Social Psychology Network

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Leaf Van Boven

Leaf Van Boven

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People’s judgments and decisions profoundly influence experiences and outcomes in everyday life. How do time and attention affect emotional experience? How do immediate emotions influence charitable donations? How does egocentrism influence political polarization? My lab has examined questions such as these by using experimental methods to understand how people judge—and sometimes misjudge—themselves and the social world. We focus on two tracks of psychological processes that manifest in everyday social contexts: the interrelation of time, emotion and attention; and egocentric empathy gaps.

Time, Emotion, and Attention

Objects to which people’s immediate attention is directed loom large in emotional experience. This simple idea is the foundation of two research questions in my lab. First, how do people’s immediate emotions influence perception of distant emotions? We have shown that people underestimate how much emotional situations influence their own behavior in the “heat of the moment” (Andrade & Van Boven, 2010; Van Boven, Loewenstein, Welch, & Dunning, 2012). And because immediate emotional objects attract and hold attention, people perceive their immediate emotions as more emotionally intense than past emotions (Van Boven, White, & Huber, 2009) and than other people’s emotions (White & Van Boven, 2012). This immediacy bias in emotion perception is partially because merely directing attention to objects increases their emotional significance (NSF Grant 0552120). Importantly, many of these emotional effects can be mitigated by guiding people to be more reflective when rendering judgments and making decisions in contexts such as charitable donations and policy evaluations (NSF Grant 1124486).

Second, how does immediate experience affect psychological distance? Because people are oriented to cope with significant objects as they move through time and space, people attend more to the future than to the past (Kane, Van Boven, & McGraw, 2012; Van Boven, Kane, & McGraw, 2008). This future orientation contributes to greater emotional arousal when thinking about the future than the past (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007). And because emotional arousal reduces psychological distance (Van Boven, Kane, McGraw, & Dale, 2010), the future is psychologically closer than the past (Caruso, Van Boven, Chin, & Ward, 2013). Understanding these relations between temporal perspective, emotion, and psychological distance can further understanding of common psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and addiction—instances where such processes go awry—and suggest interventions to treat those disorders.

Egocentrism and Empathy Gaps

Making good decisions in social contexts requires judgments about how other people respond to different situations. People develop mental models of the social world (Van Boven & Thompson, 2003), just as they develop mental models of physical systems (Oskarsson, Van Boven, Hastie, & McClelland, 2009). People’s mental models of others’ psychological processes are highly self-referential, shaped by introspection and personal experiences (Van Boven, Kamada, & Gilovich, 1999; Van Boven, White, Kamada, & Gilovich, 2003).

We have developed a dual judgment model of emotional perspective taking (Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2005a, 2005b; Van Boven, Loewenstein, Dunning, & Norgren, 2013). People estimate others’ reactions to emotional situations by judging how they would personally respond to those situations, using self-judgments as an anchor for judging other people (Epley, Keysar, Van Boven, & Gilovich, 2004). Because people tend to underestimate the impact of emotional situations on themselves, as described above, the dual judgment model implies that people similarly underestimate the impact of emotional situations on other people. These “empathy gaps” in self-perception therefore cause empathy gaps in social perception. We have demonstrated empathy gaps in emotional perspective taking regarding regarding bodily drives (Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2003), social anxiety (Van Boven, Loewenstein, & Dunning, 2005), and ownership—a context where empathy gaps are economically costly and resistant to change ( (Van Boven, Dunning, & Loewenstein, 2000; Van Boven, Loewenstein, & Dunning, 2003).

The dual judgment model of emotional perspective taking also helps explain why people’s own experience “contaminates” their judgments of how others’ perceive the social world. For example, people egocentrically to overestimate their ability to convey desired social identities (Van Boven, Krueger, Savitsky, & Gilovich, 2000), to overestimate their communication of preferences in negotiations (Van Boven, Gilovich, & Medvec, 2003), and overestimate how much credit they deserve for collaborative tasks (Savitsky, Van Boven, Epley, & Wight, 2005).


Policitics, Environment, and Other Contemporary Contexts

Social psychology is an inherently applied science. Because everyday experiences occur in specific contexts, understanding those experiences means understanding those contexts. My lab has sought to examine questions about individual psychological processes in contexts that address problems of contemporary significance (NSF Grant 0555137). For example, we have examined implications of the immediacy bias for assessments of terrorist risks (Van Boven et al., 2009) and for charitable donation decisions (Huber, Van Boven, & McGraw, 2009; Huber, Van Boven, McGraw, & Johnson-Graham, 2011).

