Research Overview

Here's some of my research on conversation and decision-making:

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2019 - The Many Minds Problem:

  • Cooney, G.,* Mastroianni, A.,* Abi-Esber, N.,* & Brooks, A.W. (in press) The many minds problem: disclosure in dyadic vs. group conversation. Current Opinion in Psychology.

What causes people to disclose their preferences or withhold them? Declare their love for each other or keep it a secret? Gossip with a coworker or bite one’s tongue? We argue that to understand disclosure, we need to understand a critical and often overlooked aspect of human conversation: group size. Increasing the number of people in a conversation creates systematic challenges for speakers and listeners, a phenomenon we call the many minds problem. Here, we review the substantial implications that group size is likely to have on how much people disclose, what they disclose, and how they feel about it.

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2018 - The Liking Gap:

  • Boothby, E.,* Cooney, G.,* Sandstrom, G., & Clark, M. (in press) The liking gap in conversations: do people like us more than we think? Psychological Science. [*indicates co-first authorship]

Having conversations with new people is an important and rewarding part of social life. Yet conversations can also be intimidating and anxiety provoking, and this makes people wonder and worry about what their conversation partners really think of them. Are people accurate in their estimates? We found that following interactions people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company, an illusion we call the liking gap. We observed the liking gap as strangers got acquainted in the laboratory, as first year college students got to know their dorm mates, and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public got to know each other during a personal development workshop. The liking gap persisted in conversations of varying lengths, and even lasted for several months as college dorm mates developed new relationships. Our studies suggest that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know.


2017 - The Novelty Penalty:

  • Gus Cooney, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson (2017). The Novelty Penalty: Why Do People Like Talking About New Experiences but Hearing About Old Ones? Psychological Science

People often tell each other stories about their past experiences. But do they tell the right ones? Speakers and listeners predicted that listeners would enjoy hearing novel stories (i.e., stories about experiences the listener had never had) more than familiar stories (i.e., stories about experiences the listener had already had). In fact, listeners enjoyed hearing familiar stories much more than novel ones. This did not happen because familiar and novel stories differed in their content or delivery. Rather, it happened because human speech is riddled with informational gaps, and familiar stories allow listeners to use their own knowledge to fill them. We discuss reasons why novel stories are more difficult to tell, and why familiar stories are more enjoyable to hear, than either speakers or listeners seem to realize.

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2016 - The Allocator's Illusion:

  • Gus Cooney, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson. (2016). When Fairness Matters Less Than We Expect. PNAS

Human beings care a great deal about the fairness of the procedures that are used to allocate resources, such as wealth, opportunity, and power. But in a series of experiments, we show that those to whom resources are allocated often care less about fairness than those who allocate the resources expect them to. This “allocator’s illusion” results from the fact that fairness seems more important before an allocation is made (when al- locators are choosing a procedure) than afterward (when receivers are reacting to the procedure that allocators chose). This illusion has important consequences for policy-makers, man- agers, health care providers, judges, teachers, parents, and others who are charged with choosing the procedures by which things of value will be allocated.

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2014 - Extraordinary Experiences:

  • Gus Cooney, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson. (2014). The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience. Psychological Science

People seek extraordinary experiences—from drinking rare wines and taking exotic vacations to jumping from airplanes and shaking hands with celebrities. But are such experiences worth having? We found that participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling worse than they would have felt if they had had an ordinary experience instead. Participants were able to predict the benefits of having an extraordinary experience but were unable to predict the costs. These studies suggest that people may pay a surprising price for the experiences they covet most.