Projects in Social Psychology Supervised by Keelah Williams


Professor Williams will supervise one- and two-semester research projects in social psychology. One-semester projects will involve conducting a literature review and writing a research proposal. Two-semester projects will involve conducting an experimental study and writing an empirical paper. Projects will relate to the topics described below.

Evolution and Human Behavior

Humans have faced recurrent adaptive challenges throughout our evolutionary history. How might this influence our psychology today? How do fundamental goals pursued by all human beings (e.g., avoiding disease, finding mates, maintaining friendships, caring for kin) shape behaviors ranging from electing leaders to purchasing consumer products? My research draws upon evolutionary theory to help understand behavior in areas as diverse as cooperation, social influence, prejudice, and dehumanization. I am open to working with students seeking to apply an evolutionary lens to a variety of social phenomena.

Person Perception

The way we perceive, categorize, and feel towards others affects our judgments and behavior. Why and how are social perceivers influenced by particular characteristics of targets? Which cues do we use to categorize others, and how might these categories interact to shape our impressions of individuals and groups? My research primarily explores why race, sex, and age stereotypes take the specific forms that they do. For example, I find that many prominent race stereotypes in America may not reflect race, per se, but rather beliefs about how people from different environments are likely to think and behave. I also find that people stereotype others not by sex and age independently, but instead by specific intersectional “SexAge” categories.

Psychology and Law

A growing body of literature applies social psychological principles to a legal context. I am open to exploring a variety of topics within this area, including: jury decision-making; expert testimony; criminal responsibility; risk assessment; and the influence of extralegal variables on sentencing. For example, my research has examined how the “reasonable person” standard in criminal law may be interpreted differently depending on the sex of the defendant.

Ecology, Cognition, and Behavior

How do features of the environment (e.g., predictability, pathogen load, population density) shape individuals’ decision-making and behavior? For example, my research finds that the availability of resources in the environment influences people’s punishment preferences: Perceived scarcity leads to greater endorsement of the death penalty.