Benedek Kurdi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign (UIUC). He is an experimental psychologist whose research seeks to understand how we learn about, evaluate, and relate to other people, both as individuals and as members of social groups.

What led you to choose a career in personality and social psychology?

As an undergraduate exchange student at Bard College, I was fortunate to be in Barbara Luka's research lab, which used reaction time and other objective measures to study how languages evolve over time. The idea that one could use the experimental method to learn about people's minds without directly asking them what they thought really intrigued me, and my excitement about this idea led me directly to social cognition as a field. Then Mahzarin Banaji at Harvard took an enormous chance on me and admitted me to her lab as a graduate student, and Melissa Ferguson at Yale supported me through multiple rounds of a tough job market during the COVID years. Without these three amazing mentors, I definitely would not be in the field.

Briefly summarize your current research and any future research interests you plan to pursue.

At its core, my research is trying to understand the basic learning and memory processes that support how we evaluate, interact with, and make decisions about other people, both as individuals and as members of social categories. Although traditionally my work has mostly relied on online and laboratory experiments, I am increasingly excited by the possibilities of big data. For example, in some recent work we have used the Project Implicit International Dataset, which contains data from 2.3+ million participants across 34 different countries, to study stability and change in social group attitudes around the world. In a different project, we are relying on natural language processing (NLP) methods to try to understand why certain social attitudes (e.g., attitudes toward gay people) have been more malleable over the past decades than others (e.g., attitudes toward elderly or disabled people).

Why did you join SPSP?

I joined SPSP as a first-year graduate student. Joining was as obvious a part of grad school as taking first-semester stats or going to lab meeting every week. I didn't even think about it.

What is your most memorable SPSP Annual Convention experience?

My most memorable SPSP is still probably the first one that I attended, which was the Long Beach Annual Convention in 2015. Although I was (a pretty shy) first-year graduate student, I was able to interact with senior people in the field who treated me with a lot of kindness and were really open to conversations about science and professional development. I was also able to meet other graduate students working on similar topics. Many of those conference friends that I made in the earliest days of my career are still colleagues and some of them even close friends.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? Do you have a favorite course to teach?

UIUC, which has been my amazing academic home since the summer of 2023, gives us a lot of flexibility in what we teach, especially as junior faculty. Selfishly, some of my favorite courses to teach are statistics courses because the coding and quantitative skills that the students (including students who might initially think that stats is "just not for them") acquire are immediately visible, which is incredibly gratifying as an instructor. I also really enjoy teaching graduate-level social cognition classes because I learn as much (if not more) from the students as they learn from me, and the discussions can lead to exciting new research projects.

Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a career in personality and social psychology?

Learn as much as you can about the methods and history of our field, try to learn from your mistakes, be kind to your colleagues, think about the broader implications of what you study, and remember to floss every day (especially if your graduate program doesn't provide dental insurance).

What career path would you have chosen if you had decided to not pursue psychology?

When I was on the job market during the COVID years (when jobs were even more scarce than usual) I realized that I didn't have a plan B at all. I just can't imagine doing anything other than studying the social mind.

Outside of psychology, how do you spend your free time?

My spouse and I go on a movie date almost every weekend. I also love baking, reading, and watching tennis. My recent TV obsession (and not-so-guilty pleasure) is a reality game show called The Traitors. I have seen almost every international franchise, and I secretly hope that I can be a contestant myself one day.