Kirsten Ruys

My career as an experimental psychologist started at the University of Amsterdam, where I specialized in cognitive psychology and became interested in memory, emotions, and consciousness. After completing my PhD on social context effects on first impressions at the social psychology department, I moved to the University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium, where I worked on the effects of self-activation on attention for negative information. Then at Tilburg University, I investigated the unfolding of emotional reactions, moods, and responses to facial emotional expressions. At the goallab in Utrecht I investigate how emotional reactions unfold in response to our own action performance and how social psychological factors influence action representations and feelings of self-causation.

Most of my work has focused on the unfolding of emotional reactions to different kinds of external emotional events, namely emotional expressions, emotional scenes, and positive and negative concepts. This research has shown the crucial role of processing time in the unfolding of emotions: Initial emotional responses are typically based on global, positive-negative categorizations, whereas later emotional responses are based on specific, fine-grained information processing. Global, positive-negative reactions influence people’s mood states, whereas detailed, fine-grained emotional reactions cause specific emotions such as fear, disgust, or happiness to arise. Crucially, we show that global and specific emotional reactions occur without conscious awareness of their source.

Besides my interest in the unfolding of specific emotional reactions, I am also interested in basic affective processes. In this research, I focus on the mechanisms that underlie affective priming and evaluative conditioning, the role of affect in determining categorization processes, and the role of conscious awareness in these processes.

Recently, I have started to examine the feelings that accompany action performance. Specifically, I have investigated the role of interdependent versus independent performance contexts on the integration of other people’s actions into one’s own action system (Social Simon effect), the effects of behavior representation level on people’s sense of agency over outcomes that are ambiguous in terms of their cause, the relation between perceiving oneself and someone else as cause of ambiguous outcomes, and people’s feelings of self-causation over the emotions of other people.

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Representative publications

Ruys, K. I., & Aarts, H. (2012). I did not mean to hurt you! Unconscious origins of experienced self-agency over other’s emotional expressions, Emotion, 12, 132-141.

Ruys, K. I., Aarts, H., Papies, E. K., Oikawa, M., & Oikawa, H. (2012). Perceiving an exclusive cause of affect prevents misattribution. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 1109-1015.

Ruys, K. I. & Aarts, H. (2010). When competition merges people’s behavior: Interdependency activates shared action representations, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 1130-1133.

Ruys, K. I., Spears, R., Gordijn, E. H., de Vries, N. K. (2006). The two faces of (dis)similarity in affective judgments of persons: Contrast and assimilation effects revealed by morphs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 399-411.

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Contact information

Utrecht University
Dept. of Psychology
PO Box 80140
3508 TC Utrecht
The Netherlands
T: +31 30 253 31 01
F: +31 30 253 47 18

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