SoYon's Research

I am interested in understanding how people think causally in a social context and what factors affect causal thinking about events, people, and objects. In some sense, every decision we make or action we undertake involves a consideration of the consequences of that decision or action. What will happen if I take this medication? What if I buy this computer? What if I ask him out? Likewise, we instantly and routinely seek out causes of events: Why did this medication make me sick? Why did my computer break? Why did he say no? I am interested in understanding the kinds of factors that affect causal thinking and in turn, how causal thinking affects judgments and behaviors.

My research can be grouped into three broad categories:

I. Distance facilitates a focus on "why" versus "what"

My research shows that people focus more on causes of events versus their consequences when those events are psychologically distant compared to when they are psychologically close (e.g., occurring in the distant vs. near future; occurring to someone else vs. to me). This relationship between distance and causal thinking is bidirectional such that when people focus on causes of events versus their consequences, they subjectively perceive the events to be more distant (e.g., in time or space). And differences in causal focus affect downstream predictive judgments, subjective experience of emotions, and self-regulation.

In one study, I found that imagining high-stress causing low-energy at work tomorrow led people to prefer to take a yoga class that boosts low-energy (the consequence) over a yoga class that relieves stress (the underlying cause), which they preferred when imagining the situation one year from now. This suggests that a distal perspective faciliates long-term change while a proximal perspective leads to more short-term change. Further implications of distance-dependent causal focus on self-regulation, counterfactual-thinking, moral judgments, leadership, and policy-making are being explored.

Relevant papers:

Rim, S., Hansen, J., & Trope, Y. (2013). What Happens Why? Psychological distance and focusing on causes versus consequences of events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 457-472.

Rim, S., Trope, Y., Liberman, N., & Shapira, O. (in press). The highs and lows of mental representation: A construal level perspective on the structure of knowledge. In D. E. Carlston (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Social Cognition, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hansen, J., Rim, S., & Fiedler, K. (in press). Psychological distance and judgments of causal impact. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Rim, S., & Summerville, A. (conditionally accepted). How far to the road not taken?: The effect of psychological distance on counterfactual direction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

II. Mindsets and goals affect implicit impressions of others

In another line of research, I study implicit impression formation. While decades of research focused on establishing the ubiquity of spontaneous trait inferences, the primary aim of my work has been to elucidate the flexibility of implicit impression formation.

My research shows that implicit trait impressions, their ubiquity notwithstanding, are malleable, forming flexibly depending on the various features of the target (e.g., spatial or temporal distance from the perceiver) or the perceiver  (e.g., his or her social goals, processing mindset) that comprise the social context. 

Relevant papers:

Rim, S., Min, E. K., Uleman, J. S., Chartrand, T. L., & Carlston, D. E. (in press). Seeing others through rose-colored glasses: An affiliation goal and positivity bias in implicit trait impressions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Uleman, J. S., Rim, S., Saribay, S. A., & Kressel, L. M. (2012). Controversies, Questions, and Prospects for Spontaneous Social Inferences. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6, 657-673.

Saribay, S. A., Rim, S., & Uleman, J. S. (2012). Culture, self-construals, and their effects on stages of impression formation, Special Issue on “Culture as Process” in Social Psychology, 43, 196-204. *Joint first authorship

Rim, S., Uleman, J. S., Trope, Y. (2009). Spontaneous Trait Inference and Construal Level Theory: Psychological distance increases nonconscious trait thinking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,45, 1088-1097.

III. Naïve theories of causality

I am exploring how naive conceptions about causality affect perceptions of causal effectiveness and choice.

with Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School)