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Scientist Obituary: Dr. Nalini Ambady, Social Psychologist Who Studied the Psychology of Intuition

First impressions matter. Contrary to widespread belief, they can often be surprisingly accurate. We know this largely because of Dr. Nalini Ambady, a social psychologist who studied the cognitive processes underpinning intuition.

In her research, Ambady found that people make snap judgements about others based on a series of unconscious, nonverbal cues, including facial expression and body language. These nonverbal snapshots – or “thin slices” – turned out to be more powerful than one might expect. “In 40 milliseconds, people can accurately judge what we are saying with our expression,” she told the New York Times.

Dr. Nalini Ambady

Dr. Ambady also applied her research to real world social issues. She studied how first impressions interact with racial and cultural stereotypes, and founded the Center for Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions, a research institution that seeks to solve social problems using social psychology research.

One of the institute’s projects, Be the Donor, is an initiative that uses social psychology to better recruit and retain bone marrow donors. The project was inspired by Dr. Ambady’s own quest to find a bone marrow donor. Along the way, she discovered that minorities are vastly underrepresented in United States donor registries.

Read more about Dr. Ambady in her New York Times obituary.

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Seandor Szeles

    Seandor Szeles is the co-editor of the Secret Life Blog. He is most interested in the human side of science and providing take-away for educators.