What do we study?

Our lab investigates how cognition manifests in, and is influenced by, the social contexts in which it occurs. As part of this program we investigate how fundamental processes carried out by the cognitive system impact outcomes that characterize communities of individuals.

How do we study cognition in (social) context?

We start by studying cognitive mechanisms in controlled experimental settings, and then we explore the boundary conditions of these mechanisms in communicative settings. After establishing these boundary conditions, we investigate their collective level outcomes by employing social networks of interacting individuals.

What methods do we use?

In exploring these issues, while maintaining high ecological validity, our lab integrates a wide range of methodologies, including laboratory experiments, field studies, social network analysis, and agent-based simulations. Taken together, our research shows how macro-level social phenomena can emerge out of psychologically informed micro-level local dynamics.

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Research



Collective memories


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Experimental procedure to investigate collective memories in small communities. Participants (P) study a story comprised of several items, they then individually recall the items, engage in a sequence of conversations to jointly remember the initially studied story and then, once again, recall the story individually. (MS-Mnemonic similarity scores for all participant pairs in the community. MC-Mnemonic convergence computed as the average of all pairwise mnemonic similarity scores). Conversational round is designated with red numbers in the conversational phase.

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Forgetting the unforgettable through conversation

In these experiments we showed that New Yorkers jointly remembering the circumstances in which they learned about the September 11 terrorist attacks shape each other’s memories by suppressing undiscussed but related to the discussed memories. The study provides a socio-cognitive mechanism that could explain the inaccuracy of flashbulb memories.

Coman, A., Manier, D., Hirst, W. (2009). Forgetting the unforgettable through conversation: Socially shared retrieval induced forgetting of 9/11 memories. Psychological Science, 20(5), 627-633.

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Collective forgetting of atrocities

American participants listening to a speaker recalling atrocities committed in Afghanistan experienced forgetting in justifications for those atrocities when the atrocity was committed by out-group soldiers (Afghans), but not when it was committed by in-group soldiers (Americans). This pattern of results supports a motivated retrieval mechanism for how people remember group-relevant memories.

Coman, A., Stone, C., Castano, E., & Hirst, W. (2014). Justifying Atrocities: The Effect of Moral-Disengagement Strategies on Socially Shared Retrieval-Induced Forgetting. Psychological Science, 25: 1281-1285.

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Relational motives synchronize memories

In a series of experiments we showed that listening to ingroup members selectively retrieve previously encoded information leads to concurrent retrieval of memories, while listening to outgroup members does not. Implications for the formation of collective memories in inter-group contexts are discussed.

Coman, A., & Hirst, W. (2015). Social identity and socially shared retrieval induced forgetting: The role of social group membership. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

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Infectious cognition

In this paper we showed that when people are made to feel anxious about contracting a disease they are more likely to concurrently retrieve the information with a speaker who selectively practiced information about the disease. This was found to lead to the forgetting of information that was related to what the speaker mentioned. Thus, the mass-media’s tendency to exaggerate news events might have deleterious consequences on the audience’s memories.

Coman, A., & Berry, J. N. (2015). Infectious Cognition: Risk perception affects socially shared retrieval-induced forgetting of medical information. Psychological Science, 26(12), 1965-1971.

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Propagation of cognition in social chains

In a series of studies, we showed that memory effects (e.g., retrieval practice and retrieval induced forgetting) propagate in chains of connected individuals and that this propagation is modulated by the relational motivations of participants in the chain as well as by their attitudinal homogeneity/heterogeneity.

Drost-Lopez, J. & Coman, A. (2018). Forgetting in social chains: the impact of cognition on information propagation. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 18(3-4), 390-409

Coman, A., & Hirst, W. (2012). Cognition through a social network. The propagation of induced forgetting and practice effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(2), 321-336.

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Formation of collective memories in social networks

In this series of studies we empirically explored how individual-level cognitive mechanisms (i.e., rehearsal and suppression effects) give rise to large-scale social outcomes (i.e., collective memories). To do so, we experimentally manipulated, in separate studies: the network structure of conversational interactions, the temporal order of conversations in the network, and the position of individuals in the network. Studies in this research thread shed light on how one could reduce the likelihood of informational bubbles in social networks.

Coman, A., Momennejad, I., Drach, R. D., & Geana, A. (2016). Mnemonic convergence in social networks: The emergent properties of cognition at a collective level. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(29), 8171-8176.

Momennejad, I., Duker, A., & Coman, A. (under review). The ties that bind: weak ties facilitate the emergence of collective memories.

