Jesse Hoey and Robert Freeland receive 2019 Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Award

Friday, May 17, 2019

Cheriton School of Computer Science Professor Jesse Hoey has teamed up with Professor Robert Freeland, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, to conduct novel research at the intersection of computer science and social psychology.

Their research has culminated in a paper that has received the prestigious 2019 Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Award from the American Sociological Association’s Social Psychology Section.

photo of Professor Jesse Hoey

Jesse Hoey is an Associate Professor at the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. He is a University of Waterloo Graham Trust Faculty Fellow 2018–19, and was a Cheriton Faculty Fellow from 2014 to 2017. 

In their paper, titled “The Structure of Deference: Modeling Occupational Status Using Affect Control Theory,” Professors Hoey and Freeland developed and validated a new generalizable method — which they call deference scores — to quantity occupational status. Individuals with high status are less likely to defer to those with lower status, so the extent to which deference does not follow expectations can provide insight into the relative status of various occupations.

Using Bayesian Affect Control Theory — or BayesACT— a formal mathematical theory of social action and cultural meaning, the researchers computed the likelihood that an individual holding a given occupation will defer to an individual holding another occupation. In an interesting twist, Professors Hoey and Freeland examined the validity of the deference scores using data from Harris public opinion polls, which ask respondents to rate an occupation’s prestige rather than the social standing of an individual who holds it. In contrast, most sociological studies on occupational status use General Social Survey prestige scores, even though some researchers contend that they do not assess what they claim to assess.

Professors Hoey and Freeland found that their deference scores significantly predicted Harris prestige scores and that both of these scores ranked occupations in which people serve society — jobs such as firefighter, doctor, nurse and teacher — as high status. Importantly, the modelling of uncertainty in BayesACT was shown to play a significant role in making these predictions. Freeland and Hoey’s work is the first clearly defined method, using basic and fundamental social psychological principles, to accurately predict occupational prestige, and unifies two classical views of social status. 

This is the second time Professor Hoey has won the Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Paper Award. In 2017, he along with Tobias Schröder from Potsdam University of Applied Sciences and Kimberly Rogers from Dartmouth College received the award for Modeling Dynamic Identities and Uncertainty in Social Interactions: Bayesian Affect Control Theory,” a paper in which they proposed a generalization of affect control theory — how people maintain meaning through their actions and interpretation of events — using Bayesian probability theory. Finding answers to these foundational questions in computational social science is one of the benefits of a deep multidisciplinary collaboration that combines expertise in computer science and sociology, fields of study that have only recently intersected.  

The 2019 Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Award will be conferred on August 13 at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.

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