The Social Cognition and Perception Lab examines the processes involved in social perception and identity construction. Much of our work examines the role of narrative in how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. The ability to communicate by telling stories is a basic constituent of human social and cultural life. In fact, children demonstrate competence at narrative comprehension and creation before they can reliably recite the alphabet. Story-telling appears to be universal: Evidence suggests that cultures around the world, throughout time, have used narratives to communicate. In our lab, we examine how narratives facilitate the construal of oneself and one’s social world. Under that broad theme, our research encompasses a range of topics including social perception, self-perception, social identity, and autobiographical memory to better understand the processes through which perceptions of oneself and others are developed and maintained.


Narrative, perception, and identity processes

The bulk of our research program examines narrative and its role in self-construal and social perceptions. This program of research has three interrelated streams of focus:

  1. Our research explores the basic properties of narrative construction and how these properties influence our self & social judgments. Our work suggests that people construct narratives spontaneously when observing social events and that the inferences formed during our initial observations can have important downstream consequences on future social interactions.
  2. Our research examines how entertainment narratives (i.e., narratives encountered in the media) affect our cognition and judgments about ourselves and others.
  3. We examine autobiographical narratives and explore how reflecting on one's previous life experiences can inform our current and future self-perceptions. 


Social identity and health

Genome posterWe have applied the principles derived from social identity theory to better understand how one's identity as a group member affects how individuals respond to adversity. In one project, we examined how social identity complexity affects responses to ingroup-perpetrated violence. We surveyed students in the aftermath of a campus riot and found that individuals who closely identified with the university experienced guilt and shame, but only if they also had complex social identities. These emotional responses, in turn, predicted willingness to provide reparations to the campus community. Accordingly, social identity complexity provides a new approach to understanding responses to intergroup transgressions.

One recent project developed in collaboration with Dr. Susan Persky and members of her lab group at the National Institutes of Health combines many of the lab's research interests into a single project. The Diabetes IdeNtity, Attributions, and Health Study (DINAH Study) examines how individuals affected by diabetes perceive the cause of diabetes and how this relates to their social identity (i.e., the role of diabetes in their self-concept), narrative identity (i.e., role of diabetes in their life story), health behavior, and overall health. 



Undergraduate Research Highlights

Undergraduate students have the opportunity to work with faculty and graduate students on all aspects of the research process in our lab.  Some students have embraced this hands-on opportunity to better understand the research process. Below are highlights.




Kaitlyn Sievers presented a poster at the annual convention of the Midwestern Psychological Association in May 2024 illustrating her honors' project on the processes of transportation, viewing competence, and the desire to engage with long-form storytelling in tabletop role-playing game actual-play shows.














Teija Mitchell and Brittany Linch presented their project titled “Variations in Growth Across Age Groups and Key Autobiographical Memories” at the 2024 Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) annual convention. Their project examined how narrated themes of growth present in autobiographical high and low point memories varied across age groups (i.e., emerging adults, middle-aged adults, and older adults). 









Lauren at ISU Psychology Poster Session

Lauren Osterberg was awarded the LAS Dean’s High Impact Undergraduate Research Award in Spring 2023 to study how themes present in autobiographical memories might relate to psychological health and well-being. Lauren coded 1200 essays for themes of agency and communion to explore how these themes relate to life satisfaction, self-concept clarity, and psychological well-being, and developed her own project examining how themes of hedonia and eudaimonia in individuals' travel narratives relate to feelings of self-expansion.





Kaylee Short

Kaylee Short was awarded the LAS Dean’s High Impact Undergraduate Research Award in Summer 2018 to study how previous experiences may serve as a source of self-expansion leading to increased self-efficacy. Kaylee was interviewed about this award by the LAS office.  Here is a snippet: “I’ve always been intrigued by research in the field of psychology,” Short said.“This award has given me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the entire research process, from data collection, to data analysis and interpretation, to drafting a manuscript – skills that are critical for my success in graduate school.”





MPA presenter





Molly Collins presented her work examining how themes represented in one's narrative identity are associated with trait-level empathy at the 2015 annual convention of the Midwestern Psychological Association in Chicago. Molly and graduate student Adrienne Austin are pictured at Molly's poster.



ISU Story Lab