Susan T. Fiske is Eugene Higgins Professor, Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University. With distinguished psychologists as father (Donald W. Fiske) and older brother (Alan Page Fiske), plus a mother (Barbara Page Fiske) descended from two generation of women's suffragists, how could Susan not join the field, trying to make the world a better place? As an undergraduate and graduate student at Harvard, Susan's role model was Shelley Taylor, as well as inspiration from Dave Kenny, Reid Hastie, Tom Pettigrew, and Bob Rosenthal. From there, she went on to Carnegie-Mellon and UMass-Amherst, before joining Princeton in 2000.
Fiske investigates social cognition, especially cognitive stereotypes and emotional prejudices, at cultural, interpersonal, and neural levels. Author of about 400 articles and chapters, she is most known for work on social cognition, theories and research on how people think about each other: the continuum model of impression formation, the power-as-control theory, the ambivalent sexism theory, and the stereotype content model (SCM).
Her current SCM work focuses on the two fundamental dimensions of social cognition, perceived warmth (friendly, trustworthy) and perceived competence (capable, assertive). Upstream, perceived social structure predicts these stereotypes (cooperation-competition predicts warmth; status predicts competence). Downstream, specific emotions follow each warmth-x-competence quadrant (pride, disgust, envy, pity) and predict specific behaviors (active and passive help or harm). Using representative sample surveys, lab experiments, and neuro-imaging, Fiske lab has focused on varieties of dehumanization predicted by the SCM: dehumanizing allegedly disgusting homeless people, Schadenfreude toward the enviable rich, as well as paternalistic pity and prescriptive prejudices toward older people, disabled people, and women in traditional roles. Current work uses natural language analyses to explore spontaneous descriptions of others.
The U.S. Supreme Court cited her gender-bias testimony, and she testified before President Clinton's Race Initiative Advisory Board. These influenced her edited volume, Beyond Common Sense: Psychological Science in the Courtroom. Currently an editor of the Annual Review of Psychology, PNAS, Policy Insights from Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Handbook of Social Psychology, she has written the upper-level texts Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology (4/e) and Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture 5/e). She also co-wrote The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies, which applies her models to how people perceive corporations. Her general-interest book, funded by a Guggenheim and the Russell Sage Foundation, is Envy Up and Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us.
With honorary doctorates from Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands; Universität Basel, Switzerland; Universidad de Granada, Spain, she has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She believes that with such honors comes the obligation to serve. She has been President of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and President of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, as well as its FABBS Foundation. She is grateful to be the only person so far to have won the three APS Awards: James (basic science), Cattell (applied science), and Mentoring.
Because it takes a village, her graduate students and lab alumni conspired for her to win Princeton's Mentoring Award. And now this Heritage Award reminds her that we not only build on our forebears, we construct science, brick by brick, to leave a legacy for our heirs.
When not being a Professor, she gardens vegetables in Vermont, reads contemporary fiction, and plays poker with her blended family: her husband, sociologist Doug Massey; his daughter, who is in early childhood education (living nearby in NJ); social-psychologist daughter and her attorney husband (living in Evanston); plus her banker stepson, his dance-teacher wife, and two step-grandsons, who also play poker (living in Hangzhou, China).
Most cited work:
Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1984, 1991, 2008, 2013, 2017). Social cognition: From brains to culture. London: Sage.
Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 878-902.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491-512.
Fiske, S. T. (1993). Controlling other people: The impact of power on stereotyping. American Psychologist, 48, 621-628.
Fiske, S. T., & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum model of impression formation, from category-based to individuating processes: Influence of information and motivation on attention and interpretation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 1-74). New York: Academic Press.
Some psychologists make important intellectual contributions, some are curators and caretakers of their fields, some are beloved mentors to the next generation, and some use science to repair the world. Susan Fiske is the only psychologist I know who has done all four of these things. “Quadrafecta” is not a word because no one has ever needed it before. Now we do.
- Daniel Gilbert
Susan has consistently been prescient about where the field should and needed to go, from figuring out the consequences and opportunities provided by the cognitive to the neuroscience revolutions to more specific directions for research. It’s remarkable how Susan has repeatedly influenced the direction social psychology has taken – she has always pushed the envelope in new, productive directions. In addition to her vision, Susan has been the most generous mentor and collaborator anyone could hope to work with. As a young, newly tenured professor at a liberal arts college, it was with some trepidation that I approached someone as eminent as Susan (and she was eminent, even though young!) with the idea of visiting on my sabbatical to collaborate. Susan was immediately welcoming, not only arranging all the necessary hosting at her institution for a sabbatical year, but also suggesting a direction for our collaboration. She told me “the field needs a new way to measure sexism…” Her uncanny prescience was once again precisely on target. That nudge in the right direction turned into the ambivalent sexism inventory and its associated theory. Susan’s remarkable career clearly deserve recognition on the Heritage Wall of Fame.
- Peter Glick
I was 26 when I interviewed for a job at Princeton. It didn’t go well. During the phone call when Susan told me that I wouldn’t be offered the job, she did something courageous and generous. Rather than offering easy platitudes, she took on the more difficult task of offering concrete feedback about how I could have done better on my interview. I needed that guidance then, and I often remind myself about it today.
Of course, Susan was a hero of mine long before that point, and she remains one today. Her 1993 American Psychologist paper on power and social perception is among my all-time favorites. Her mentoring of young scholars, which can take on a mama-bear quality when one of her own is under threat, is legendary, as are her efforts to support the careers of women and people of color.
A particularly vivid example of Susan’s influence comes from a three-second experience I had in 2001. Susan called to invite me out for that interview. The phone rang during a Friday-evening dinner party, and I rolled my eyes when my roommate, Kristen, got up to answer the phone rather than letting it go to voicemail. Kristen, a law student at Pitt, returned to the table to tell me that “Susan Fiske from Princeton” was on the phone. That was the three-second interval that blew my mind: I had no idea that a law student would know who Susan was, but Kristen’s facial expression—a blend of awe and ecstasy—set me straight. Kristen knew Susan Fiske because, in Kristen’s world, Susan Fiske is the legend who gave essential testimony on gender discrimination in the landmark Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins case (1989).
Kurt Lewin was right, it seems, about nothing being as practical is a good theory, but he might have underappreciated the importance of having a brilliant, lucid advocate for the application of good theory. I am so thankful to Susan for her advocacy of social justice, for her titanic scholarly contributions, and for her generosity, in 2001, toward a cocky, insecure punk who surely didn’t deserve it.
- Eli Finkel
One of the luckiest moments in my career was when Susan moved from UMass to Princeton while I was in graduate school, giving me the chance to learn from her. Susan was and is the finest theorist I have known, and I use that word to mean both “the very best” but also “the sharpest and most honed” (as in, Occam’s razor). So, she was and is a model to me for deeply considering and understanding phenomena. Susan also knew (and knows) everything about social psychology (and a few other fields, too). We used to joke that just when you thought you had an original idea, Susan would refer you to an article in a Scandinavian journal – published in Norwegian – and so she was and is a model to me to be well-read. And finally, Susan was and is a truly extraordinary mentor. I am not sure I would have finished my PhD without Susan’s ideas and support. I feel grateful to be one of her countless mentees, and she was and is as a model to me as a mentor.
- Michael Norton