Susan T. Fiske

Princeton University

Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Secondary Section: 53, Social and Political Sciences
Membership Type: Member (elected 2013)


Susan T. Fiske is Eugene Higgins Professor, Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University. A Harvard BA and PhD, she has honorary doctorates from Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands; and Universität Basel, Switzerland. Growing up in Chicago's Hyde Park, daughter of psychologist Donald Fiske and civic volunteer Barbara Fiske, during a period of social activism, she combined methodological rigor with trying to make the world a better place through behavioral and social science. After stints at Carnegie-Mellon University, in its heady Herbert Simon era, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with its theory-driven applicable research, she landed at Princeton in 2000, where her joint appoint at the Woodrow Wilson School suits her policy and interdisciplinary bent. Currently editing for Annual Review of Psychology, PNAS, and Policy Insights from Behavioral and Brain Sciences, she is also President of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS). Her students arranged for her to win the University's Graduate Mentoring Award. She gardens vegetables in Vermont, reads contemporary fiction, and plays poker with her blended family, sociologist Doug Massey; Doug's daughter, training in early-childhood education; Susan's budding social-psychologist daughter and her law-student boyfriend; plus a banker stepson, his early-intervention-expert wife, and two grand-toddlers.

Research Interests

Making sense of other humans requires knowing their intent and capability to enact it. Warm intent (being trustworthy, friendly) and competence (ability, confidence) distinguish “us” (e.g., the nice, competent middle class) from various outgroups. Different outgroups suffer distinct emotional prejudices and behavioral discrimination. From ~50 counties and nearly a century of US data, some patterns reoccur. Everywhere, the homeless, addicted, undocumented, and destitute are scorned as untrustworthy and useless. And the rich, highly educated, and entrepreneurial are envied as competent but not trustworthy. Finally, the pitied groups—old people, disabled people, children—are tolerated but disrespected. In this warmth-by-competence space, racial and ethnic prejudices are historical accidents (who arrived, when, and how), which locate immigrant groups in the pride, contempt, envy, or pity quadrants. Intervention requires understanding these stereotypes’ origins. Current projects assess roles for social structure (status, competition), biased sampling of information, shared narratives, self-perpetuating interactions, and confirmatory conversation. Knowing their dimensions, commonalities, and origins predicts stereotypes’ systematic consequences. Prejudices have distinct effects: Warm groups win trust and help; ill-intentioned groups elicit attack. High-status, competent groups motivate association, whereas low-status groups win avoidance. Our approaches use adversarial collaboration to sharpen our theory, and global data to check its robustness.

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