My research, situated in the areas of judgment and decision-making and social cognition, concerns how people think about themselves and others. Research on the way people think about themselves focuses on self-judgments and self-theories related to knowledge, learning, and self-control. Research on the way people think about others focuses on social perceptions in professional contexts.
Self-Judgments of Knowledge
It is critical to recognize not only what one knows, but also the limits of one’s knowledge; an overly optimistic assessment of where these limits lie can lead to confident but ill-advised decisions, and can hinder the pursuit of necessary knowledge. In my work, in collaboration with David Dunning and Emily Rosenzweig, I find that people often overestimate their knowledge to the point of believing themselves familiar with concepts, terms, places, etc. that were invented for the purpose of the study and therefore cannot be known. People are particularly likely to mistakenly believe they know specific nonexistent terms when they consider themselves generally knowledgeable in the topic from which the terms are drawn (Atir, Rosenzweig, & Dunning, 2015, Psychological Science). This suggests that even specific knowledge judgments are not always based on direct access to a mental catalogue of information. Rather, they can be inferential; those who feel knowledgeable within a domain wrongly infer they have knowledge of domain-relate terms.
Self perceptions of knowledge can diverge sharply from genuine knowledge; in related work, I find that possessing genuine knowledge acts as a protective factor against knowledge mistakes within the relevant domain, in part because truly knowledgeable people assess their knowledge in a more automatic fashion (Atir, Rosenzweig, & Dunning, in prep).
Speaking About Others in Professional Contexts
A second line of research, in collaboration with Melissa Ferguson, reveals a gender bias in how people refer to others in professional contexts. Specifically, across a variety of domains, men are more likely to be referred to by just their last name (e.g., Einstein developed the theory of relativity) than are women (Atir & Ferguson, 2018, PNAS). The bias emerges in both archival and experimental data; students reviewing professors online and pundits discussing politicians on the radio are more likely to use last name to refer to a male (vs. female) target, and study participants paraphrasing biographical information about a fictional male or female scientist are more likely to refer to the scientist by last name when they think he is a man. Critically, professionals who are referred to by last name (vs. full name) benefit: they are perceived to be better known and more eminent, and consequently seen as higher status and more deserving of awards. Given the continuing state of women’s underrepresentation in high status professional fields, including STEM, this gender bias may be consequential.