions. I am interested in the interaction between these two kinds of thinking and the implications for people’s beliefs, actions, and choices. In my research, I have studied how intuition affects our choices; how our moral beliefs determine our own actions and our judgments of others; and how the emotion of disgust can predict our moral and political attitudes.

Dr. Michael Inzlicht

Photo of Dr. Michael Inzlicht
Phone: 416-208-4826Website:Michael Inzlicht's website
Research Interests

For the past few years, Michael Inzlicht has primarily focused on improving our understanding of self-control and the related concepts of cognitive control and executive function (mental processes that allow behaviour to vary adaptively depending on current goals). Much of Michael’s work explores the building blocks of control, including its neural, cognitive, emotional, and motivational foundations. At the same time—and at a different level of analysis—Michael also explores the various ways that self-control can be influenced by various cultural and situational factors, including mindfulness meditation, quality of motivation, religious belief, and stigmatization. It is hoped that by understanding the basic processes that contribute to self-control, the field will gain a better understanding of how to improve self-control and help people reach their longstanding goals.

Dr. Spike W. S. Lee

Photo of Dr. Spike W. S. Lee
Address 95 St. George Street Toronto ON M5S 3E6 CanadaPhone: 416-946-0012Phone: 734-926-9691Website:Mind and Body Lab
Research Interests

Spike is interested in how human beings accomplish abstract thinking, especially abstract thought that matters in social life (e.g., morality, suspicion, love). He investigates how low-level bodily processes help construct and are in turn influenced by higher-level mental processes, often leading to quirky effects (e.g., physical cleansing helps people move on by “wiping the slate clean”; when people “smell something fishy,” they become suspicious and invest less money in a trust-dependent economic game). Specifically, he explores how the mind interacts with the body through multiple mechanisms; why mind-body relations are often predicted by the metaphors we use; when and how metaphors influence judgments, feelings, and behaviors; what cognitive principles govern embodied effects and how they vary by experimental, social, and cultural contexts. His work has been published in leading journals such as Science, Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Science, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

Spike is taking doctoral students. His latest doctoral student is starting professorship at Northwestern University.

Dr. Penelope Lockwood

Photo of Dr. Penelope Lockwood
Phone: 416-978-7611Fax: 416-978-4811Website:Website
Research Interests

Penelope Lockwood is interested in individuals’ responses to social comparisons, comparisons to better-off and worse-off others. In particular, she has focused on the ways in which people can be motivated by positive role models, individuals who have achieved stellar success, and negative role models, individuals who have experienced failure in some domain. Dr. Lockwood is also examining social comparisons in the context of romantic relationships, looking at how individuals respond when one partner in a marriage is more successful than the other partner. In ongoing studies, Dr. Lockwood is examining comparisons across relationships, and the extent to which dating and married individuals are motivated or demoralized by examples of very successful or unsuccessful couples. Finally, in a new line of research, Dr. Lockwood is examining motivation to engage in pro-environmental behaviour.

Dr. Geoff MacDonald

Photo of Dr. Geoff MacDonald
Phone: 416-978-3840Website:Department Webpage
Research Interests

I want to understand why we relate to each other the way we do – what is the space between us, and what draws us to risk narrowing that space? My perspective begins with the premise that belonging is a deep and ancient need, instilled through millions of years of natural selection. One corollary of this premise is that social exclusion should activate similarly ancient warning systems. I have argued that social exclusion literally hurts, and am engaged in research to explore the connections between social and physical pain. Another corollary is that intimacy should be a powerful and fundamental reward. I have argued that potential for intimacy has been an underestimated motivator of social behaviour, and am engaged in research examining the role of intimacy perceptions in the regulation of social choices. I am strongly guided in this work by an attachment perspective, and am particularly interested in applying my ideas to romantic relationships.

Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould

Photo of Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould
Website:Professional websiteWebsite:Lab website
Research Interests

When you are talking to a new person that you really want to impress, have you ever noticed your heart pounding or that your mouth has gone dry? How do you incorporate meta-cognitions, such as what the other person thinks about you? Now add an intergroup component to the mix, such as when you interact with someone that has very different political views from yourself: How do your beliefs about the other person’s views affect your perception and physiological reactions when interacting with that person? Elizabeth Page-Gould’s research examines how the subjective, cognitive, physiological, and behavioral aspects of experience play into the way we perceive and organize knowledge about the social world. To answer these questions, her research must take a multi-method approach, with focus on psychophysiology (i.e., neuroendocrinology, autonomic nervous system), behaviour (i.e., audio/video-recorded, decisions, reaction time tasks), dyadic and longitudinal paradigms, and quantitative methods (e.g., multilevel modelling, general linear model). Dr. Page-Gould has a particular interest in intergroup interactions with both friends and strangers. Dr. Page-Gould is also interested in basic questions in psychophysiology, such as: (1) the relationship between subjective experience and physiological responses; (2) how the peripheral nervous system responds to social cognitive processes and how these bodily responses in turn affect social perception.

Dr. Jason Plaks

Photo of Dr. Jason Plaks
Research Interests

Everyone has a set of core beliefs and assumptions about how human personality works. My colleagues and I investigate how different starting assumptions about personality lead to markedly different judgments about other people and oneself. One set of studies has found that people who believe that personality is fixed tend to use stereotypes, make sweeping trait attributions, and focus on trait-confirming information. In contrast, those who believe that personality is malleable focus more on the effect of the situation on an individual’s behaviour. Current research is extending these ideas to examine other types of beliefs, including beliefs about the human genome and beliefs about the intentionality of behaviour. In addition, my lab is investigating neurophysiological processes involved in these phenomena, using a method that measures electrical activity in the brain (event-related potentials, or ERP).

I am currently accepting grad students to work on the following projects:

1.  Beliefs about intentionality; see Plaks, J.E., McNichols, N.K., & Fortune, J.L. (2009). Thoughts versus deeds:  Distal and proximal intent in lay judgments of moral responsibility.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1687-1701.

2.  Beliefs about genetics; see Plaks, J.E., Malahy, L.W., Sedlins, M. & Shoda, Y.  (2012).  Folk beliefs about human genetic variation predict discrete versus continuous race categorization and evaluative bias.  Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 31-39.

3.  Building blocks of political beliefs; see Joel, S., Burton, C., & Plaks, J.E. (2014).  Conservatives anticipate and experience stronger emotional reactions to negative outcomes.  Journal of Personality, 82, 32-43.

Dr. Nicholas Rule

Photo of Dr. Nicholas Rule
Website:Social Perception and Cognition Lab
Research Interests

How’s your gaydar? Is your face your fate? What can you tell about someone just by looking at them? These are just some of the questions that Prof. Rule attempts to answer.

Nicholas Rule is Assistant Professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Social Perception and Cognition. Broadly speaking, his work examines questions regarding person perception, focusing largely on information about individuals that can be accurately extracted from their faces. To date, his research has consisted of two key themes:

1. Predicting outcomes from nonverbal and facial cues-
In a series of studies, Prof. Rule has found that individuals’ life outcomes can in some cases be predicted from cues in their faces. For example, judgments of personality traits and leadership ability from the faces of CEOs significantly correlate with their success in leading their companies. Prof. Rule has studied this both at macro-levels, such as differences across cultures, and micro-levels, such as the brain basis for these judgments and perceptions.

2. The study of perceptually ambiguous groups-
Most of what is currently known about group processes in social psychology has focused on groups with perceptually obvious markers. Yet there are a great many groups for whom the distinctions are not obvious, but ambiguous. One example is sexual orientation: Although people can tell better than chance guessing who is gay and straight, there is a lot of error in these judgments that provides opportunities for understanding how the mind engages in social categorization, more generally. Thus, Prof. Rule has studied many questions surrounding the phenomenon of detecting whether people belong to various perceptually ambiguous groups (e.g., gay/lesbian and straight; Mormon and non-Mormon) based on minimal cues.

For more information and representative publications, please see Prof. Rule’s website.

Dr. Jennifer Stellar

Photo of Dr. Jennifer Stellar
Website:Health, Emotions, & Altruism Laboratory
Research Interests

Understanding how individuals and social groups thrive is a central goal of my research. To that end, I focus on how positive emotions promote prosociality, health, and well-being. How do our emotions drive us to help others in need or sacrifice our own goals for the good of the group? As an affective scientist I explore the antecedents, appraisals, and physiological correlates that define key prosocial emotions such as compassion, awe, gratitude, elevation, love and inspiration. In a related line of research I investigate morality, a foundation of successful group living, examining its powerful influence on interpersonal judgment. I try to understand how we judge others who have behaved unethically and why arguments about moral issues can be so intractable.