Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Bertram Gawronski

Bertram Gawronski

Spontaneous and Deliberate Responses

Conflicts between the “head” and the “heart” can be 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 the idea of shooting down a hijacked passenger plane to prevent terrorists from crashing it into a densely populated area may elicit a negative emotional reaction even when it would save the lives of many more people. Although these examples may seem rather distinct, all of them involve a conflict between a spontaneous evaluative reaction and a deliberate evaluative judgment. In the Social Cognition Lab, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of spontaneous and deliberate responses by investigating their antecedents, mental underpinnings, and downstream behavioral effects.

Associative and Propositional Processes

A substantial amount of this research is guided by 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, 2014, 2018). The original purpose of the APE model was to provide an integration of seemingly inconsistent findings in the literature on implicit and explicit attitude change. In several follow-up studies, we have used 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 cognitive consistency (e.g., Gawronski & Strack, 2004), attitude change (e.g., Gawronski & LeBel, 2008), prejudice and stereotyping (e.g., Gawronski, Peters, Brochu, & Strack, 2008), decision-making (e.g., Galdi, Arcuri, & Gawronski, 2008), and evaluative conditioning (e.g., Hu, Gawronski, & Balas, 2017a, 2017b). In our ongoing research, we are using a multinomial modeling approach to gain deeper insights into the role of associative and propositional processes at different stages in the formation and behavioral expression of mental representations (Heycke & Gawronski, 2020).

Contextualized Attitude Change

An important question in research on attitude change concerns the factors that produce long-lasting changes in people’s evaluations of an object. An equally important, yet frequently ignored, question is whether changes in people’s evaluations of an object generalize across contexts. Our research on contextualized attitude change indicates that, even when counterattitudinal information effectively influences evaluations in the context in which this information was learned, previously formed attitudes sometimes continue to determine evaluations in other contexts (for reviews, see Gawronski & Cesario, 2013; Gawronski, Rydell, De Houwer, Brannon, Ye, Vervliet, & Hu, 2018). To account for this phenomenon, we have developed a representational theory that specifies the contextual conditions under which spontaneous evaluative responses are determined by either (a) initially acquired attitudinal information; (b) subsequently acquired counterattitudinal information; or (c) a mixture of both (Gawronski, Rydell, Vervliet, & De Houwer, 2010). In several follow-up studies, we have tested a broad range of novel predictions derived from this theory, providing deeper insights into the boundary conditions of contextualized attitude change (e.g., Brannon & Gawronski, 2017, 2018; Gawronski & Brannon, in press; Gawronski, Ye, Rydell, & De Houwer, 2014; Ye, Tong, Chiu, & Gawronski, 2017). Expanding on these studies, a central focus of our ongoing research concerns the mental underpinnings of contextual attitude change.

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 norm-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 where violations of a deontological norm lead to better overall outcomes (e.g., when causing harm to a small number of people would protect the well-being of a larger number of people). To disentangle the role of multiple distinct factors in responses to moral dilemmas, we have developed a multinomial model to quantify (1) sensitivity to consequences, (2) sensitivity to moral norms, and (3) general preference for inaction over action regardless of consequences and norms (Gawronski, Armstrong, Conway, Friesdorf, & Hütter, 2017). Using our CNI model, our research has provided deeper insights into the effects of qualitatively distinct emotions on moral dilemma judgments (Gawronski, Conway, Armstrong, Friesdorf, & Hütter, 2018), foreign language use (Bialek, Paruzel-Czachura, & Gawronski, 2019), social power (Gawronski & Brannon, 2020), and neuroendocrine factors (Brannon, Carr, Jin, Josephs, & Gawronski, 2019). In our ongoing research, we are investigating individual differences in moral judgments, the role of cognitive reflection, and behavioral correlates such as prosocial and antisocial behavior.

Theory and Measurement

Because the strength of any scientific theory depends on the strength of the data it is based on, our research also includes a strong focus on psychological measurement. One line of work is concerned with the processes underlying implicit measures of spontaneous evaluation. A major product of this research is an integrative framework that describes the interplay of attentional and associative processes in response interference tasks (Gawronski, Deutsch, LeBel, & Peters, 2008). Several studies inspired by this framework have shown that a given factor 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). Another line of work has investigated the mechanisms underlying two of the most popular implicit measures: the Implicit Association Test (Conrey, Sherman, Gawronski, Hugenberg, & Groom, 2005) and the Affect Misattribution Procedure (Gawronski & Ye, 2014, 2015). Several of our ongoing projects rely on computational modeling approaches to resolve theoretical ambiguities in traditional measurement approaches. 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 & Bodenhausen, 2015; Gawronski, Sherman, & Trope, 2014).

Primary Interests:

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

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Journal Articles:

Courses Taught:

  • Cognition and Emotion
  • Consumer Psychology
  • Implicit Social Cognition
  • Philosophy of Psychology
  • Prejudice and Stereotyping
  • Psychology of Attitudes
  • 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 of America

  • Phone: 512-471-7520

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