Here are three of the major, ongoing projects in our lab.  We also examine other topics, such as implicit prejudice.  Please contact me for more details. 

 

Self-ControlFirst ImpressionsIdeology 



 

 

Self-control

 

Most of us are keenly interested in understanding how we can better control our behavior.  How can we stick more closely to our long-term goals (e.g., health, financial, social) rather than succumb to short-term temptations?  Our research identifies crucial psychological factors that often go undetected by people who are merely introspecting on what explains their own or others’ behaviors.  Namely, we study the cognitive processes that unfold unintentionally and sometimes non-consciously, and we have uncovered variables that are significantly predictive of people’s abilities to control their behavior. 

 

Implicit Positivity: One early line of work showed that our implicit positivity toward our goals (the positivity that is unintentionally activated in memory when reading a word that signifies an end-state, such as “fitness” or “success”) significantly and uniquely predicts whether we succeed in achieving those goals. 

 

Ferguson, M. J., & Wojnowicz, M. (2011).  The when and how of evaluative readiness: A social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Compass, 5, 1018-1038.  pdf

 

Ferguson, M. J. (2008).  On becoming ready to pursue a goal you don’t know you have: Effects of nonconscious goals on evaluative readiness.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1268-1294. pdf

 

Ferguson, M. J. (2007).  On the automatic evaluation of end-states.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 596-611.  pdf

 

Implicit Importance:  In collaboration with Professor Clayton Critcher, recent findings show how our implicit positivity toward our goals predicts our success.  We have found that the degree of positivity that is activated in response to a goal word (e.g., "fitness") predicts how much we implicitly characterize those difficult activities (e.g., going to the gym) required for the goal as important.  And, the degree to which we implicitly characterize difficult, goal-relevant activities as important significantly predicts our self-control success in areas such as academic performance, fitness, and GRE standardized test performance. 


Critcher, C., & Ferguson, M. J. (2016). “Whether I like it or not, it’s important”: Implicit importance of means predicts self-regulatory persistence and success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. pdf

 

Ferguson, M. J., & Critcher, C. (2016, October 27).  How To Tell if Someone Will Succeed. Time Magazine (and other outlets). 


Spatial Conflict:  Currently, in collaboration with Paul Stillman,  we are examining the spatial dynamics of decision-making in self-control choices.  When we reach for the apple rather than the cookie after dinner, how much does our arm movement veer toward that cookie?  Does this subtle, implicit physical movement reflect our ability to resist those temptations?  Even though we may end up grabbing that apple, our findings show that the degree to which we veer toward the cookie on the way to the apple predicts our overall average success in self-control.  Using a paradigm called “mouse-tracking”, we have identified this kind of spatial conflict as a uniquely predictive indicator of self-control.

 

Stillman, P., Medvedev, D., & Ferguson, M. J. (in press). Resisting temptation: Tracking how self-control conflicts are successfully resolved in real time.  Psychological Science.

 

Wojnowicz, M., Ferguson, M. J, Dale, R., & Spivey, M. (2009).  The self-organization of deliberate evaluations.  Psychological Science, 20, 1428-1435.  pdf

 

 

First Impressions

 

There is wide-spread interest in the process of forming impressions, whether it's our impressions of other people, or their impressions of us.  Of special interest to many people is understanding how first impressions can be updated and corrected once new information is learned.  Assuming that first impressions are sometimes wrong, can they be corrected?  This becomes especially critical when talking about our implicit impressions.  Although these impressions are often unintentionally activated in our memory, they shape and influence our interpersonal behavior.  

 

Ferguson, M. J. (2016, April 13).  Is it too late for Trump and Clinton to become more likable?  Scientific American, The Conversation, Newsweek (and other outlets).

 

Diagnosticity:  In collaboration with Professor Jeremy Cone, we have been examining what happens when we learn new information about someone that is wildly discrepant from our first impression of that person.  That neighbor we thought was mean and arrogant, for example, turns out to donate most of her income to charity.  Or, on the contrary, the new colleague we thought was a great guy turns out to have done something horrible.  How does this new information influence our implicit impressions?  Recent work in our lab shows that new information that is reliable and highly diagnostic about the person does significantly influence our implicit impressions; however, moving from a positive to a negative impression happens more easily than moving from a negative to a positive impression.

 

Cone, J., Mann, T. C., & Ferguson, M. J. (in press). Can we change our implicit minds?  New evidence for how, when, and why implicit impressions can be rapidly revised.  Advances in Social Psychology.

