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Academic Appointments

All Publications

  • Talking to strangers: Intention, competence, and opportunity. Current opinion in psychology Atir, S., Zhao, X., Echelbarger, M. 2023; 51: 101588


    Despite having more opportunities than ever to connect with strangers, and much to gain from doing so, people often refrain from talking with, and listening to, strangers. We propose a framework that classifies obstacles to connecting with strangers into three categories concerning intention (underestimating the benefits of conversations), competence (misunderstanding how to appear likeable and competent in conversation), and opportunity (being constrained in access to a diverse set of strangers). To promote conversations among strangers, interventions have attempted to calibrate people's expectations, improve their communication, and create more opportunities for strangers to connect. We identify the need to better understand how miscalibrated beliefs emerge and are sustained, what contextual factors impact conversation likelihood, and how conversations evolve as relationships develop.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.copsyc.2023.101588

    View details for PubMedID 37247444

  • The now and future of social robots as depictions. The Behavioral and brain sciences Malle, B. F., Zhao, X. 2023; 46: e39


    The authors at times propose that robots are mere depictions of social agents (a philosophical claim) and at other times that people conceive of social robots as depictions (an empirical psychological claim). We evaluate each claim's accuracy both now and in the future and, in doing so, we introduce two dangerous misperceptions people have, or will have, about social robots.

    View details for DOI 10.1017/S0140525X22001510

    View details for PubMedID 37017064

  • Ice-Breaking Technology: Robots and Computers Can Foster Meaningful Connections between Strangers through In-Person Conversations Zhang, A., Lin, T., Zhao, X., Sebo, S., ACM ASSOC COMPUTING MACHINERY. 2023
  • Surprisingly Happy to Have Helped: Underestimating Prosociality Creates a Misplaced Barrier to Asking for Help. Psychological science Zhao, X., Epley, N. 2022: 9567976221097615


    Performing acts of kindness increases well-being, yet people can be reluctant to ask for help that would enable others' kindness. We suggest that people may be overly reluctant because of miscalibrated expectations about others' prosocial motivation, underestimating how positively others will feel when asked for help. A pretest identified that interest in asking for help was correlated with expectations of how helpers would think and feel, but a series of scenarios, recalled experiences, and live interactions among adult participants in the United States (total N = 2,118) indicated that those needing help consistently underestimated others' willingness to help, underestimated how positively helpers would feel, and overestimated how inconvenienced helpers would feel. These miscalibrated expectations stemmed from underestimating helpers' prosocial motivation while overestimating compliance motivation. This research highlights a limitation of construing help-seeking through a lens of compliance by scholars and laypeople alike. Undervaluing prosociality could create a misplaced barrier to asking for help when needed.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/09567976221097615

    View details for PubMedID 36067802

  • Spontaneous perspective taking toward robots: The unique impact of humanlike appearance. Cognition Zhao, X., Malle, B. F. 2022; 224: 105076


    As robots rapidly enter society, how does human social cognition respond to their novel presence? Focusing on one foundational social-cognitive capacity-visual perspective taking-seven studies reveal that people spontaneously adopt a robot's unique perspective and do so with patterns of variation that mirror perspective taking toward humans. As they do with humans, people take a robot's visual perspective when it displays goal-directed actions. Moreover, perspective taking is absent when the agent lacks human appearance, increases when the agent looks highly humanlike, and persists even when the humanlike agent is perceived as eerie or as obviously lacking a mind. These results suggest that visual perspective taking toward robots is consistent with a "mere appearance hypothesis"-a form of stimulus generalization based on humanlike appearance-rather than following an "uncanny valley" pattern or arising from mind perception. Robots' superficial human resemblance may trigger and modulate social-cognitive responses in human observers originally developed for human interaction.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2022.105076

    View details for PubMedID 35364401

  • Undersociality: miscalibrated social cognition can inhibit social connection. Trends in cognitive sciences Epley, N., Kardas, M., Zhao, X., Atir, S., Schroeder, J. 2022


