Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen

My research interests span a number of areas in social psychology (social cognition), personality, and clinical; and my central research focus concerns how everyday interpersonal relations are influenced by past relationships with significant others.

This primary line of research examines mental representations of significant others, their structure in memory in relation to the self, and what my colleagues and I have termed the social-cognitive model of transference. The research combines idiographic (participant-sensitive) procedures with experimental designs to track the manner in which significant-other representations are activated and used in relation to new people. In particular, the research has shown that when the process of significant and other activation occurs, one makes inferences about the relevant, new person deriving from the significant-other representation. Moreover, a positive or negative evaluation of the new person also occurs, deriving from the overall affective tone of the representation. Indeed, a whole variety of complex affects, motivations, expectancies, behaviors, and self-changes may occur in relation to this new person -- based on the transference process and on the content of one’s relationship with the particular significant other. This research demonstrates the long-standing clinical concept of transference; it does so in social-cognitive terms; and it shows that the process of transference is basic and triggered in everyday interpersonal relations. It provides a road map for how past relationships influence the present, highlighting the interpersonal nature of self, and emphasizing the role of significant others in identity formation and change.

A secondary line of research involves the question: How do private and covert aspects of self -- the internal thoughts, feelings wishes, and fears experienced but not necessarily expressed -- play a role in self definition? Our research has shown that these experiences play a profound role in self-definition relative to more "objective" overt behaviors. Moreover, research examining both significant-other representations and the self in these terms shows a rather similar pattern of knowledge acquisition and use concerning significant others, presumably grounded in our motivation to know or "believe" we "know," the internal life of significant others, even with limited direct knowledge.

A tertiary line of research asks: What role do conceptions of the future suffering play in depression and hopelessness? This line of research shows that depression involves coming to believe that the future is certain to consist of continued suffering, and also the formation and use of a future-event schema that permits relatively automatic predictions about the future that are pessimistic, and which may then, perhaps, perpetuate depression. Because rumination about the future clearly occurs in depression, repeated practice in attempting to predict the future may be what solidifies into future-event schemas among depressives.

Finally, an interest in identity and potential identity change based on new significant-other relationships, such as with a new set of peers or a mentor, has culminated in a literature review on youth outcomes deriving from efforts to make a contribution to the broader common good, through working together with others, taking responsibility, and expressing caring across inter-group boundaries. The positive growth outcomes of educationally integrated experiences in social action (service learning in K-12 and higher education) are considered in terms of policy implications.

Selected Honors/Awards and Prior Affiliations
Fellow, and Founding Member, American Psychological Society
Fellow, American Psychological Association
Fellow, Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Fellow, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Associate Editor, Psychological Review, 1998-2000
Associate Editor, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
Attitudes and Social Cognition Section, 1994-1995
Associate Editor, Social Cognition, 1993
Associate Editor, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 1988-1992

Primary Interests:

  • Close Relationships
  • Emotion, Mood, Affect
  • Interpersonal Processes
  • Person Perception
  • Personality, Individual Differences
  • Self and Identity
  • Social Cognition

Journal Articles:

  • Andersen, S.M., & Chen, S. (2002). The relational self: An interpersonal social-cognitive theory. Psychological Review, 109, 619-645.
  • Andersen, S.M., & Cole, S. (1990). Do I know you?: The role of significant others in general social perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 384-399.
  • Andersen, S.M., Glassman, N.S., Chen, S., & Cole, S.W. (1995). Transference in social perception: The role of the chronic accessibility of significant-other representations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 41-57.
  • Andersen, S.M., Glassman, N.S., & Gold, D. (1998). Mental representations of the self, significant others, and nonsignificant others: Structure and processing of private and public aspects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(4), 845-861.
  • Andersen, S.M., Klatzky, R.L., & Murray, J. (1990). Traits and social stereotypes: Efficiency differences in social information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 192-201.
  • Andersen, S.M., Reznik, I., & Manzella, L.M. (1996). Eliciting facial affect, motivation, and expectancies in transference: Significant-other representations in social relations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1108-1129.
  • Andersen, S.M., & Schwartz, A.H. (1992). Intolerance of ambiguity and depression: A cognitive vulnerability factor linked to hopelessness. Social Cognition, 10, 271-298.
  • Andersen, S.M., Spielman, L.A., & Bargh, J.A. (1992). Future-event schemas and certainty about the future: Automaticity in depressives' future-event predictions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 711-723.
  • Berenson, K.R., & Andersen, S.M. (2006). Childhood physical and emotional abuse by a parent: Transference effects in adult interpersonal relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1509-1522.
  • Berk, M.S., & Andersen, S.M. (2000). The impact of past relationships on interpersonal behavior: Behavioral confirmation in the social-cognitive process of transference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 546-562.
  • Glassman, N.S., & Andersen, S.M. (1999). Activating transference without consciousness: Using significant-other representations to go beyond subliminally given information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1146-1162.
  • Saribay, S.A., & Andersen, S.M. (2007). Relational to collective: Significant-other representations, ethnic categories, and intergroup perceptions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1714-1726

Other Publications:

  • Andersen, S.M. (1998). Service Learning: A National Strategy for Youth Development. A Position Paper issued by the Task Force on Education Policy. Washington, DC: Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, George Washington University.
  • Andersen, S.M., Downey, G., & Tyler, T. (2005). Becoming engaged in community: A relational perspective on social identity and community engagement. In G. Downey, J.S. Eccles, & C.M. Chatman (Eds.), Navigating the future: Social identity, coping, and life tasks (pp. 210-251). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Andersen, S.M., Moskowitz, D.B., Blair, I.V., & Nosek, B.A. (2007). Automatic thought. In A.W. Kruglanski & E.T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (2nd Edition, pp. 138-175). New York: Guilford Press.

Susan Andersen
Department of Psychology
New York University
6 Washington Place, 7th Floor
New York, New York 10003
United States

  • Phone: (212) 998-7799
  • Fax: (212) 995-4018

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