What can we tell about others based just on their appearance? Can we identify whether a person is gay or straight, rich or poor, a leader or a follower? How accurately? In the Social Perception and Cognition Lab (SPeCiaL lab), we investigate how people process information about others and how doing so influences their behavior.

As we get on the subway, study at the local coffee shop, or attend the latest museum exhibit, we are constantly categorizing people based on their social groups: male or female, white or black, young or old. Our research primarily focuses on how, and how well, people categorize others in percptually ambiguous groups (i.e., groups without obvious perceptual markers). We find that people can accurately categorize others based on their sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, social class, health, personality traits, and leadership success. More surprising, people can do this rapidly, nonconsciously, and with minimal information (e.g., nonverbal or appearance cues).

These quick snap judgments have some serious real-world implications. For example, we've found that how trustworthy a criminal's face appears partly determines whether he is sentenced to life or death for the same crime, that people make hiring decisions based on sexual orientation without knowing it, and that they can tell how healthy someone is in a variety of ways from a quick glance at her face.

Given the impact of these judgments, our lab continues to examine what influences when people accurately perceive others and when they make mistakes. For instance, having more business experience actually reduces people's capacity to judge leadership ability from nonverbal behavior, thinking about romance boosts women's gaydar, and poorer people tend to be more accurate judges of others in general.

Our lab is ever evolving. We love new ideas and diverse methodologies. We enjoy taking creative and unique approaches to studying social perception and cognition in order to achieve a better understanding of how individuals perceive, categorize, and make sense of the world. Visit the Publications page to read our published work and learn more.