Nicholas Christenfeld


My research program comprises multiple, changing, only-partly-overlapping areas. I have addressed such topics as why some people say "um" so often, whether babies look like their mothers or their fathers, how we choose which box of cereal to buy, why a baseball season is ten times as long as a football season, which parts of the month carry the greatest risk of untimely death, whether the support of a woman is better for one's blood pressure than that of a man, what sort of music might be useful in stress reduction, whether some initials extend and some shorten the lives of their bearers, and whether people who live in, or even just visit, New York City are at risk of heart attacks. How is it that some people talk so much -- do they know more, have more fertile minds, regard nothing as off limits, or are they simply willing to utter out loud things that quiet people regard as not worth saying? Studies of naturally-occurring variability in talkativeness, and how this is associated with knowledge, self-disclosure, efficiency, and informativeness address these issues.

Stress and Health: It is generally thought that psychological stress has long-term negative consequences for health, especially of the cardiovascular system. It may be that the presence of supportive friends and allies serves to promote health by minimizing cardiovascular stress responses, either in their magnitude or in their duration. Laboratory experiments providing and withholding support before and after challenging tasks explore this issue. Further studies examine the impact of psychological factors, including social support, music, distraction, and rumination on not only blood pressure and heart rate, but also cortisol and immune responses.

Narratives: Stories are pervasive, from simple ones at bedtime to two-hundred million dollar ones in Hollywood. What is it, then, that people want from a story? Does a happy ending help, or any sort of resolution after dramatic tension? Experimental manipulation of basic characteristics of short fiction allows some insight into what makes a story satisfying.

Hormones: While men have distinctly higher levels of testosterone than do women, there is considerable natural variability within each sex. Furthermore, for various reasons, ranging from cancer treatments to sex-change endeavors, people alter their levels of sex hormones. To what extent does such variability within gender produce changes in behavior, and how consistent are these changes with the differences that are observed between gender? Studying endogenous and exogenous levels of these hormones and various social behaviors can shed light on such questions.

  • Mickes, L., Hoffman, D.E., Parris, J.L., Mankoff, R.,  & Christenfeld, N.J.S. (2012). Who’s Funny: Gender Stereotypes, Humor Production, and Memory Bias.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 19-108-12.
  • Larsen, B., Darby, R., Harris, C., Nelkin, D., Milam, P., & Christenfeld, N.J.S. (In Press). The Immediate and Delayed Cardiovascular Benefits of Forgiveness.   Psychosomatic Medicine.
  • Roy, M.M., Christenfeld, N.J.S., & Jones, Meghan.  (In Press).  Actors, Observers and the Estimation of Task Duration.  Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Mickes, L., Darby. R.S., Hwe, V., Bajic, D., Warker, J.A., Harris, C.R., & Christenfeld, N.J.S.  (In Press).  Major Memory for Microblogs.  Memory & Cognition.

Updated Nov 2012