Photo by Marc Campos

Meet Nicholas P. Alt of Psychology, whose academic research spans the areas of social psychology, cognitive psychology, and vision science.

Nicholas Alt

Alt comes to Oxy from Cal State Long Beach, where he was an assistant professor of psychology. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from UCLA, a master's in experimental psychology from William & Mary, and a B.A. in psychology and East Asian studies from Wesleyan. In 2020, Alt was awarded a National Science Foundation Collaborative Research grant with Kerri Johnson, professor of communication and psychology at UCLA.

What attracted you to Occidental?

As a graduate of a small liberal arts school, I am very excited to return to my liberal arts roots. I have fond memories of working closely with faculty and gathering data to develop insights into unique and interesting questions about psychology. I am incredibly excited to provide the same experiences to undergraduates at Occidental. In addition, I was drawn to Occidental due to its values and commitment to teaching and scholarship. It is wonderful to be a part of such an engaged and dynamic community.

What are your impressions of the students after your first semester?

The students at Occidental are fantastic. There is such a high degree of engagement inside and outside the classroom. In the classroom, it is great to see each class develop its own personality and community while taking on rigorous and challenging material. Outside the classroom, the students bring an energy that makes the campus feel alive. 

Your research examines our rapid visual perception of individuals and groups and the social judgments we make when we see others. What conclusions have you come to? How will that work continue at Oxy?

If you think about the last time you saw a group of people, say in a restaurant or a meeting, you likely formed an immediate impression about the group. In my research, I show that these impressions form within half a second and influence our judgments about the group. Even in that short time frame, we are sensitive to things like gender and race composition and this, in turn, affects how inviting the group appears and even our feelings of fit and belonging within the group.

At Oxy, I am excited to work closely with undergraduates to explore the impressions we make about groups. Specifically, our lab will use eye tracking technology to examine the role of visual attention in these processes and expand to new socially relevant visual cues such as mask wearing.