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John A. Bargh (Ph.D., 1981, University of Michigan) is a distinguished social psychologist currently working at Yale University, where he has formed the Automaticity in Cognition, Motivation, and Evaluation (ACME) Laboratory. Bargh’s work focuses on automaticity and unconscious processing as a method to better understand social behavior, as well as address difficult philosophical topics such as free will. Much of Bargh's work reveals that those processes and acts thought to be under our control and caused by intentional volition, are actually the result of the constant and automatic interpretation of and reaction to stimuli in our environment. The perception of others' behavior, the activation of automatic goals, and the physical traits of stimuli in our environment all influence our thoughts and behavior considerably, and often without our awareness.
|John A. Bargh|
|Alma mater||University of Michigan|
New York University
|Known for||Perception-Behavior Link, Goal-Activation, Unconscious Processing|
Education and Academic Career
Bargh was born in Champaign, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate, and the University of Michigan for post-graduate training under Robert Zajonc. He received his Ph.D. in 1981. That same year he was hired as an assistant professor at New York University, where he remained for 22 years. He has since been working at Yale where he has formed the Automaticity in Cognition, Motivation, and Evaluation (ACME) Laboratory.
Bargh was influenced by the work of his PhD advisor at the university of Michigan, Robert Zajonc, who concentrated on the fundamental processes underlying behavior, including an emphasis on affect and cognition. Much of Zajonc’s work touched upon processes that occur outside of awareness. Bargh's work in automaticity and unconscious processing further explores the extent to which information processing occurs outside of either intent or awareness. In contrast to Ellen Langer, who denigrated such mental processing as "mindless", Bargh followed the lead of William James in stating that automatized (or "habitualized" in James' terminology) processing can be a beneficial adaptation. Bargh’s research focuses on the influence of environmental stimuli on perception and behavior, automatic activation, the effects of conscious and unconscious priming, the psychological effects of physiological stimuli, and implicit cognition. Bargh's concentration on the influence of unconscious and automatic behavior and cognition grows from a fundamental interest in the construct of 'free will.'
Influence of Unconsciously Perceived Stimuli
Exposure to stimuli in the environment can influence how individuals make impressions of others. Bargh and Pietromonaco randomly assigned subjects to be exposed to words that were either related to hostility or were neutral. The words were presented outside of the subjects' conscious awareness. In a second task, all subjects were asked to read an ambiguous story about a man and rate him on various measures. Those subjects that were subliminally exposed to words related to hostility rated the man more negatively than those subjects in the control condition.
- Automatic evaluations of a stimulus have been shown to affect behavior. In a study conducted by Chen and Bargh, subjects were faster to pull a lever toward themselves (an approach tendency) when a word had a positive valence than a negative valence, and were similarly faster to push the lever away (an avoidance tendency) when the word had a negative valence compared to a positive valence.
- Ferguson, Bargh, and Nayak further show that automatic evaluations of stimuli that are presented outside of awareness can influence the interpretation of later semantically unrelated and ambiguous stimuli. Subjects were asked to define homographs after being subliminally primed with words of positive, negative, or neutral valence. The evaluations of the subsequent ambiguous words matched the valence of the primed words.
- The sequential evaluative priming paradigm refers to the phenomenon that congruently valenced primes quicken response time in the evaluation of subsequent stimuli, thus allowing for the interpretation of automatic evaluations of objects. In an examination of the generality of the effects of this paradigm, Bargh, Chaiken, Govender and Pratto show that simply seeing or hearing mention of stimuli triggers automatically activated evaluations. This occurs even when the subject has not been asked to think about their evaluation of the stimulus beforehand. It was further shown that novel stimuli are automatically evaluated and produce the same effect as nonnovel stimuli: when positively valenced novel stimuli prime positively valenced targets, reaction time is faster. 