Consumer behavior is one particularly important context. We have shown that people are made happier by spending on life experiences rather than material possessions (Van Boven, 2005; Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003; Van Boven & Johnson Graham, 2007). Spending on life experiences can also foster positive social relationships. Consumers often manage their public consumption to maximize impression management (Chan, Berger, & Van Boven, 2012), and investing in life experiences portrays people in a more positive light than spending on material possessions (Van Boven, Campbell, & Gilovich, 2010).

Political polarization and the evaluation of public policy is another important context that my lab has focused on. We have examined how emotion and egocentrism cause people to misperceive others’ political attitudes (Van Boven, 2000), and to overestimate political polarization (Judd, Van Boven, Huber, & Nunes, 2012; Van Boven, Sherman, & Judd, 2012; NSF Grant 1049125). We have particularly focused on how exaggerated polarization in contexts of environmental policies, and how the misperception of partisan conflict among everyday people may pose a barrier to enacting policies to address climate change.

Primary Interests:

  • Emotion, Mood, Affect
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Life Satisfaction, Well-Being
  • Person Perception
  • Political Psychology
  • Self and Identity
  • Social Cognition

Research Group or Laboratory:

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Journal Articles:

  • Andrade, E., & Van Boven, L. (2010). Feelings not foregone: When people underestimate the affective impact of inaction. Psychological Science, 21, 706-711.
  • Epley, N., Keysar, B., Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2004). Perspective taking as egocentric anchoring and adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 327-339.
  • Huber, M., Van Boven, L., McGraw, A. P., Johnson-Graham, L. (2011). Whom to help? Immediacy bias in judgments and decisions about humanitarian aid allocation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115, 283–293.
  • Kane, J., Van Boven, L., & McGraw, A. P. (2012). Prototypical prospection: Future events are more prototypically represented and simulated than past events. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 354–362.
  • Oskarsson, A., Van Boven, L., Hastie, R., & McClelland, G. (2009). What’s next? Judging sequences of binary events. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 262-285.
  • Savitsky, K. K., Van Boven, L., Epley, N., & Wight, W. (2005). The unpacking effect in allocations of responsibility for group tasks. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 447-“457.
  • Van Boven, L., & Ashworth. (2007). Looking forward, looking back: Anticipation is more evocative than retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 289-300.
  • Van Boven, L., & Campbell, M., & Gilovich, T. (2010). Stigmatizing materialism: On stereotypes and impressions of materialistic versus experiential pursuits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 551-563.
  • Van Boven, L., Dunning, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2000). Egocentric empathy gaps between owners and buyers: Misperceptions of the endowment effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 66-“76.
  • Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1193-“1202.
  • Van Boven, L., Judd, C., & Sherman, D. (2012). Perceiving political polarization: Social projection of attitude extremity and processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 84–100.
  • Van Boven, L., Kamada, A., & Gilovich, T. (1999). The perceiver as perceived: Everyday intuitions about the correspondence bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1188-1199.
  • Van Boven, L., Kane, J., McGraw, A. P., & Dale, J. (2010). Feeling close: Emotional intensity reduces perceived psychological distance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 872-885.
  • Van Boven, L., Kruger, J., Savitsky, K., & Gilovich, T. (2000). When social worlds collide: Overconfidence in the multiple audience dilemma. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 620-629.
  • Van Boven, L., & Loewenstein, G. (2003). Projection of transient drive states. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1159-“1168.
  • Van Boven, L., Loewenstein, G., & Dunning, D. (2005). The illusion of courage in social predictions: Underestimating the impact of fear of embarrassment on other people. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 96, 130-141.
  • Van Boven, L., & Robinson, M. (2012). Boys don’t cry: Stereotype accessibility and stereotypic sex differences in emotion memory. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 303–309.
  • Van Boven, L., White, K., & Huber, M. (2009). Immediacy bias in emotion perception: Current emotions seem more intense than previous emotions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 368-382.
  • Van Boven, L., White, K., Kamada, A., & Gilovich, T. (2003). Intuitions about situational correction in self and others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 249-“258.
  • White, K., & Van Boven, L. (2012). Immediacy bias in social emotional comparisons. Emotion, 12, 737–747.

Courses Taught:

  • Emotion and Intuition
  • Heuristics and Biases
  • Judgment and Decision Making

Leaf Van Boven
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Muenzinger Hall UCB 345
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, Colorado 80309
United States

  • Work: (303) 735-5238
  • Mobile: (720) 771-2261
  • Fax: (303) 492-2967

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