In general terms, the members of our lab conduct research in a field known as social cognition.
Social cognition is a subfield of social psychology, which is concerned mainly with how people make sense of their social worlds - consisting of other people around them as well as the groups and communities to which they belong.
We explore the cognitive processes that people go through in order to achieve social understanding, such as categorization, memory, inference, and decision-making.
These cognitive processes often entail unwanted biases and errors. Likewise, people are capable of intuitively telling what is right and what is wrong, but this sense of morality or fairness at times can contradict the logic behind justice or law. We believe that empirical investigations of these tendencies in social cognition can lead people to “better” ways of thinking, and eventually, to building a society that may uphold social justice and human values.
Specific issues on which we are currently focused are as follows.
Origins of Prejudice and Social Division
Human beings don’t live alone. Every one of us belongs to some, typically many, social groups, organizations, and networks. These groups often provide bases for our social identities. It is also true that when we see others, we divide them into groups in order to make sense of this diverse and complex social world. Unfortunately, such divisions tend to entail the distinction between “us” and “them,” resulting in stereotypes and prejudices as well as certain types of unfair treatment of others, such as favoritism. These can be major sources of intergroup conflict. Our lab is examining cognitive and affective processes associated with various social groups based on gender, ethnicity, occupation, and some socially constructed categorizations, from a diversity of theoretical perspectives.
How We Know “Right” and “Wrong”
How can we know intuitively what is right and what is wrong, without any deep thinking? Why do we feel like punishing someone who violates a norm? And still, how can judicial decisions at times go at odds with our common sense of right and wrong? Also, what role does culture play when we find discrepancies between groups with respect to their moral values? We are investigating lay understandings of notions such as responsibility, intention, rights, and ethical/moral correctness.
Mutuality of Mind and Culture
Social cognition is not necessarily confined to information processing that takes place inside of an individual person. Rather, it is often achieved through an active psychological construction shared with other people. In our approach to this issue of collectively shared cognition, our lab pays special attention to domains of culture, communication, and language. Culture can be characterized as the ultimate form of shared cognition on a large scale over a long period of time. In addition, communication plays a key role in the process of transmitting and reproducing shared cognitive representations. Another fascinating research topic that is closely related to communication studies pertains to the role of language. Language not only reflects but also may direct our thinking. Our lab is engaging in a number of research projects based on these diverse but mutually related research interests, such as the communication of social identity and stereotypes, cultural foundations of moral judgments, and the relationship between language and blame across different cultures. Many of these are collaborative works with our international colleagues, representing several overseas nations.