    A person's well-being depends heavily on forming and maintaining positive relationships, but people can be reluctant to connect in ways that would create or strengthen relationships. Emerging research suggests that miscalibrated social cognition may create psychological barriers to connecting with others more often. Specifically, people may underestimate how positively others will respond to their own sociality across a variety of social actions, including engaging in conversation, expressing appreciation, and performing acts of kindness. We suggest that these miscalibrated expectations are created and maintained by at least three mechanisms: differential construal, uncertain responsiveness, and asymmetric learning. Underestimating the positive consequences of social engagement could make people less social than would be optimal for both their own and others' well-being.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.tics.2022.02.007

    View details for PubMedID 35341673

  • Insufficiently Complimentary?: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Compliments Creates a Barrier to Expressing Them JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY Zhao, X., Epley, N. 2021; 121 (2): 239-256


    Compliments increase the well-being of both expressers and recipients, yet in a series of surveys people report giving fewer compliments than they should give, or would like to give. Nine experiments suggest that a reluctance to express genuine compliments partly stems from underestimating the positive impact that compliments will have on recipients. Participants wrote genuine compliments and then predicted how happy and awkward those compliments would make recipients feel. Expressers consistently underestimated how positive recipients would feel but overestimated how awkward recipients would feel (Experiments 1-3, S4). These miscalibrated expectations are driven partly by perspective gaps in which expressers underestimate how competent-and to a lesser extent how warm-their compliments will be perceived by recipients (Experiments 1-3). Because people's interest in expressing compliments is partly driven by their expectations of the recipient's reaction, undervaluing compliments creates a barrier to expressing them (Supplemental Experiments S2, S3, S4). As a result, directing people to focus on the warmth conveyed by their compliments (Experiment 4) increased interest in expressing them. We believe these findings may reflect a more general tendency for people to underestimate the positive impact of prosocial actions on others, leading people to be less prosocial than would be optimal for both their own and others' well-being. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

    View details for DOI 10.1037/pspa0000277

    View details for Web of Science ID 000706471700002

    View details for PubMedID 34636586

  • Leaving a Choice for Others: Children's Evaluations of Considerate, Socially-Mindful Actions. Child development Zhao, X., Zhao, X., Gweon, H., Kushnir, T. 2021


    People value those who act with others in mind even as they pursue their own goals. Across three studies (N=566; 4- to 6-year-olds), we investigated children's developing understanding of such considerate, socially-mindful actions. By age 6, both U.S. and Chinese children positively evaluate a character who takes a snack for herself in a way that leaves a snack choice for others over a character who leaves no choice (Study 1), but only when the actors had alternative possible actions (Study 2) and when a clear beneficiary was present (Study 3). These results suggest an emerging ability to infer underlying social intentions from self-oriented actions, providing insights into the role of social-cognitive capacities versus culture-specific norms in children's moral evaluations.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.13480

    View details for PubMedID 33458830

  • A Primer for Conducting Experiments in Human-Robot Interaction ACM TRANSACTIONS ON HUMAN-ROBOT INTERACTION Hoffman, G., Zhao, X. 2020; 10 (1)

    View details for DOI 10.1145/3412374

    View details for Web of Science ID 000595295800006

  • Kind words do not become tired words: Undervaluing the positive impact of frequent compliments SELF AND IDENTITY Zhao, X., Epley, N. 2021; 20 (1): 25-46
  • What is Human-like?: Decomposing Robots' Human-like Appearance Using the Anthropomorphic roBOT (ABOT) Database Phillips, E., Zhao, X., Ullman, D., Malle, B. F., Assoc Comp Machinery ASSOC COMPUTING MACHINERY. 2018: 105-113
  • Do People Spontaneously Take a Robot's Visual Perspective? Zhao, X., Cusimano, C., Malle, B. F., ACM ASSOC COMPUTING MACHINERY. 2016: 335-342