Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady and one of her students who assisted in her research on perception.
© Harvard Photo Services

Harvard psychologist appointed to Tufts faculty

Nalini Ambady, an internationally known scholar in nonverbal social psychology at Harvard University, will join the psychology department at Tufts next semester.

"Professor Ambady brings to Tufts extraordinary intellect, achievement and innovation," said Jamshed Bharucha, provost and senior vice president, who also is a professor in Tufts' psychology department. "She is a leader in several exciting, emerging fields, and she has received numerous awards in her career, including the highest honor the U.S. government grants to young scientists and engineers who are recommended by the National Science Foundation. She was the first social psychologist to receive this Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers."

Ambady's research examines the accuracy of social, emotional and perceptual judgments—including the impact of first impressions and the impact of positive and negative stereotypes. She also studies how personal and social identities affect how people think, perform and communicate. She is particularly interested in applying innovative and integrative methods to examine these phenomena from multiple perspectives, ranging from the biological to the sociocultural.

In a pioneering study on stigma, Ambady reminded female Asian students about their gender or their ethnicity prior to taking a math test. There are prevailing social stereotypes that suggest women are not good at math and that Asians are good at math. Her study showed that subtly cuing students' gender or ethnic identities affects their performance. Those whose ethnic identity was cued performed better on the test than the students whose gender identity was cued.

Her appointment underscores Tufts' growing strengths in cognitive neuroscience and adds further cachet to the psychology department's expertise in stigma and stereotyping.

Ambady will join two new psychology faculty members—Haline Schendan, a research assistant professor from the University of California at San Diego, and Samuel Sommers, an assistant professor from the University of Michigan. Schendan is known for her research on the impact of visual stimuli on the brain, and Sommers is regarded for his work on how stereotypes affect courtroom deliberations.

Ambady's lab in Tufts' psychology building will be adjacent to several other new labs, including Bharucha's lab, where research on the impact of music on the brain will be spearheaded with two of his colleagues who are rejoining him this fall from Dartmouth College.

"Our psychology department is attracting important scholastic talent in the fast-growing field of social cognition, which involves how people perceive and react to social situations," Bharucha said. "Obviously, this is an area of increasing importance as the United States and other countries deal with the socioeconomic, political, cultural and religious challenges facing the global community."

Susan Ernst, dean of Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences, added that Ambady will be an important collaborator across other disciplines, including engineering, political science, child development and education. "We have a number of faculty who are accomplished in bias and stereotyping in our judicial system, how the brain processes reading and language and human factors who are perfectly positioned to collaborate with Nalini," Ernst said. "We're serious about finding solutions to society's most complex issues, which will require far greater collaboration across disciplines than ever before. In addition, Nalini's devotion to mentoring students is a wonderful fit for Tufts and for our psychology department."

Ambady received her Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard in 1991. After teaching at College of the Holy Cross, she joined the Harvard faculty in 1994, where she served as the Ruth and John Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences. In 2000, she received an Excellence in Mentoring award from Harvard's Graduate Student Council.