Geana, A., Duker, A., & Coman, A. (under review). The impact of conversational network structure and node centrality on the formation of collective memories.

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Socially-triggered context based prediction error

The mind is a prediction machine. In most situations, it has expectations as to what might happen. But when predictions are invalidated by experience (i.e., prediction errors), the memories that generate these predictions are suppressed. Here, we explore the effect of prediction error on listeners’ memories following social interaction. We find that listening to a speaker recounting experiences similar to one’s own triggers prediction errors on the part of the listener that lead to the suppression of her memories. We discuss the relevance of these findings for our understanding of the bidirectional influences between cognition and social contexts, as well as for the real-world situations that involve memory-based predictions.

Vlasceanu, M., Drach, R. & Coman, A. (2018) Suppressing my memories by listening to yours: The effect of socially triggered context-based prediction error on memory. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

Collective memories: review articles


Collective beliefs


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Experimental procedure to investigate collective beliefs in small communities. Participants (P) first individually evaluate the degree to which they endorse several beliefs, they then engage in a sequence of conversations to discuss these beliefs and then, once again, evaluate the beliefs individually. (BS-Belief similarity scores computed as the absolute differences between every pair of participants, separate for each belief. BC-Belief convergence computed as the average of all pairwise belief similarity scores). Conversational round is designated with red numbers in the conversational phase.

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Mnemonic accessibility impacts statement believability

In this series of studies we found that experimentally altering the mnemonic accessibility of beliefs (by up-regulation or down-regulation) results in changes in believability. The more mnemonically accessible a belief, the more likely to be believed. This suggests that one strategy to diminish misinformation in the population should target the mnemonic accessibility of inaccurate beliefs.

Vlasceanu, M., & Coman, A. (2018). Mnemonic accessibility affects statement believability: the effect of selective retrieval practice on belief endorsement. Cognition.

Vlasceanu, M., Morais, M.J., Duker, A., & Coman, A. (under review). The synchronization of collective beliefs: from dyadic interactions to network convergence.

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The development of conspiracy theories

In two studies, we find that if people feel social excluded they are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. This, we show, is due to the fact that when people feel excluded they are more likely to search for meaning. We are in the process of investigating how communities of individuals converge on conspiracy theories.

Graeupner, D., & Coman, A. (2016). The dark side of meaning-making: How social exclusion leads to superstitious thinking, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology



Collective emotions


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A social-interactionist paradigm to investigate the dynamics of collective emotions. Participants (P) experience an event, they then individually evaluate their emotional reaction to the event on a Likert scale, after which they engage in a sequence of conversations to discuss the event. Finally, in a post-conversational evaluation phase, they once again evaluate their emotional reaction to the event. (ES-Emotion similarity scores computed as the differences in emotion rating between every pair of participants, separate for each emotion. EC-Emotion convergence scores computed as the average of all pairwise emotion similarity scores). Conversational round is designated with red numbers in the conversational phase.

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In a series of ongoing studies we explore the synchronization of emotions following interactions in social networks.

Vlasceanu, M., Enz, K., & Coman, A. (2018). Cognition in a social context: A new approach to emergent phenomena. Current Directions in Psychological Science. (in press)

Members

Principal Investigator
Alin Coman

I received my PhD in 2010 from New School for Social Research. Since 2012, I hold a joint appointment between the Psychology Department and Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University as an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs.



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Graduate Students
Madalina Vlasceanu

I am a third-year graduate student at Princeton University studying Cognitive Psychology. I received a BA in Psychology and Economics from the University of Rochester in 2016. My research questions target mechanisms behind memory processes at the individual level (prediction error, retrieval induced forgetting), as well as their interplay and influence on social constructs at both the individual and the collective level (collective memory, collective beliefs).

Personal Webpage

Karalyn Enz

I am a second-year graduate student in cognitive psychology. I received a B.S. in Psychology and an A.B. in Music from Lafayette College in 2013. I also earned an M.A. in Psychology from the University of New Hampshire where I studied autobiographical memories for mixed emotional events and life transitions. In the Socio-Cognitive Processes lab, I am working on projects related to memory, identity, and categorization at the individual and community levels. I am particularly interested in how individuals with unique past experiences and ways of categorizing the world form collective memories and group identity.

