About the Lab

The Classification & Attribution Lab was established by Dr Cliódhna O’Connor in the University College Dublin School of Psychology in 2020. The lab forms a hub for research exploring the social and psychological processes through which we classify individuals into social categories and attribute causal explanations for those groups’ characteristics.

The Classification & Attribution Lab comprises a growing network of faculty, postgraduate students and research assistants. While we take a primarily social psychological approach to advance our research agenda, many of our projects rely on interdisciplinary collaborations with colleagues worldwide. Our research has been funded by a range of national and international bodies, including the European Commission Horizon 2020, Health Research Board, Enterprise Ireland, and the Faraday Institute at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

The Classification & Attribution Lab maintains two parallel research streams, characterised by the following overarching concerns:

  1. How are individuals classified into social categories, and what are the implications of these categories for people’s lives? Our team is particularly interested in how classifications that originate in scientific or medical definitions evolve into meaningful social categories that affect people’s identities, self-concepts and interpersonal relations. For example, much of our research explores how receiving a psychiatric diagnosis shapes a person’s identity, and the social responses they might encounter when they disclose that diagnosis to others.
  2. How do people develop causal explanations for a group’s traits or behaviour, and what are the social consequences of these attributions? Our lab is especially concerned with the dynamics of ‘biological essentialism’ – i.e. the tendency to attribute a group’s characteristic traits to inherent biological causes, rather than contextual, environmental or cultural influences. Our research has particularly focused on how neuroscientific explanations of group differences, when recruited in public discourse, can reinforce stereotypes related to gender, sexual orientation and mental illness. 

To study these complex issues, we use a diverse array of quantitative and qualitative methods, including experiments, surveys, interviews, media analysis and systematic reviews. Take a look at some of our research projects here.