Leigh Ann Vaughn, associate professor of psychology, Audrey Harkness ’08 and Emily Clark ’08 recently released an article titled “The effect of incidental experiences of regulatory fit on trust.” Vaughn’s student research team also presented their research on psychology March 5 and 6 at the Eastern Psychological Association convention in New York City.
Staff Writer Gillian Smith spoke to Vaughn about her research on how people develop trust.
Gillian Smith: What is the focus of your recently released article?
Leigh Ann Vaughn: It’s about how people judge the trustworthiness of somebody who they don’t know very well. What we found is that — kind of like how a pretty day can favorably influence your judgment of the quality of your life as a whole — when people are feeling right [around someone], they trust that acquaintance more, even if the feeling of rightness wasn’t actually caused by the acquaintance at all.
GS: How would you characterize this feeling of “rightness?”
LV: When people are doing things in ways that fit their preferred way of thinking. For example, if you are inclined to do lots of different things, then something that is going to fit what you [want] to do … is moving quickly from one [task] to another.
GS: How did this research topic arise?
LV: For years, my Social Judgment Research Team has been doing work on how people make sense of their internal states, which can include feelings of rightness and also how much they trust people. So this is one of a long series of studies on how people do this.
GS: What was the research process like?
LV: The team is one of the eight research teams in the psychology department. They work together with a professor to design studies and run them. We also work together to often present our research at conferences and sometimes in publications. Working with my research team on this research was just a blast. It took a while, so there are a lot of students who worked on this with us.
GS: What are your hopes for the future of this research article?
LV: My hope is that this article will help introduce people to some basic social judgment approaches to thinking about relationships. There are some potentially important implications of this research to therapy situations by asking people about their goals in group therapy and getting them to open up easier.
GS: What was the most exciting part of collaborating with the students?
LV: Beyond any shadow of a doubt, presenting this research with them at a professional conference was the most exciting thing. We prepared for months to do this. They wrote the poster; they were the ones standing up in front of the poster and talking with graduate students and professors about it and fielding any questions that came at them. That was the absolutely most exciting part of this research because it was so much the culmination of everything we had done and the students got to work together just to show themselves and Ithaca College really well.