Susan Fiske: Biography Of This Social Psychologist

A summary of the life and professional career of this influential researcher.

Susan fiske

Not many women psychologists have received due attention, and it could be said that Susan Fiske is one of the few who has managed to receive the prominence she deserves.

A great student of social phenomena from a perspective of cognitive psychology, this social psychologist has contributed to the science of behavior several theories on social cognition, studying aspects such as the formation of sexism and prejudices. She has written multiple books and articles, all highly recommended to read.

But despite his work, he remains relatively little known outside of this field of science. Let’s see her interesting life through this biography of Susan Fiske in summarized format.

Short Biography of Susan Fiske

Next we talk about the main vital facts that are remarkable in the life of Susan Fiske, a social psychologist who is still alive today and working for the dissemination of this branch of behavioral science.

First years of his life

Susan Tufts Fiske was born on August 19, 1952 in the United States. Fiske’s family environment has been made up of both psychologists and human rights defenders, which marked him from childhood on in the interest of social psychology.

Her father, Donald W. Fiske, was a highly influential University of Chicago psychologist, while her mother, Barbara Page Fiske, was a leading activist. She is the sister of Alan Page Fiske, an anthropologist at UCLA, and her grandmother was a suffragette.

In 1973, at the age of 21, Susan Fiske began her studies at Radcliffe College to obtain a degree in Social Relations. She received her doctorate from Harvard University in 1978 with the thesis Attention and the Weighting of Behavior in Person Perception.

She currently resides in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, sociologist Douglas Massey.


Susan Fiske had the opportunity to work with Harvard professor Shelley Taylor, which allowed her to study social cognition, focusing primarily on the effect that attention has on social interactions. After graduation, Fiske continued studying and working in the field of social cognition.

It should be said that, since the beginnings of psychology as a science, the cognitive and social branches have never fully agreed, and it could even be said that they maintain a certain conflict today.

Still, Fiske managed, through his work, to unite the best of both branches, especially when he tried to delve more deeply into the study of social cognition. As a result of this, Fiske co-authored the book Social Cognition with Taylor.

One of the great highlights of his professional career is that of giving professional opinion in the case of Prince Waterhouse v. Hopkins from 1989.

In the case, Fiske gave her testimony as the first social psychologist to testify in a gender discrimination case. This event aroused interest in the application of psychology in legal contexts.

Later, he was able to work with Peter Glick, at which time he set out to study dependency in male-female relationships, which allowed him to develop what would later become the theory of ambivalent sexism.

One of the most interesting investigations that Fiske carried out was that of analyzing gender differences in social psychology publications, especially one of the most influential journals in the field, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology .

The conclusion of this research was that male social psychologists had a higher percentage of acceptance of their articles to be published compared to women, although the difference was not much greater (18% vs. 14%). In fact, he was able to see that the impact factor for female authors was the same compared to male when looking at the number of citations in textbooks, as well as being the most cited women per published article.

Susan Fiske has been involved in the formation and constitution of cognitive social neuroscience, a field which investigates the neural bases behind social events.

His contributions to psychology

Susan Fiske’s scientific work is demonstrable based on the many books, articles and conferences that she has done throughout her professional career. In all of them, he addresses aspects of both the social and cognitive branches of psychology, explaining several theories related, above all, to the study of social cognition. There are four the most relevant theories of all her work.

1. Theory of ambivalent sexism

Working together with Peter Glick, Fiske developed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI), a tool developed to record and understand prejudices towards the female community.

This inventory has two components related to stereotypes towards women: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

Hostile sexism is expressed especially towards women, who do not meet the characteristics of the more traditional female figure or who fight for their rights.

On the other hand, benevolent sexism refers to overprotective and paternalistic behaviors aimed at women who do comply with the traditional image of how a woman should be. The theory holds that, in the interaction between men and women, the latter are they are forced to have to get closer to the traditional image of femininity if they want men to pay attention to them or help them to progress in the workplace.

Despite the fact that the privilege-contempt relationship usually goes in the male-female direction, the theory holds that both men and women can carry out both versions of sexism. However, it is usually men who exercise, above all, hostile sexism.

2. Content model of stereotypes

The content model of stereotypes, in English ‘Stereotype content model’, is a psychological theory that maintains that people tend to perceive social groups based on two fundamental dimensions: warmth and competence.

Warm refers to how friendly and confident the group is perceived, while competence refers to how competent the group is in achieving its social goals.

This theory has been able to find that people who belong to the same social group, for example, the North American middle class, perceive members of the same socioeconomic group as more friendly and competent people compared to those of other groups.

In addition, it allows us to understand how people see other groups that do not have as many privileges or economic resources, such as refugees, people at risk of exclusion … seeing them as neither warm nor competent.

Thus, there are both negative stereotypes towards other groups and positive towards people from the same group, exaggerating the threats and benefits of both groups.

3. Theory of power as control

The theory of power as control tries to explain how the classes that have power over society make people behave by paying attention to or ignoring others, based on how the wealthiest elites have established it.

4. Continuous model of impression formation

This model tries to explain how people form impressions of other people. It is theorized that these first impressions are formed based on two factors, one being the available information and the other the motivations of the person who perceives them.

Based on these two factors, they help explain the tendency of people to follow criteria more related to the stereotypes accepted by the majority of the population or individual beliefs.


Susan Fiske has earned several honorary degrees from various universities worldwide, including the University of Basel (2013), Leiden (2009) and the Catholic University of Leuven (1995).

In 2010 she was awarded by the APA with the award for distinguished scientific contribution. In 2013, Susan Fiske became an elected member of the American National Academy of Sciences.

She has served as president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Division 8 of the APA, the Federation of Brain and Behavioral Sciences Associations, the American Psychological Society, and the Foundation for the Advancement in Brain and Behavioral Sciences.

In 2014, a quantitative analysis was carried out in which it was concluded that Susan Fiske was one of the most eminent researchers in the modern age of psychology, ranked twenty-second.

In the same analysis, she also occupied the 14th position in terms of the most important living researchers and was considered the second most important female psychologist.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fiske, ST (2011). Envy up, scorn down: How status divides us. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Fiske, ST; Taylor, Shelley E. (2013). Social cognition: From brains to culture (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
  • Fiske, ST (2014). Social beings (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.
  • Fiske, ST; Taylor, SE (1978). Salience, attention, and attribution: Top-of-the-head phenomena. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 11. pp. 249–288.
  • Fiske, ST; Taylor, SE; Etcoff, NL; Ruderman, AJ (1978). “Categorical and contextual bases of person memory and stereotyping”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 36 (7): 778–793.
  • Fiske, ST (1993). “Controlling other people: The impact of power on stereotyping”. American Psychologist. 48 (6): 621–628.
  • Fiske, ST; Glick, P. (1996). “The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 70 (3): 491–512.

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