Personal Webpage

Sherry Wu

I am a sixth-year Ph.D. student in social psychology. My primary area of research is social psychology and the interplay of psychology and economics. Some of my current research questions ask: How do group dynamics influence individual behavior and attitudes? How do we use psychological tools to nudge people into adopting more desirable behavior? In the Socio-Cognitive Processes Lab, I am particularly interested in how memory affects decision-making, using a paradigm that combines case-based reasoning and socially-shared retrieval induced forgetting. I received my B.A. in psychology and economics (summa cum laude) from University of Virginia in 2013. I studied: 1) affective forecasting and cultural psychology with Tim Wilson and Shige Oishi and 2) game theories and bargaining in economics.

Personal Webpage

Postdoctoral Fellows
Janet Pauketat

I am a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. I received my PhD on the study of global citizenship's effects on trust from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2017 where I also held a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship from 2012 – 2017 studying the effects of culture, emotion, and identity on responses to intergroup threats. I earned a B.S. summa cum laude from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a M.Res with distinction from the University of St Andrews, and a M.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. My research aims to understand intergroup relations based on how cultural and social identity processes affect collective and group-based emotions. I am particularly interested in global citizenship, national, and religious identities and how they affect intergroup conflict and positive intergroup outcomes with implications for political and pro-peace behaviors. My research in the SCP lab focuses on how groups form and transmit these collective emotions in brief conversational interactions.

Joanna Sterling

I am a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. My research combines experimental methods, social media data, and quantitative text analysis to measure the cognitive and motivational underpinnings of political ideology and communication. I received a PhD in Social Psychology from New York University and a BPhil in both Psychology and International and Area Studies from the University of Pittsburgh.

Research Assistants
Jake Goebel

Postgraduate RA

Paula Gradu

Undergraduate '21

Ben Ryu

Undergraduate '21

Alumni

(Alphabetical)

Kulani Abendroth-Dias

Graduate student (Current: United Nations Development Program & Citra Social Innovation Lab

Laila Alawa

Research fellow (Current: Founder & CEO, The Tempest)

Bryn Bandt-Law

Postgraduate RA (Current: Graduate student, University of Washington)

Rae Drach

Postgraduate RA (Current: Graduate student, SUNY Albany)

Jose Drost-Lopez

Undergraduate '16

Ajua Duker

Postgraduate RA (Current: Graduate student, Yale University)

Ida Mommenejad

Postdoctoral Research Associate (Current: Research associate, Columbia University)

Nick Rohrbaugh

Graduate student (Current: Senior Associate, Good Judgment)

Oliver Schweickart

Postdoctoral Research Associate (Current: Data analyst, Rotman Commerce @ University of Toronto)

Publications

PREPRINTS & IN PREPARATION
  • Vlasceanu, M., Morais, M.J., Duker, A., & Coman, A. (under review). The synchronization of collective beliefs: from dyadic interactions to network convergence.
  • Momennejad, I., Duker, A., & Coman, A. (revise and resubmit). Bridge ties bind collective memories: a socio-temporal network framework. Nature Communications
  • Geana, A., Duker, A., & Coman, A. (revise and resubmit). An experimental study of the formation of collective memories in networked communities: the role of network clustering and average path length. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
JOURNAL ARTICLES
INVITED TALKS (SELECTED; 2016 to present)
  • November/2018 Universite Libre de Bruxelles - Social Networks for Social Psychology Workshop
  • November/2018 Universite Catholique de Louvain - Psychology Department
  • September/2018 Columbia University, Psychology Department
  • May/2018 Macquarie University - Collaborative Remembering Workshop
  • April/2018 New School for Social Research - Memory Rebound Conference
  • March/2018 Yale University, Social Area (Psychology Department)
  • November/2017 Princeton University, Norms Workshop (Interdisciplinary workshop)
  • November/2017 Humboldt University (Interdisciplinary workshop)
  • October/2017 Steinhart School of Culture, Education and Human Development (NYU)
  • March/2017 Center for Health and Wellbeing, Princeton University
  • March/2017 NSF Grant Meeting, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • March/2017 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
  • October/2016 New York University, Psychology Department
  • October/2016 University of Delaware, Psychology Department
  • September/2016 Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture, Italy
  • September/2016 Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  • July/2016 ICOM Conference, Budapest, Hungary
  • May/2016 Memory Conference, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • January/2016 Yale University, Developmental Area (Psychology Department)
ORGANIZED CONFERENCES AND SYMPOSIA
  • Conference (organizer): “From micro-level cognitive phenomena to large-scale social outcomes.”
    Princeton, May, 2017
  • Conference (part of the organizing committee): “Memory and the future.”
    New School for Social Research, New York, February, 2009
  • Conference (part of the organizing committee): “Is an interdisciplinary field of memory studies possible?”
    New School for Social Research, New York, February, 2008
  • Symposium (chair): “A retrieval-specific mechanism of adaptive forgetting: From neural instantiation to social consequences”
    ICOM, Budapest, 2016
  • Symposium (chair): “Memory in communicative contexts”
    Association for Psychological Science Convention, New York, May, 2015
  • Symposium (chair): “Interactive cognition: from individuals to culture”
    International Convention of Psychological Science, Amsterdam, March, 2015
  • Symposium (co-chair): “Distributed remembering in a social context”
    Cognitive Science Society, Berlin, July, 2013.
  • Symposium (chair): “Cognition and social dynamics: a new approach to emergent phenomena.”
    Association for Psychological Science, Washington, D.C., May, 2011
  • Symposium (chair): “Psychological mechanisms of mnemonic consensus.”
    Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, New York, June, 2011
  • Speaker’s Series (organizer): “Psychology Speakers Series, New School for Social Research.”
    New School for Social Research, New York, Spring semester, 2009

