Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Bertram Gawronski

Bertram Gawronski

SPONTANEOUS AND DELIBERATE EVALUATION

Conflicts between the “head” and the “heart” can be rather common in everyday life. We may feel romantically attracted to a particular person despite firmly believing that this person is not a good match; and the sight of a high-calorie dessert may elicit an impulse to indulge although we know that it is unhealthy and detrimental for our goal to lose weight. Conversely, we may experience feelings of apprehension and discomfort when encountering members of stigmatized groups even though we intellectually abhor prejudice and wish to express solidarity with minorities; and a small spider may elicit a fright response although we know that it is entirely harmless. Although these examples may seem rather distinct, they are conceptually similar in that all of them involve a conflict between a spontaneous evaluative response (often called implicit evaluation) and a deliberate evaluative judgment (often called explicit evaluation). In the Social Cognition Lab, we are interested in the mental underpinnings of spontaneous and deliberate evaluations, focusing especially on the role of associative and propositional processes. In our research, we investigate how associative and propositional processes interact with each other, how they jointly influence social judgments and social behavior, and what factors lead to changes in the two kinds of processes and their resulting evaluative responses.

ASSOCIATIVE AND PROPOSITIONAL PROCESSES

A substantial amount of this research is based on the associative-propositional evaluation (APE) model, which distinguishes between the activation of associations in memory and the validation of the propositional information implied by activated associations (Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006, 2007, 2011). The original purpose of the APE model was to provide an integration of apparently inconsistent findings in the literature on implicit and explicit attitude change. In several of our ongoing studies, we use the core assumptions of the APE model to gain deeper insights into the mechanisms underlying various social psychological phenomena. Examples include the role of associative and propositional processes in attitude formation and change (e.g., Gawronski & LeBel, 2008), evaluative conditioning (e.g., Gawronski, Balas, & Creighton, 2014), cognitive dissonance (e.g., Gawronski & Strack, 2004), cognitive balance (e.g., Langer, Walther, Gawronski, & Blank, 2009), prejudice and stereotyping (e.g., Gawronski, Peters, Brochu, & Strack, 2008), and self-representation (e.g., Peters & Gawronski, 2011). More recently, we have started to investigate the role of associative and propositional processes in various applied contexts, including affective disorders (e.g., Ouimet, Gawronski, & Dozois, 2009), political decision-making (e.g., Galdi, Arcuri, & Gawronski, 2008), and consumer behavior (e.g., Gawronski, 2013).

GENERALIZATION VERSUS CONTEXTUALIZATION

Challenging a widespread assumption in the literature on spontaneous evaluation, a considerable body of research has shown that spontaneous evaluations can be highly context-dependent, such that the same object may elicit different evaluative responses depending on the context in which it is encountered. However, the conditions under which spontaneous evaluations are context-dependent or context-independent are still not well understood. To address this limitation, we have started to investigate the learning processes that lead to context-dependent versus context-independent evaluative responses (Rydell & Gawronski, 2009). Drawing on the concepts of contextual renewal and occasion setting in animal learning, we have developed a representational theory that specifies the contextual conditions under which spontaneous evaluations reflect either (a) initially acquired attitudinal information; (b) subsequently acquired counterattitudinal information; or (c) a mixture of both (Gawronski, Rydell, Vervliet, & De Houwer, 2010). In our ongoing research, we are testing a variety of novel predictions derived from this account to provide deeper insights into the mechanisms underlying context effects on spontaneous and deliberate evaluations (e.g., Gawronski, Ye, Rydell, & De Houwer, 2014; for a review, see Gawronski & Cesario, 2013).

MORAL JUDGMENT AND DECISION-MAKING

A recent line of research in our lab is concerned with the psychological processes underlying moral judgments and decisions. Drawing on the distinction between rule-based morality (deontology) and outcome-based morality (utilitarianism), our work aims at identifying the contribution of multiple distinct processes to judgments and decisions in moral dilemmas. Prominent examples of such dilemmas are cases in which a violation of a deontological norm (e.g., do not inflict harm upon others) may lead to better outcomes overall (e.g., sacrificing the well-being of one person to protect the well-being of several others). Similar to the distinction between spontaneous and deliberate evaluation, dual-process theories of moral psychology suggest that deontological judgments are rooted in emotional responses to the idea of causing harm, whereas utilitarian judgments stem from cognitive evaluations of outcomes. To allow for a more stringent test of these assumptions, we have developed a process dissociation model that disentangles the unique contributions of deontological and utilitarian inclinations to moral judgments (Conway & Gawronski, 2013). In our ongoing research, we are working on an extended multinomial process model that quantifies the unique roles of (1) deontological tendencies, (2) utilitarian tendencies, and (3) action aversion. The overarching goal of this research is to provide a more fine-grained analysis of the psychological underpinnings of moral judgments and decisions, thereby imposing tighter constraints on theories of moral psychology and offering valuable practical insights for the resolution of moral controversies in society.

THEORY AND MEASUREMENT

Because the strength of any scientific theory depends on the strength of the data it is based on, our research program also includes a strong focus on psychological measurement. One line of research is concerned with the processes underlying measures of spontaneous evaluation. A major product of this research is an integrative framework that describes the interplay of associative and attentional processes in response interference tasks (Gawronski, Deutsch, LeBel, & Peters, 2008). Several studies inspired by this framework have shown that the same experimental manipulation can produce different effects on otherwise equivalent measures that have been assumed to assess the same construct (e.g., Deutsch & Gawronski, 2009; Gawronski, Cunningham, LeBel, & Deutsch, 2010). These findings point to the fundamental role of method-related factors in shaping responses on different kinds of measurement procedures, which has important implications for theoretical interpretations of empirical findings obtained with these measures. Integrating basic questions of psychological measurement with a broader meta-theoretical perspective, our work is also concerned with fundamental conceptual issues in the construction and evaluation of social psychological theories (e.g., De Houwer, Gawronski, & Barnes-Holmes, 2013; Gawronski, Sherman, & Trope, 2014).

Primary Interests:

  • Attitudes and Beliefs
  • Causal Attribution
  • Emotion, Mood, Affect
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Person Perception
  • Persuasion, Social Influence
  • Political Psychology
  • Prejudice and Stereotyping
  • Research Methods, Assessment
  • Self and Identity
  • Social Cognition

Research Group or Laboratory:

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Books:

Journal Articles:

Courses Taught:

  • Cognition and Emotion
  • Consumer Psychology
  • Implicit Social Cognition
  • Person Perception
  • Philosophy of Psychology
  • Prejudice and Stereotyping
  • Social Cognition
  • Theories in Social Psychology

Bertram Gawronski
Department of Psychology
University of Texas at Austin
108 E. Dean Keeton A8000
Austin, Texas 78712
United States

  • Phone: 512-471-7520

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