Michael W. Kraus
University of Illinois at Urbana—Champaign
What does your research focus on?
I study a wide variety of topics that can be organized into a few specific themes. One major area of research focuses on how different aspects of social hierarchy (e.g., social class, power, respect) influence self-expressive or empathic processes. A second area of research investigates the social functions of emotions — in particular, how positive emotion expressions (e.g., smiles, touch) leak information about our core motivations. A third area of research is focused on how working models from past relationships influence the formation of new relationships.
What drew you to this line of research and why is it exciting to you?
Social status has always been fascinating to me. I grew up in a relatively small suburb with a clearly identifiable social hierarchy. As an undergraduate, I majored in sociology and fell in love with classic theories about social class. In general, it is hard not to get excited about a topic that is immensely important for defining the environments in which we develop, determining how long we live, and shaping social policy decisions (e.g., Should wealthier Americans carry a larger share of the US tax burden?).
Who were/are your mentors or scientific influences?
I’ve had some unbelievably fortunate mentoring relationships in my research career: Serena Chen and I have worked together for more than a decade, and I credit her with convincing me to pursue a career in research in the first place. Dacher Keltner achieved legendary status long ago, and his guidance has helped me focus on tackling big research questions, rather than getting bogged down in the details. Other colleagues (e.g., Cameron Anderson, Stéphane Côté, Wendy Mendes) have been extremely generous collaborators. I hope that their willingness to share their resources and expertise will make me a more generous researcher and mentor in the future.
What is your future research agenda?
We have a couple of very exciting projects in the works at the Champaign Social Interaction (CSI) laboratory. The first line of research examines how one’s social class background shapes political decisions. The second project involves assessing the physiological responses that enhance the attainment of status in face-to-face social groups. My lab is new and growing, and we’re very excited about our future research in these domains.
What publication are you most proud of?
Kraus, M. W., Piff, P. K., Mendoza-Denton, R., Rheinschmidt, M. L., & Keltner, D. (2012). Social class, solipsism, and contextualism: How the rich are different from the poor, Psychological Review, 119, 546–572.
The most important paper I’ve ever written has to be the article my colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and I published in Psychological Review last year. In the paper, we highlight how social class shapes basic psychological processes. I think that there are at least 30 testable hypotheses in the paper that I (and I hope others) will test in the coming years. I am happy to see that more psychologists are taking on social class as a research topic.