Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, has received the 2008 Theoretical Innovation Award from the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. He is the first member of a business school faculty to win the award, which has been dominated by faculty in university psychology departments.
Epley was cited for his research “On Seeing Human: A Three-Factor Theory of Anthropomorphism,” published in Psychological Review, October 2007. The paper was co-authored with University of Chicago colleague John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of Psychology and the College, and Adam Waytz, a doctoral student in the social psychology program at the University of Chicago.
The award-winning research by Epley, Cacioppo and Waytz describes a theory to explain when people are likely to anthropomorphize and when they are not. Anthropomorphism is the tendency to infuse the real or imagined behavior of nonhumans with humanlike characteristics or emotions. Not only relevant to anthropomorphism, this theory can also help explain the inverse instances of dehumanization, where people deny human-like characteristics in other people and treat them like animals or mindless machines.
The Theoretical Innovation Award recognizes theoretical articles that are especially likely to generate the discovery of new hypotheses or new ways of thinking about the discipline of social and personality psychology.
Epley’s research interests include the experimental study of social cognition, perspective taking, and intuitive human judgment. “Most people are intuitive psychologists in their daily lives – wondering why people think or behave as they do,” he said. “I just happened to find a profession that enables me to answer these questions for a living.” Epley’s research has appeared in more than two dozen journals, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Psychological Review.
During the current academic year he is teaching courses in managing in organizations for MBA students and a PhD workshop in behavioral science. Epley received a PhD from Cornell University in 2001 and a BA from St. Olaf College in 1996. Before joining the Chicago GSB faculty he taught in the psychology department at Harvard University.