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Karen Cerulo Honored by Eastern Sociological Society


Karen Cerulo is expanding on the research of cognitive neuroscientists by applying a sociologist’s understanding of human behavior. Read the article and learn more about her work and the honors she is receiving.

CeruloPortrait 255X382Karen A. Cerulo, a professor in the Sociology Department, recently received two of the Eastern Sociological Society’s (ESS) highest honors.

Cerulo was named the 2014 Robin M. Williams Jr. Lecturer – a post in which she will deliver guest lectures at the 2014 ESS meeting as well as at two universities during the academic year. Sociology departments throughout the eastern region compete for the privilege of hosting the lecture, submitting proposals to the ESS on why their university would be the ideal setting.  

She also received the 2013 Merit Award, which is given annually to distinguished scholars who have made outstanding contributions to the discipline, the profession, and the ESS. The last Rutgers faculty member to win the award was internationally recognized scholar and former American Sociological Association (ASA) president Matilda White Riley in 1986.

As the Williams Lecturer, Cerulo will discuss the influence of cognitive neuroscience on her work, and how sociologists can play a major role in brain research. The lecture is titled: Your Brain: What Sociologists Can Tell You That Neuroscientists Can't.

She is also slated to speak at Princeton, Yale, Duke, Montclair State University, and Rutgers.
“I started to think about ways in which sociologists could continue the neuroscience story,” Cerulo said in a recent interview. “So I became interested in finding out the brain patterns that are happening when processing a TV commercial, looking at a national symbol, or reacting to violence.”
Although sociologists have long studied the social and cultural aspects of thinking or cognition, Cerulo’s recent work crosses academic boundary lines, absorbing and acknowledging the research of cognitive neuroscientists and seeking to expand on their findings by applying a sociologist’s understanding of human behavior.

In a current project, Cerulo is employing cognitive neuroscience concepts to broaden the scope of her sociological analysis.

She and a colleague, Professor Janet R. Ruane, of Montclair State University, who obtained her Ph.D. from Rutgers, recently examined what makes people more or less forgiving toward public figures who make public apologies.

The two analyzed 183 of the most visible apologies offered by public figures between 2000 and 2012.
They found, among other things, that the structuring of the apology can play a role in triggering what neuroscientists understand as the “priming effect” of capturing the attention of an audience.  

“Certain formats may cognitively prime people for forgiveness, making some apologies more successful than others,” the researchers wrote.  

This work complements other research Cerulo has published, including Never Saw It Coming, a book that highlights the ways in which the brain’s ability to prioritizes ideal members of a category interacts with cultural practices, diverting individuals’ attention from worst-case scenarios.  She has also examined the ways in which culture and cognitive processes work together to influence people’s reactions to a wide variety of media images.

“I think the way to move forward is in dialogue with cognitive neuroscientists – to look at the processes that the neurologists have identified and to see whether the social/cultural piece is triggering these processes or impeding them.”



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