Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Virginia Kwan

Virginia Kwan

My principal research interest is social perception, which I study on three levels: (a) self-perception, (b) group perception, and (c) perceptions of nonhuman animals. In the last few years, I have worked passionately on three long-standing issues. The first issue is whether self-perception is inherently biased and, if so, whether these biases are basically healthy and good for adjustment. This question has led to a protracted debate between those who believe that psychologically healthy individuals perceive themselves accurately and those who believe that it is more adaptive to have overly positive, self-enhancing illusions. My research aims to better our understanding of the value of self-enhancement.

The second issue is the power of cultural contexts on everyday judgment and decision-making. Traditional models of culture suggest that cultural worldviews exert stable and enduring effects on human cognition. According to these models, people from different cultures hold distinct worldviews and, more importantly, those worldviews remain consistent in the short term. My recent research examines whether people who have predominantly been socialized and functioned in one culture sometimes adopt the cultural worldviews of a second culture. For example, I found that White Americans do not always behave according to the norms of American culture. Instead, their cognitions and behaviors are affected by their immediate cultural context.

The third issue is anthropomorphism. Animal studies once pervaded the field of social psychology but over the last few decades attention on this topic has faded. Here I argue that animal studies still can usefully contribute to several areas of social psychology. I propose a cross-species comparative approach by comparing human-to-animal projections (anthropomorphism) to human-to-human projections (assumed similarity). My cross-species comparative approach provides a conceptual and empirical paradigm to study perceptions of animals and open a path for future research on higher-order phenomena in animals.

Primary Interests:

  • Culture and Ethnicity
  • Interpersonal Processes
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Person Perception
  • Personality, Individual Differences
  • Self and Identity
  • Social Cognition

Research Group or Laboratory:

Journal Articles:

  • Alter, A., & Kwan, V. S. Y. (2009). Cultural sharing in a global village: Evidence for extracultural cognition in white Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 742-760.
  • Gosling, S. D., Kwan, V. S. Y., & John, O. P. (2003). A dog’s got personality: A cross-species comparative approach to personality judgments in dogs and humans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1161-1169.
  • Helson, R., Kwan, V. S. Y., John, O. P., & Jones, C. (2002). The growing evidence for personality change in adulthood: Findings from research with personality inventories. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 287-306.
  • Kwan, V. S. Y., Barrios, V., Ganis, G., Gorman, J., Lange, C., Kumar, M., Shepard, A., & Keenan, J. P. (2007). Assessing the neural correlates of self-enhancement bias: A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation study. Experimental Brain Research, 182, 379-385.
  • Kwan, V. S. Y., Bond, M. H., Boucher, H. C., Maslach, C., & Gan, Y. Q. (2002). The construct of individuation: More complex in collectivist than in individualist cultures? Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin, 28, 300-310.
  • Kwan, V. S. Y., Bond, M. H., & Singelis, T. S. (1997). Pancultural explanations for life satisfaction: Adding relationship harmony to self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1038-1051.
  • Kwan, V. S. Y., Gosling, S. D., & John, O. P. (2008). Anthropomorphism as a special case of social perception: A cross-species comparative approach and a new empirical paradigm. Social Cognition, 26, 129-142.
  • Kwan, V. S. Y., John, O. P., Kenny, D. A., Bond, M. H., & Robins, R. W. (2004). Reconceptualizing individual differences in self-enhancement bias: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Review, 111, 94-111.
  • Kwan, V. S. Y., Kuang, L. L., & Hui, N. (2009). Identifying the sources of self-esteem: The mixed medley of benevolence, merit, and bias. Self and Identity, 8, 176-195.

Courses Taught:

  • Cultural Psychology
  • Personality Theory/Research
  • Self-Perception
  • Social Cognition

Virginia Kwan
Department of Psychology
Arizona State University
ASU Psychology Building, 950 S. McAllister
Tempe, Arizona 85287-1104
United States

  • Fax: (480) 965-8544

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