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Person and Context Laboratory
Director: Vivian Zayas, Ph.D.

Mental Representations of Self and Others

Human beings form mental representations of themselves and others, which are assumed to influence how individuals interpret, react, and behave in response to interpersonal events. In the lab, we are interested in questions such as: How do nonconscious aspects of mental representations affect current experience and functioning (Zayas & Shoda, 2005; Zayas & Selcuk, 2013)? Are representations of self and others rooted in early life experiences (Zayas et al., 2011)? Once formed, are mental representations malleable (changeable with new experiences) versus stable (relatively resistant to change)? And, given that relationships are both rewarding and at times aversive, do mental representations possess both positive and negative associations, reflecting that individuals are implicitly ambivalent about others and self (Zayas & Shoda, 2014)?

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The Social Regulation of Emotions

The regulation of emotion is often viewed as a solo endeavor, requiring effortful cognitive resources. But, as human beings we are embedded in a social network, consisting of family, partners, and friends, and these individuals have a profound effect on our physiological and affective responses. More importantly, they provide a route that may enable the regulation of emotion in a fairly spontaneous, effortless manner. In the lab, we are investigating a number of questions of how these relationships may facilitate the regulation of emotion and diminish negative outcomes (e.g., rumination, poor physical health) associated with the dysregulation of emotion (Selcuk, Zayas, et al., 2012). Return To The Top Of The Page

Delay of Gratification

Why are some individuals able to forego immediate temptations for the sake of achieving long-term goals? What are the processes that enable individuals to delay gratification? Although delaying gratification is perceived as requiring effortful self-control (a “will of iron”), those who are most successful recruit a number of psychological strategies to lessen temptations. In our lab, we are investigating questions, such as: what are the psychological and neural processes that underlie stable individual differences in delay of gratification (Eigsti, Zayas, et al., 2006; Carlson, Zayas, & Guthormsen, 2009; Casey, et al., 2011; Harms, Zayas, Meltzoff, & Carlson, 2014)? How do individuals bring to mind (even spontaneously and nonconsciously) mental representations of desired goals (or undesired goals) that can, in turn, facilitate or hinder delaying gratification (Zayas, Pandey, & Mischel, 2014)? To what extent is delay of gratification a quality that characterizes the person versus an ability that is highly influenced by the nature of one’s situation? Return To The Top Of The Page

First Impressions

Person perception has been a topic of a central interest among social psychologists since Asch's seminal work. In our lab, we are interested in a number of questions focused on person perception: What cues do we use to form judgments of others (Gunaydin, Zayas, et al., 2012; Tabak & Zayas, 2012; Tabak & Zayas, NYT, 2012)? How do the people in our social network influence the judgments we make of others? What judgments can be gleaned by simply looking at a photograph of a face for 50 ms (Tabak & Zayas, 2010)? To what extent do judgments based on a photograph serve as a good predictor of judgments following an actual interaction (Gunaydin, Selcuk, & Zayas, in prep)? Return To The Top Of The Page

Perceptions and Reactions to Ambiguous Exclusion

Being completely and unambiguously excluded from a group leads to predictable decreases in self-esteem, feelings of control, reasoning, self-regulation and motivation, and at times, to aggressive and antisocial behaviors. However, often times, situations involving exclusion may not be clear-cut and the social dynamics may be much more ambiguous. In our lab, we’ve been studying how individuals make sense of these ambiguous social dynamics. For example, how does one respond to a situation in which only one person in the group is engaging in exclusion, while other members are inclusive (Chernyak & Zayas, 2010; Critcher & Zayas, in press)? Does the inclusive person serve as a buffer, or perceptions of them somehow contaminated by the behaviors of the excluder? How does a person respond to a situation in which other members of a group simply show less (or more) interest (Ho, Surenkok, & Zayas, 2014)? Return To The Top Of The Page

The Involuntary Excluder Effect Among Best Friends

In one-person exclusion situations, one person (the excluder) excludes one person (the rejected) while including another (the included). Past work has found that in these one-person exclusion situations, the included person is misperceived as having exclusive social preferences and exclusive behavioral intentions, even though the included report otherwise. This misperception has been coined the Involuntary Excluder Effect (IEE). However, in this past work, all the dynamics took place among unknown others. Our lab is interested in examining if such misgivings of the included by the rejected arise in established relationships - when the included and rejected are friends. Return To The Top Of The Page

Disentangling the Economic and Social Components of Status Perception

Status, defined as access to normatively valued economic and social resources, is consequential across various well-being metrics (e.g. health, academic success). However, much of the literature has examined status primarily using economic resources. In our lab, we are investigating questions such as: do lay individuals conceive status as reflecting economic and social resources? Are perceptions of others' status related to their economic and social resources?. Return To The Top Of The Page