Short description: 

I study the manner in which people extract various different facial cues to form hollistic impressions of others, how ingroup/outgroup biases affect the selection of cues to be extracted, and the extent to which stereotypes promote biases in the selection-, extraction-, and integration-based processes that ultimate lead to the formation of interpersonal impressions.

Long(er) description: 

Perceptions of emotional content on cross-group faces. One of my lines of work involves examining how group membership interacts with facial features to affect social perception. For instance, I examined whether age-related changes in the face (i.e., wrinkles) accurately reveal people’s innermost affective dispositions (Adams, Garrido, Albohn, Hess, & Kleck, 2016). We found that expressive ratings of neutral faces predicted self-reported positive affect for elderly female targets. These findings advance the notion that women smile more than men and that the quality of their smiles can become permanently etched on their aging faces. Yet, people may not extract affect from the face as a whole but, instead, selectively cue in on parts of the face that evoke traces of varying types of emotions. In support of this notion, I found that the right side of the face (enervated by the left hemisphere of the brain) evokes greater approach-oriented emotions (joy/anger) and the left side (enervated by the right hemisphere) evokes greater avoidance-oriented emotions (sad/fear; Garrido, Adams, Hess, & Kleck, in prep). These findings support research showing that approach- and avoidance-based emotional experiences are differentially lateralized in the left and right hemispheres, respectively. Noteworthy is that people do not always extract facial cues systematically but often rely on stereotypes to assess others’ mental states. For example, whereas neutral and expressive gay male faces are perceived to express positively valenced emotions (i.e., joy) more than straight faces, straight male faces are attributed with negatively valenced emotions (i.e., anger) more than gay faces (Garrido, Albohn, & Adams, under review).

Dehumanization and cross-group impressions. Given that 1) women are stereotyped to be more emotional than men (Shields, 2002), and 2) people inhibit negative stereotypes of one category (i.e., Black race) in favor of positive stereotypes of a more favorably perceived category (i.e., women, elderly; see Kang & Chasteen, 2009), I examined whether a target’s sex moderates the infrahumanization (the denial of humanness to outgroup members) of racial minorities (Garrido & Adams, under review). As predicted, infrahumanization affected perceptions of Black men but not of Black women. Moreover, implicit stereotypes associating Black women with agenticism explain why they are impervious to the effect (Garrido, Dicicco, Adams, & Shields, in prep). However, other minority women not associated with agenticism are dehumanized similar to their male counterparts (i.e., people implicitly associate Latinos of both genders with insects; Garrido & Adams, in prep). Yet, racial minorities are not the only groups that are dehumanized. For instance, believers report high distrust for atheists and, as a result, dehumanize them (Garrido & Adams, under review). Through this line of work, I aim to spotlight obstacles that hinder the formation of less biased impressions of minorities and underserved groups. 

Top down influences on the face processing system and future directions of my research. In the last two decades alone, hundreds of published empirical reports support the notion that high-level cognitive states (e.g., preconceptions, motivations, beliefs) routinely infiltrate the visual system to transform visual representations of novel stimuli. For example, stereotypes often skew the perceived size (den Daas et al., 2013), proximity (Alter & Balcetis, 2011; Balcetis & Dunning, 2010), and attributes (brightness; Song et al., 2012) of stimuli. Surprisingly, only a scant number of those papers (eight according to my own count) examine biased interpersonal impressions via top-down influences on the face-processing system. Yet, the human face is rich in subtle nuances (e.g., phenotypic dimensions, emotional expressions) that are susceptible to top-down influences triggered by perceiver goals. In my dissertation project, I argue that prejudice—characterized as motivation to draw physical and psychological separation from a target outgroup—infiltrates the visual system to alter preconscious processing of outgroup members’ faces. This infringement results in highly stereotypical visual representations of outgroup faces that are presented by the visual system to conscious awareness. I draw support from a rich and diverse set of theoretical discussions and empirical evidence as I contend that highly prejudiced people rely on stereotypical mental representations of outgroup faces (e.g., highly Afrocentric Black facial prototypes) during the impression formation process and that such reliance promotes perceptions of outgroup faces in line with such mental representations (i.e., perceiver dark skin tone and thick lips on face). Such skewed mental representations, in turn, further propagate negative social stereotypes and fuel intentions to discriminate outgroup victims.