DongWon Oh studies how subjective human perceptions of others emerge, influenced by stereotypes and acquired knowledge. This exploration reveals universal principles in how we perceive other humans through a tapestry of variabilities. His investigation employs a myriad of methodologies including experiments, data-driven modeling, multilevel modeling, multivariate analysis, and eye-tracking.

DongWon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore. He directs the MAP Lab (Multi-Sociocontextual Action and Perception Lab). Prior to his present role, he worked as a PhD student at Princeton (advisor: Alex Todorov), and at New York University and Columbia University as a postdoc (advisor: Jon B. Freeman). He is a 2024 APS (Association for Psychological Science) Rising Star award recipient.


My reserach program is an expedition into the rich tapestry of social and person perception, dissecting how these perceptions are crafted, altered, and varied across different social contexts. Rooted in a multidisciplinary approach, the program stretches across the realms of social psychology, vision science, and cognitive neuroscience, bringing forth a nuanced understanding of the dynamic and complex processes involved in social perception.

The first line of research orbits around the dynamic nature of person perception, investigating how new experiences and corresponding knowledge shift person judgments. The second line ventures into the realm of variabilities in social perceptions, examining regional and individual differences, with an emphasis on the developmental and cultural origins of these variabilities. The third line dives into the stereotypical biases ingrained in social perceptions, extending into practical realms by exploring self-presentation strategies against societal stereotypes among marginalized groups. Click on any of the embedded links to find out more.

Together, these research lines are synergistically aimed at advancing the theoretical and practical understanding of social perception processes. This concerted effort not only enriches academic discourse but also holds promise in proposing effective strategies to address social biases and improve interpersonal relations in a progressively interconnected world.


Research Line 1:
Changes in Person Perception

Person perception undergoes a dynamic evolution, continually reshaped by new experiences and information that update our judgments about others. This ever-evolving process becomes crucial in our deeply interconnected world where the complexities of perceiving and interacting with others demand an in-depth comprehension of the underlying mechanisms involved in social impression formation and its continual updating.

A facet of my research in this line has been to unravel how people integrate new person knowledge. For instance, upon learning two strangers share similar personalities, individuals tend to perceive their faces as more similar than their actual physical resemblance would suggest (Oh et al., 2021 Cognition). This phenomenon sheds light on how our unique life experiences shape the core processes of person perception, like facial recognition.

Knowledge of a person’s personality can bias perception of a face’s identity toward an alternate identity that is not ostensibly related. For example, if Vladimir Putin and Justin Bieber (above) have more similar personalities in your mind, then they visually appear more similar to you as well. Further, when you learn two novel individuals are similar in their personalities (below), you remember their faces as more similar to each other (compared to when you learn the two individuals were dissimilar in their personalities). (from Oh et al., 2021 Cognition)

Expanding upon previous research, an ongoing project focuses on formalizing naturalistic social interaction. In this endeavor, participants engage in casual conversations while being video recorded. Subsequently, they report their temporally evolving dynamic impressions of the other person. Through state-of-the-art statistical and computational learning models, this project structures conversations and analyzes the dynamic human interaction systematically. The main aim is to bridge the initial, often biased, person perception (e.g., those based on race and facial features) with an evolved understanding as more information is gathered through interaction. This research elucidates how a person’s representation shifts from being stereotype-based to a depiction of an individual with idiosyncratic traits.

By capturing the dynamics of real-life social interactions and understanding the evolution of person representation during these interactions, this research line aims to provide a more nuanced comprehension of the multifaceted process of person perception. Through such thorough investigations, the objective is to inch closer to a more accurate grasp of human interpersonal perceptions, thereby contributing to the broader understanding of social perception processes.

Using a continuous rating paradigm, participants altered their trait judgments over time as they watch naturalistic interactions between other individuals. Participants considerably changed their impressions of each character as they learned more about these individuals, but there was a high level of consensus across participants in how they changed their impressions of each character over time. The impressions of each character were tracked in multiple brain regions.

Research Line 2:
Variabilities in Social Perceptions

Regional and individual differences steer the course of social perceptions. Both individual and cultural variability play fundamental roles in the process of social perception––not because they can explain an additional variance in the phenomenon, but because they act as a crucial lens through which we can scrutinize overarching theories.

One notable finding elucidates how regional personality trait associations impact the interpretation of facial cues concerning these traits (Oh et al., 2022 Psychol Sci). For example, in Region A, if adventurous people tend to also be warm, residents use this trait association when forming face-based impressions of strangers. In contrast, if Region B has no such link between adventurousness and warmth in its residents’ actual personalities, its residents won't use this pairing in their facial impressions. This relationship between actual personality and facial impression is mediated by regional beliefs about traits. This finding underscores the importance of regional variability: Even though areas have distinctive patterns of impression formation, all derive their social judgments from their local contexts, highlighting this universal principle of regional learning in social perception processes.

