Nicole M Lindner

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” – Carl Sagan

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Research Interests & Experience


Although people have the palpable feeling that they can accurately introspect about their beliefs and actions, social psychology finds that this feeling is often incorrect. In my work with my advisor Brian Nosek in the Implicit Social Cognition Lab at the University of Virginia, I have investigated how and when thoughts and feelings outside of conscious control or awareness can influence beliefs, actions, and judgments. My research focuses on two central concerns in social cognition: (1) how, why, and when implicit biases or processes influence judgments and behavior across situations and (2) the structure and measurement of implicit and explicit social cognitions. Currently, my research has specifically focused on two applied areas where research is lacking: (a) how age identity and preferences function and (b) how believe systems like religious and political ideology interact with or implicit implicit biases. .


Aging – Attitudes and Identity
I view age identity and preferences as a domain that can refine social psychology’s understanding of how group identity and intergroup attitudes work. Age differs from other social groups (e.g., gender and race) because age group membership is impermanent and because the definitions of “old” and “young” can vary considerably, especially relative to one’s own age. Age attitudes are an outlier compared to other social groups, as illustrated by my findings from a large-scale summary of six years of data collection at Project Implicit (see Nosek, Smyth, et al., 2007). Compared to other social groups, implicit age attitudes demonstrated (a) the strongest preference for the dominant group, (b) one of the weakest associations with self-reported group attitudes ever observed, and (c) no effect of group membership — both young and older adults expressed equally strong implicit liking for young relative to old people. My primary line of research extends social psychology’s abiding interest in stereotyping and prejudice to understand these findings. As such, I have investigated (a)the construct and predictive validity of implicit and explicit age attitudes (in my dissertation and Lindner & Nosek, 2011); and (c) how bias "spills over" into behavior and discrimination, particularly in real-world contexts like employment (current research; Lindner, Nosek, & Graser, 2009, 2011).
Implicit Attitudes as National Indicators
In collaboration with Project Implicit researchers around the world, I have contributed to research evaluating whether implicit preferences can serve as national-level indicators of behavior or overall evaluations toward social groups. In my dissertation research, I used mixed modeling and multiple regression to investigate the predictive validity of implicit age attitudes at the national level. I hypothesized that the cumulative cultural associations between older adults and negativity would be stronger in nations with proportionally larger older populations, because of greater discussion of national concerns about the elderly and aging. I found that among 99 nations, national averages of implicit and explicit age attitudes favored young more strongly among nations where older adults made up a larger proportion of the population. This relationship persisted when accounting for nations’ socioeconomic modernization and their collectivist orientation. I also contributed to research that found that national averages of citizens’ implicit, but not self-reported, gender-science stereotypes reflected nations’ sex differences in both science and math achievement on a standardized examination of 8th graders (Nosek et al., 2009, PNAS). Taken together, these results suggest that implicit attitudes and stereotypes may serve as national indicators of cumulative, cultural positivity or negativity of social information about different social groups.
Religious and Political Ideology
This secondary line of research grew out of the realization that my childhood immersion in the details of Protestant theology (as the daughter of an Evangelical Calvinist minister) could broaden social psychology’s understanding of ideology. In this line of research, I seek to understand how individual differences in political and religious ideology affect individuals’ attitudes and behavior, often in unintended ways. In my master’s thesis research (Lindner & Nosek, SPSP 2007, Political Psychology 2009), I found that despite individuals’ belief that their principles determined their judgments, both their political ideology and implicit ethnic biases influenced whether they extended political tolerance to ideologically-extreme speech on both sides of the political spectrum, when the speaker’s ethnicity also varied. Because of my interest in ideology, I supervised the honors thesis research of undergraduate Oth Vilaythong Tran, in which we tested whether unobtrusively priming a religious message of tolerance (the Golden Rule) affected Christians’ or Buddhists’ tolerance toward gay people (Vilaythong, Lindner, & Nosek, 2010). My future goal in this line of research is to better understand how, why, and when implicit biases spill over into judgments and behavior across situations, as well as whether the explicit suppression or counteracting of one’s own bias can itself become automatic.