 

Cone, J., & Ferguson, M. J. (2015).  He Did What? The role of diagnosticity in revising implicit evaluations.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 37-57. pdf

 

Mann, T., Cone, J., & Ferguson, M. J.  (2015). Social-psychological evidence for the effective updating of implicit attitudes.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, 32-33.  pdf

 

Reinterpretation:  We sometimes learn new information about someone that completely overturns what we thought we knew about that person.  The rumor we heard about a new acquaintance, for example, turns out to be completely false.  Or, a person in the news who was arrested turns out to have been falsely accused.  Can we really update our implicit impressions of others?  Our current work, led by graduate student Tom Mann, shows that when we receive new information about someone that undoes earlier information, we readily and robustly update our implicit impression of that person.  Furthermore, our findings show that we can even reverse an initial negative implicit impression to a strongly positive one.

 

Cone, J., Mann, T. C., & Ferguson, M. J. (in press). Can we change our implicit minds?  New evidence for how, when, and why implicit impressions can be rapidly revised.  Advances in Social Psychology.


Mann, T., & Ferguson, M. J.  (2017).  Reversing implicit first impressions through reinterpretation after a two-day delay.  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

 

Mann, T. C., & Ferguson, M. J. (2016, June 1).  How does reinterpretation influence our first impressions?  Keller Center for Research.

 

Mann, T., & Ferguson, M. J.  (2015).  Can we undo our first impressions?  The role of reinterpretation in reversing implicit evaluations.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 823-849.  pdf  interactive figures

 


Impressions based on faces:  Research from other labs has shown that we easily form impressions of others based on facial features (e.g., faces can be trustworthy or untrustworthy).  How permanent are these kinds of impressions?  Do we get “stuck on the face”?  Are we more inclined to believe what we think we see over what we learn to be true about someone?  Ongoing work in our lab examines how easily our first impressions of others based on their face (e.g., someone with a facial scar) can be updated with new, propositional evidence.

 

 

 

Ideology

 

How do the ideological symbols that exist in our society affect us?  Do the national flags in our environment, for example, shape our political thoughts and actions?  In collaboration with Professor Ran Hassin and Professor Travis Carter, we have, through a long line across multiple countries, examined the influence of ideological symbols such as national flags on our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. 

 

Hassin, R., Ferguson, M. J., Kardosh, R., Porter, S., & Carter, T. (2009).  Précis to implicit nationalism.  Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1167, 135-145.  pdf


The American flag: Initial work in our lab conducted in 2007 at the end of George Bush’s two terms as President showed that subtle exposure to the American flag pushed people toward the Republican end of the spectrum in terms of attitudes and voting behavior.  Recent work shows that the American flag no longer has this effect.  Thus, we have been examining why the effect has declined, and whether the American flag still has this effect for certain individuals or situations.

 

Ferguson, M. J., Carter, T. J., & Hassin, R. R. (2014). Commentary on the attempt to replicate the effect of the American flag on increased Republican attitudes. Social Psychology, 45, 301-302.  pdf


Carter, T., Ferguson, M. J., Hassin, R. R. (2011).  A single exposure to the American flag shifts support toward Republicanism up to 8 months later.  Psychological Science, 22, 1011-1018. pdf


Ferguson, M. J., & Hassin, R. R. (2007).  On the automatic association between America and aggression in news-watchers.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1632-1647.  pdf


The Israeli Flag:  A series of studies shows that in some countries that have parliamentary-style governments, the national flag has a “uniting effect” such that it nudges people to become more moderate.  For example, in studies conducted in 2007 and also replicated in 2015, when Jewish Israeli participants were subliminally primed with the Israeli flag, both left-wing and right-wing participants moved toward the center of the ideological spectrum in terms of attitudes and voting behavior.

 

Hassin, R. R., Ferguson, M. J., Shidlovsky, D., & Gross, T. (2007). Waved by invisible flags: The effects of subliminal exposure to flags on political thought and behavior.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 19757-19761. pdf


The Palestinian Flag: Our recent findings demonstrate that when people are exposed to the flag of a nation that their own nation is in acute conflict with, they become more confrontational and exclusionary.  For example, in a recent line of studies, when Jewish Israeli participants were subliminally primed with the Palestinian flag, they became significantly more right-wing in terms of attitudes and voting behavior.  Likewise, when Arab Israeli participants were subliminally primed with the Israeli flag, they became significantly more pro-Palestinian.   

 

Kardosh, R., Carter, T., Ferguson, M. J., & Hassin, R. R.  (2017). Subliminal Exposure to Adversary’s Flag Increases Bi-national Conflict: The Israeli-Palestinian Case.  Manuscript under review.