Why is it that different people are perceived as more or less attractive, trustworthy, competent, or threatening? My work investigates the myriad factors that explain how perceivers form impressions of targets. This work encompasses topics such as stereotyping and discrimination, social categorization, face perception, and perceptions of bodies and clothing. I also grapple with issues of measurement and causal inference in the domain of person perception.My research engages with key theories and models in social psychology while also integrating critical ideas from outside of psychology (e.g., intersectionality theory). In my work, I use a combination of experimental methods, secondary analysis of large datasets, simulation, and mixed methods. I have published papers in various outlets, such as The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Personality and Social Psychology Review, Psychological Science, and Perspectives on Psychological Science. Outside of work, I enjoy singing, climbing, playing video games, and writing music (I have an EP with a friend called Sunfall).
Clothing, hairstyle, makeup, and accessories influence first impressions. However, target dress is notably absent from current theories and models of person perception. We discuss three reasons for this minimal attention to dress in person perception: high theoretical complexity, incompatibility with traditional methodology, and underappreciation by the groups who have historically guided research in person perception.
Discrimination is often intersectional. For example, Black men are disproportionately stopped by police to a degree that cannot be explained by simple effects of being Black and being male. These complex patterns of discrimination might seem to necessitate intersectional stereotypes; however, they can sometimes emerge from simple stereotypes combined with threshold models of behavior.
Research on height suggests that being tall is advantageous for men, making them seem more attractive and intelligent. However, this research almost exclusively studied White men. For Black men, being tall increases perceptions of threat as well as the likelihood of being stopped by police. Failure to sample diversely has likely obscured intersectional stereotyping across various domains.
Moral psychology uses tightly controlled scenarios in which identities of characters are often unspecified or vague. Studies using these raceless, genderless strangers highlight the important structural elements of moral acts, but may not generalize to real-world judgments. Future work in moral psychology should draw on intersectional theory to capture the nuance of real-world judgments.
In person perception, femininity and masculinity are often thought of as two ends of a single dimension. However, femininity and masculinity are actually distinct dimensions that combine (additively and interactively) to predict trait judgments, with high facial androgyny predicting positive outcomes for men. This research broadly shows that semantic opposites are not necessarily psychological opposites.
Hester, N., & Hehman, E. (2023). Dress is a fundamental component of person perception. Personality and Social Psychology Review. (research talk available here)
Hester, N., Xie, S. Y., Bertin, J. A., & Hehman, E. (2023). Stereotypes shape response competition when forming impressions. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations.
Hester, N., Axt, J. R., Siemers, N., & Hehman, E. (2023). Evaluating validity properties of 25 race-related scales. Behavior Research Methods.
Hartman, R., Hester, N., & Gray, K. (2022). People see political opponents as more stupid than evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Hester, N., Xie, S. Y., & Hehman, E. (2021). Little between-region and between-country variance when forming impressions of others. Psychological Science.
Hester, N., Jones, B. C., & Hehman, E. (2021). Perceived femininity and masculinity contribute independently to facial impressions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
Hester, N., Payne, K., Brown-Iannuzzi, J., & Gray, K. (2020). On intersectionality: How complex patterns of discrimination emerge from simple stereotypes. Psychological Science.
Hester, N., & Gray, K. (2020). The moral psychology of raceless, genderless strangers. Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Hester, N., Payne, K., & Gray, K. (2020). Promiscuous condemnation: People assume immorality for ambiguous actions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Cooley, E.*, Hester, N.*, Cipolli, W., Rivera, L., Abrams, K., Pagan, J., Sommers., S. R., Payne, K. (2020). Racial biases in officers’ decisions to frisk are amplified for Black people stopped among groups leading to similar biases in searches, arrests, and use of force. Society for Psychology and Personality Science.
Hester, N. (2019). Perceived negative emotion in neutral faces: Gender-dependent effects on attractiveness and threat. Emotion.
Hester, N. & Gray, K. (2018). For Black men, being tall increases threat stereotyping and police stops. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Note: A self-published erratum for this paper is available here regarding an inadvertent exclusion of data in Study 1. The results of the relevant analyses are unchanged.
Buck, B., Hester, N., Pinkham, A., Harvey, P. D., Jarskog, L. F., & Penn, D. L. (2018). The bias toward intentionality in schizophrenia: Automaticity, context, and relationships to symptoms and functioning. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Buck, B. & Hester, N. (2018). “Just like someone with mental illness, only more so”: Normalizing beliefs and their buffering effects. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
Jackson, J. J., Hester, N., Gray, K. (2018). The faces of God in America: Revealing religious diversity across people and politics. PLoS ONE.
Gray, K., Anderson, S., Doyle, C. M., Hester, N., Schmitt, P., Vonasch, A., Allison, S., & Jackson, J. J. (2018). To be immortal, do good or evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Larsen, J. T., Hershfield, H. E., Hester, N., & Stastny, B. J. (2017). On the relationship between positive and negative affect: Their correlation and their co-occurrence. Emotion.
Buck, B., Hester, N., Penn, D. L., & Gray, K. (2017). Mind perception in subclinical psychosis: Evidence for differential patterns in perceptions of mind in schizotypy and paranoia. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry.
Schein, C., Hester, N. & Gray, K. (2016). The visual guide to morality: Vision as an integrative analogy for moral experience, variability and mechanism. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.
Member Spotlight — Society for Personality and Social Psychology
In The Spotlight — McGill University
Selected Research Coverage:
The Problem with Being Tall, Male, and Black — The Pacific Standard
It’s good to be tall – unless you’re a black man — Philadelphia Inquirer
US Christians Think God Looks a Lot Like Them — Live Science
Blog Posts and News Articles