Another finding that highlights the importance in building a general theory is the compression in female face impressions. For example, if you are a person who strongly believes that ‘women are on average emotional and nurturing than men are’, you are more likely to form a more compressed impressions of both women and men than those who hold weaker gender stereotypes. Compression here means that people often rely heavily on one or two apparent traits to make broader assumptions about a woman's character, reflecting stronger preconceptions. Indeed, individuals who strongly endorse stereotypes tend to have more pronounced biases in their judgments (Oh et al., 2019 J Exp Psychol: Gen). This observation of individual differences suggests stereotypes are indeed behind the phenomenon of impression compression. 

The level of impression simplification (how different individual impressions were differentiated, e.g., between ‘trustworthy’ impressions and ‘unhappy’ impressions, were predicted by participants’ level of gender stereotype endorsement. The more one endorsed the gender stereotypes (”women are on average more emotional than men are”), the more simplified their face-based impressions for others were. (from Oh et al. 2020 J Exp Psychol: Gen)

Another relevant finding is about personality and face preferences. In an industrialized society (like the US), women find male faces with feminine shape (e.g., bigger eyes, narrower chin) more attractive, compared to faces with masculine shapes. This may be because women’s prefer feminine (vs. masculine) personality in a partner: warmth, nurturingness, and gentleness (Oh et al., 2020 J Exp Psychol: Hum Percept Perform). Beyond this general principle (feminine personality preference → feminine face-shape preference), we found a finding specific to individual perceivers: Those who preferred feminine personality traits in a partner preferred feminine characteristics in male faces, whereas those who preferred masculine personality traits (even though they were in minority) preferred masculine characteristics in male faces. This finding explains the rich diversity in attractiveness perception and mating choice. At the same time, it highlights that we should consider conceptual factors when we think about interpersonal attraction, in addition to perceptual factors (e.g., facial symmetry).

Individual participants’ personality preferences predicted what type of facial judgments predicted their perceptions of attractiveness of faces. In other words, when a person prefers a specific trait such as dominance, faces that appear dominant are likely to appear attractive to them.
a: The positive effect of feminine trait judgments on attractiveness was stronger among those who preferred a feminine personality than among those who preferred a masculine personality, although the difference did not reach significance
b: The positive effect of masculine trait judgments on attractiveness was stronger among those who preferred a masculine personality than among those who preferred a feminine personality. (from Oh et al. 2020 J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform)

Togehter, these findings (regional variability in personality traits, individual perceiers’ gender stereotype levels, individual preferences in faces and personality traits) highlight that any robust theory of social perception (and broader experimental psychology) must produce hypotheses that account for and can be tested against these individual differences.

Research Line 3:
Stereotypes and Biases

The superficial cues often employed in character judgment, such as attire or facial features, lay bare the biases nestled within social perceptions. For instance, findings show how masculine facial features or expensive attire can lead to attributions of higher competence (Oh et al., 2019 Psychol Sci; Oh et al., 2020 Nat Human Behav). This line of work sometimes employs a data-driven modeling approach (Oh et al., 2019, Vis Res) to identify the visual information responsible for forming face-based trait impressions, such as perceived intelligence and warmth (Todorov & Oh, 2021, Adv Exp Soc Psychol).

Impressions of women from faces tend to be more compressed than those of men. This compression means that people often rely heavily on one or two apparent traits to make broader assumptions about a woman's character, reflecting stronger preconceptions. Indeed, individuals who strongly endorse stereotypes tend to have more pronounced biases in their judgments (Oh et al., 2020 J Exp Psychol Gen).

People have more simplified impressions of women than of men. In this plot, the level of impression simplification is indexed by the level of all pairwise correlations across specific trait impressions (e.g., impression of likeability). Each dot represents the level of correlations between a pair of impression ratings (e.g., correlation between the impression of likeability and the impression of dominance across all participants). (from Oh et al., 2020 J Exp Psychol: Gen)

Participants across studies rated faces paired with “richer” clothes as more competent than the same faces paired with “poorer” clothes. These participants include in-person Princeton University sample, older adults sample recruited in a mall in New Jersey, and online participants that were more diverse in age and other demographics.
a: Participants were given various measures that discouraged them to rely on the clothes while judging competence of other individuals. x=mean competence rating of a face with it is paired with “poorer” clothes, y=mean competence rating of a face with it is paired with “richer” clothes; each dot = each face.
b: Participants were promised $100 to “accurately” judge how competent each person looked (that is, completely ignore the effect of the clothes). Strikingly, this did not change the biases induced by economic status cues in the clothes. x = each face; y = mean competence rating; each color = economic status of clothes paired with the face.(from Oh et al., 2020 Nat Hum Behav)

Expanding on this, the research delves into how the socially marginalized might resist the biasing forces in intuitive judgments. A project, in collaboration, investigates whether economic status cues in attire can serve as tools to counter societal stereotypes, especially among women and racial minorities. Utilizing real-world data and immersive virtual reality, the aim is to discern if sartorial choices stem from strategic counteraction against negative stereotypes. This ongoing research is expected to reshape understanding of self-presentation strategies in response to stereotypes, holding practical implications for reducing biases in daily interactions.