Teaching

Interactive Cognition

Individuals are rarely isolated from one another. In our day-to-day functioning, interactivity is ubiquitous, from communicating with one another, to jointly remembering the past, to coordinating our actions. Despite the fact that our minds are constantly in an interactive mode, most cognitive scientists investigate the mind/brain in tasks that involve complete isolation from others. While acknowledging the value of studying cognition in controlled environments, this course will present research that investigates humans in interaction, with the belief that this research will lead to significant advances in understanding the mind. The course brings together several strands of research with three main objectives: a) Present a variety of approaches to interactivity as manifested in different subfields, from neuroscience, to communciation, to memory, and to action, b) Feature novel methodological approaches aimed at studying interactivity in principled ways, and c) Create bridges across the different subfields in cognitive science to facilitate the development of new experimental paradigms.

THE SCIENCE OF MEMORY IN MOVIES

Human memory is a topic of widespread scientific and popular interest. As part of this course we will use (and watch) popular movies about memory to answer several questions about this extraordinary function of the mind/brain. Are our memories reliable? Watching Rashomon (1950, Dir. Kurosawa) will make us think twice about trusting our memories as accurate replicas of the past. If memories are malleable, can we will ourselves to forget “uncomfortable” events from the past? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Dir. Gondry) will illuminate the science behind forgetting our past and will prompt discussions about memory’s importance for our sense of self. What would we be if we had no memory of the past? Movies that depict patients who suffer from brain lesions (Memento, 2000, Dir. Nolan) and Alzheimer’s disease (Away from her, 2006, Dir. Polley) explore this possibility and will facilitate discussions of the relation between memory and identity. How does unconscious cognition guide our behavior? In Inception (2010, Dir. Nolan) dreams are presented as possible gateways into the unconscious mind. We will answer these (and other) questions using scientific investigations of human memory. This course will expose you to the most up to date theories of memory as well as to recently developed methodologies designed to study it scientifically (e.g., neuroimaging, lesion studies, social network analysis).

From Collective Memory to Collective Violence

Inter-group conflict and collective violence are central topics across the social sciences. This course aims at providing a framework for integrating different approaches to intergroup conflict, from psychology (social-interactionism) to anthropology (epidemiology of beliefs) to political science (nationalism studies). We start by investigating the psychological mechanisms that facilitate the formation of collective memories and identity mobilization. Using social network analysis (SNA) and agent-based simulations (ABM) we investigate the spreading of memories and beliefs to understand their convergence within communities. We then delve on clarifying the role of collective memory in driving identity mobilization. Finally, we examine how identity determines individuals to act collectively. Various inter-group conflicts are discussed with the goal of assessing the validity of the interdisciplinary framework proposed herein.

Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation

The course covers how basic concepts from behavioral research in social psychology and judgment and decision making can shape policy formulation and implementation. Central themes include a detailed analysis of boundedly rational judgment and decision making, how a variety of motives can affect people's choices, and the forces that cause changes in attitudes and behavior. Combined, these topics have meaningful implications for policy design that affects individuals as well as the functioning of organizations that determine those policies.

Contact Us

ALIN COMAN
Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs,
Princeton University

Peretsman-Scully Hall, #529
Princeton, NJ 08540

Email: acoman -at- princeton.edu




Links
Princeton Department of Psychology

Princeton Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs

Google Scholar Profile