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Psychology Dean's Medalist aims to understand prejudice and romantic conflict

Portrait of ASU student Cora Baron.

This spring, Cora Baron was named the ASU Department of Psychology’s Dean’s Medalist. Baron is a member of four different research labs and will be pursuing a doctoral degree in social psychology. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Department of Psychology

April 01, 2022

This spring, Cora Baron was named the ASU Department of Psychology’s Dean’s Medalist. Baron is a member of four different research labs and will be pursuing a doctoral degree in social psychology.

"I’m generally interested in how people’s decisions and behaviors are informed by the environment that they are a part of, especially with regard to their relationships and communities,” Baron said. “Specifically, I aim to understand what aspects of relationships and communities affect their thoughts and attitudes about the world around them.”

One of Baron’s key interests is conflict management in romantic relationships.

Conflict is an ever-present part of most romantic relationships, and the ability to communicate and navigate through conflict is often a good predictor of relationship success. Whereas healthy coping with conflict allows partners to grow closer together, unhealthy conflict management strategies or consistently negative social exchanges are associated with worse health and relationship failure.

The first lab that Baron is part of is the Evolutionary Social Cognition Lab with Foundation Professor Steven Neuberg and President’s Professor Douglas Kenrick. Neuberg is also the chair of the Department of Psychology. In this lab, the research focuses on how fundamental social motives (e.g., mating, status-striving and social affiliation) change how we think about people, how physical and social ecologies shape social behavior and culture, and a range of other questions that apply evolutionary science to understand social behavior.

“I really appreciate the evolutionary approach to social psychology — I think it's fascinating,” Baron said. “It’s been great working with both mentors because they work in really different ways that have informed my development as a researcher.”

Baron started as an undergraduate researcher in the spring semester of her freshmen year and is now the assistant manager for the lab.

“Cora represents everything we value in a young scholar. She is incredibly curious and intellectually engaged. She is very smart. She looks to see how the science can relate to real-world challenges. She works hard and she’s ambitious, in the best sense of the word. We’re really proud of all she’s accomplishing, and can’t wait to see what comes next,” Neuberg said.

Baron is presenting an honors thesis on close relationships, difficulties and the lay theories about whether those conflicts can strengthen those relationships in the long run.

“While this research was on romantic relationships, it made me think about interpersonal relationships more broadly, too,” Baron said.

She hopes to continue interpersonal relationship and emotion regulation research in graduate school.

Baron’s interest in interpersonal relationships also led her to be part of the Shiota Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Testing (SPLAT) lab with Associate Professor Lani Shiota.

The SPLAT lab conducts research on emotions, with emphasis on positive emotions, emotional processes in close relationships, effects of emotion on cognition and the implications of emotion for health and well-being. Shiota recently hosted a mindfulness conference with the Dalai Lama to embrace hope and compassion during times of crisis, like the pandemic and war.

“Close relationships and emotions are really closely tied together and can tell us a lot about how people interact with the social world around them, and I'm also really interested in why those relationships form and keep going through conflict,” Baron said.

The third lab that Baron is an undergraduate research assistant for is the Behavioral Alcohol Research for Clinical Advancement lab (BARCA), where research is done on alcohol-use disorders in a simulated bar. The lab’s research aims to inform both prevention and intervention efforts with contextualized research on the subjective response to alcohol in a social setting.

“I was really interested in the research done at the BARCA lab because I've met a lot of students who have experienced forms of sexual victimization and sexual harassment in college, and I wanted to see how alcohol and our perceptions of our peers kind of work together to create attitudes or behaviors about seeking or receiving sexual consent,” Baron said.

Finally, Baron’s fourth research lab isn’t even in Arizona. As part of the The Leadership Alliance, she was invited to Chicago to participate in a research lab at the University of Chicago’s Center for Decision Research with Associate Professor Ed O’Brien. Following the conclusion of the summer project, Baron stayed with the lab and continued to conduct research on how people seek out or give advice to others.

“While all of my research labs are disparate, they all center on the notion of managing conflict," Baron said. "Social psychology really is understanding behavior and understanding how people think about the situations that they're in. Additionally, my favorite part about research is the mechanics of how you're going to research something and why you're going to research it.”

A family award

Family is incredibly important to Baron, and she plans to make her graduate degree decision in order to continue her research with a supportive mentor, but also to be close to her three siblings and parents. When she told her family about winning the Dean’s Medal, they were all overjoyed, but what mattered most to Baron was the fact that her younger brother could share the award with her.

“My younger brother is one year younger than me, and he has special needs and he will not be attending college. He’s in a day program right now and doing great, but winning this award, while exciting for me, is something that I know will make him proud too,” said Baron.

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