- Stereotype priming activation can also affect behavior. When subjects are primed with certain stereotypes or with people associated with those stereotypes, they tend to display behavior consistent with the stereotype. Subjects primed with rudeness were later more interruptive with the experimenter. Subjects primed with the concept of the elderly while doing a simple task, later walked more slowly when leaving the experiment than did subjects in the control group. Subjects that were primed with African American faces reacted with more hostility toward experimenters. The authors are clear in drawing a distinction between the priming used in these studies and the myth of subliminal messages. Whereas the latter were once thought to be able to influence people's behavior in a way out of line with the individual's intended behavior (i.e. to go buy a Pepsi while watching a movie), the automatic activation present in these studies was consistent with the activity at hand and therefore did not cause the subjects to alter their intended behavior.
The Chameleon Effect refers to the unconscious tendency to mimic others' behavior. Chartrand and Bargh discovered and named this effect after observing subjects unconsciously mimic confederates. Subjects perform a task in which they work closely with a confederate that is trained to repeatedly engage in one of two behaviors: rubbing his or her face or jiggling a knee. Subjects tend to mimic the behavior of the confederate, both when the confederate makes eye contact and smiles frequently at the subject and when the confederate does not make eye contact and was non-smiling. Furthermore, when confederates mimic the behavior of the participant, the participant later rates the confederate as more ‘likable’ than confederates who do not mimic behavior. This effect was shown to be more pronounced in people that are more dispositionally empathetic. The authors suggest that this unconscious mimicry could lead to greater group cohesion and coordination.
Research suggests that stimuli in the environment are often interpreted and assessed based on their relevance to our goals. A study was conducted using the sequential evaluative priming paradigm (see Automatic Evaluation). When subjects are pursing a goal, they tend to rate objects that are consistent with their goal more positively than irrelevant objects. These ratings also predict behavior towards those objects. 
Unconscious Goal Activation and Pursuit
- Goals are shown to be unconsciously activated and pursued by participants in a series of 5 experiments. Subjects are either primed with the goal of achieving or cooperating. Subjects primed with achievement fair better on an intelligence task relative to a control group. Subjects primed with cooperation more readily contribute to the need of the group in a resource management task. Goals can be activated unconsciously and operate in the same manner as goals consciously pursued.
- Flexibility of Automaticity: While Shiffrin & Schneider argue that conscious goals are inflexible, Hassin, Bargh and Zimerman argue that automatic pursuit of goals is actually easily malleable. The researchers provide evidence showing that subjects are able to automatically adapt to changing environments during tasks in the experiment, thus showing a flexibility in goal pursuit.
Nonconscious Pursuit of Interpersonal Goals
- It has been hypothesized that goals are represented mentally. Fitzsimons and Bargh study how the effect of mental representation of certain relationship partners influences behavior. The studies show that these representations trigger goal-oriented behavior in line with what is expected from that relationship. For example, subjects asked to pull to mind a mental representation of a 'friend', were more helpful to a stranger than those asked to call to mind a 'co-worker'.
Automatic Self-Regulation Through Goal Pursuit
- Priming subjects with an emotion reappraisal goal can help lower anxiety to a similar degree as explicitly telling the subject to reappraise their emotional state.
Subjects were first primed during a scrambled sentence task with either neutral words or words associated with reappraisal. The conscious reappraisal group also received the explicit instruction to regulate emotion. All subjects were then asked to give a short oral presentation while having their heart rate monitored. The nonconscious and the intentional reappraisal groups both showed lower heart rates than the control group.
Physiology Influencing Psychology
Physical sensations may unconsciously translate into psychological interpretations. When subjects were asked to briefly hold a warm coffee mug, and then fill out an evaluation of a person described ambiguously, subjects reported warmer feelings toward the target person versus when they were asked to briefly hold an iced coffee.  In a second study, subjects in the 'cold' condition were also more likely to choose a reward for themselves as opposed to giving the reward to their friend, whereas in the 'warm' condition participants were more likely to choose the reward for their friend. The physical properties of objects that subjects are touching can similarly influence social impression formation and decision-making.
Bargh and Shalev are currently addressing how this psychological-physiological link can be used to regulate emotion. Correlational studies show that participants rated highly on a loneliness scale, also tend to take longer showers at higher water temperatures. In a follow-up study, a manipulation of physical warmth to make the subjects colder resulted in an increase on the loneliness scale. Altering one's physical situation can thus result in emotional responses, even without conscious awareness.
