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Social Perception & Attitudes (SPA) Lab


Department of Psychology

Social Perception & Attitudes (SPA) Lab

Welcome to DU's Social Perception and Attitudes Lab!

The scientific analysis of social problems and solutions should begin with an analysis of the fundamental dimensions of social thinking. This foundational premise of the The Social Perception and Attitudes (SPA) lab supports our efforts to examine extremely fast, unintentional, and at times pre-attentional responses to others' faces, bodies, and movements. Put differently, the SPA lab focuses on immediate perceptual, affective, and cognitive responses to others' nonverbal behavior, race, and gender.

We also take an ecological approach to social thought. We assume that people respond to the self-relevant meaning conveyed by combinations of social cues. For example, we have demonstrated that perceivers' responses to subliminal emotion expressions depend on the (social) identity of the emoter. Outgroup fear seems evoke positive affect but ingroup fear evokes negative affect (Weisbuch & Ambady, 2008).

The SPA lab emphasizes the early stages of social thought but we do so with an eye towards identifying and solving social problems. For that reason, we examine whether and how the "basic" phenomena uncovered in the lab might be applied to problems in the "real world." For example, people seem to exhibit negative nonverbal behavior toward certain social groups, such as heavy women and people of other races. We demonstrated that this phenomenon is depicted on mainstream television, on over 30 television shows (Weisbuch & Ambady, 2009; Weisbuch, Pauker, & Ambady, 2009). Exposure to this nonverbal bias negatively influences the attitudes of viewers toward heavy women and people of other races-- even though viewers cannot identify the nonverbal pattern.

In general, we are interested in characterizing the extremely early stages of social thinking and examining how they contribute to social problems and solutions. Please see the other pages of our web site to learn more!