Bargh and Ferguson define automatic processing as deterministic in nature, in that it occurs unintentionally and without volition. The authors go on to say that even controlled processing is deterministic in that it has a cause. Most of our daily processing, as well as the interpretation of external stimuli which has been shown to greatly influence behavior and decision making, occurs outside of consciousness. The inability to recognize such powerful activity occurring outside of awareness often leads us to believe that we have in some way been the master of these choices. Bargh posits, along with Daniel Wegner and other scientists in the field, that the concept of 'free will' may very well be an illusion.
In Bargh's own words: "Free will is a problematic concept because of the word 'free.' People confuse the word 'free will' from 'will.' If someone has a gun held to your head, are you acting freely? No. Since we’re studying causal mechanisms, you can’t say things are free from international causation. I’ve been surprised by my findings every step of the way."
- 2011 - Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 2007 - Society for Experimental Social Psychology Scientific Impact Award
- 2006 - Society for Personality and Social Psychology Donald T. Campbell Award
- 2001 - Guggenheim Fellowship
- 2001 - Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
- 1990 - Annual Research Prize from the Max Planck Society (with Peter Gollwitzer)
- 1989 - American Psychological Association Early Career Award for contributions to psychology.
- 1982 - Society for Experimental Social Psychology Dissertation Award
- Morsella, E., Bargh, J. A., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2009). Oxford handbook of human action. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Hassin, R., Uleman, J., & Bargh, J. (Eds.). (2005). The new unconscious. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Gollwitzer, P. M., & Bargh, J. A. (Eds.). (1996). The psychology of action: Linking motivation and cognition to behavior. New York: Guilford Publications.
- Uleman, J. S., & Bargh, J. A. (Eds.). (1989). Unintended thought. New York: Guilford Publications.
- Huang, J. Y., Song, H., & Bargh, J. A. (2011). Smooth trajectories travel farther into the future: Perceptual fluency effects on prediction of trend continuation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(2), 506-508. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.12.002
- Uhlmann, E., Poehlman, T., Tannenbaum, D., & Bargh, J. A. (2011). Implicit puritanism in American moral cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(2), 312-320. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.10.013
- Ackerman, J. M., Nocera, C. C., & Bargh, J. A. (2010). Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decisions. Science.
- Williams, L.W., Nocera, C.C., Gray, J.R., Bargh, J.A. (2009). The unconscious regulation of emotion: nonconscious reappraisal goals modulate emotional reactivity. Emotion. 2009 Dec;9(6):847-54.
- Bargh, J. A. (2006). What have we been priming all these years? On the development, mechanisms, and ecology of nonconscious social behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology [Agenda 2006 article]
- Ferguson, M. J., Bargh, J. A., & Nayak, D. A. (2005). After-affects: How automatic evaluations influence the interpretation of subsequent, unrelated stimuli. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 182-191.
- Ferguson, M.J. & Bargh, J.A. (2004). Liking is for doing: The effects of goal pursuit on automatic evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 557-572.
- Bargh, J. A., & McKenna, K. Y. A. (2004). The Internet and social life. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 573-590.
- Bargh, J. A., Gollwitzer, P. M., Lee-Chai, A. Y., Barndollar, K., & Troetschel, R. (2001). The automated will: Nonconscious activation and pursuit of behavioral goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1014-1027.
- Chen, S., Lee-Chai, A. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (2001). Relationship orientation as a moderator of the effects of social power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 173-187.
- Dijksterhuis, A., & Bargh, J. A. (2001). The perception-behavior expressway: Automatic effects of social perception on social behavior. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 33, pp. 1-40). San Diego: Academic Press.
- Duckworth, K. L., Bargh, J. A., Garcia, M., & Chaiken, S. (2001). The automatic evaluation of novel stimuli. Psychological Science.
- Bargh, J. A., & Ferguson, M. L. (2000). Beyond behaviorism: On the automaticity of higher mental processes. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 925-945.
- Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893-910.
- Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-479.
- Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype priming on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244.
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- ↑ Bargh, J. A., & Pietromonaco, P. (1982). Automatic information processing and social perception: The influence of trait information presented outside of conscious awareness on impression formation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(3), 437-449. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.527
- ↑ Chen, M., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). Consequences of automatic evaluation: Immediate behavioral predispositions to approach or avoid the stimulus. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(2), 215-224. doi:10.1177/0146167299025002007
- ↑ Ferguson, M. J., Bargh, J. A., & Nayak, D. A. (2005). After-affects: How automatic evaluations influence the interpretation of subsequent, unrelated stimuli. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41(2), 182-191. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2004.05.008Hassin, R. R., Bargh, J. A., & Zimerman, S. (2009). Automatic and flexible: The case of nonconscious goal pursuit. Social Cognition, 27(1), 20-36. doi:10.1521/soco.2009.27.1.20
- ↑ Fazio, R. H., Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Powell, M. C, & Kardes, F. R. (1986). On the automatic activation of attitudes. Journal ojPersonality and Social Psychology, 50, 229-238.
- ↑ Bargh, J. A., Chaiken, S., Govender, R., & Pratto, F. (1992). The generality of the automatic attitude activation effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(6), 893-912. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2063
- ↑ Duckworth, K. L., Bargh, J. A., Garcia, M., & Chaiken, S. (2001). The automatic evaluation of novel stimuli. Psychological Science.
- ↑ Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(2), 230-244. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11
- ↑ Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception–behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(6), 893-910. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1683
- ↑ Bargh, J.A. (1989) Conditional automaticity: Varieties of automatic influences in social perception and cognition. In J.S. Uleman & J.A. Bargh (Eds.) Unintended thought (pp.3-51). New York: Guilford Press.
- ↑ Ferguson, M.J. & Bargh, J.A. (2004). Liking is for doing: The effects of goal pursuit on automatic evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 557-572.
- ↑ Bargh, J., Gollwitzer, P. M., Lee-Chai, A., Barndollar, K., & Trötschel, R. (2001). The automated will: Nonconscious activation and pursuit of behavioral goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(6), 1014-1027. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1244
- ↑ Bargh, John A., and Tanya L. Chartrand. 1999. "The unbearable automaticity of being." American Psychologist 54, no. 7: 462-479. PsycINFO, EBSCOhost (accessed June 5, 2011).
- ↑ Shiffrin, R. M., & Schneider, W. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing: II. Perceptual learning, automatic attending and a general theory. Psychological Reviert}, 84(2), 127-190.
- ↑ Hassin, R. R., Bargh, J. A., & Zimerman, S. (2009). Automatic and flexible: The case of nonconscious goal pursuit. Social Cognition, 27(1), 20-36. doi:10.1521/soco.2009.27.1.20
- ↑ Bargh, J. A. (1990). Auto-motives: Preconscious determinants of social interaction. In E. T.Higgins & R. M.Sorrentino (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition (Vol. 2, (pp. 93–130). New York: Guilford Press.
- ↑ Fitzsimons, G. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2003). Thinking of you: Nonconscious pursuit of interpersonal goals associated with relationship partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(1), 148-164. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199
- ↑ Williams, L.W., Nocera, C.C., Gray, J.R., Bargh, J.A. (2009). The unconscious regulation of emotion: nonconscious reappraisal goals modulate emotional reactivity. Emotion. 2009 Dec;9(6):847-54.
- ↑ Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322(5901), 606-607. doi:10.1126/science.1162548
- ↑ Ackerman, J. M., Nocera, C. C., & Bargh, J. A. (2010). Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decision. Science, 328(5986), 1712-1715. doi:10.1126/science.1189993
- ↑ Bargh, J. A., & Shalev, I. (2011). The substitutability of physical and social warmth in daily life. Emotion, doi:10.1037/a0023527
- ↑ Bargh, J. A., & Ferguson, M. L. (2000). Beyond behaviorism: On the automaticity of higher mental processes. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 925-945.
- ↑ http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/jan/19/profs-elected-to-scientific-society/
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