Data-rich human communication

As a cognitive scientist and data scientist, I take a data-rich approach to understanding how people collaborate, bond, and fight. To do that, I weave together a variety of data sources from the lab and the real world for a converging tapestry of the many ways in which our language, movement, decisions, and emotions change during social contact. Understanding how context—including conversational goals, social connections, and physical spaces—shape our emerging behaviors is a primary goal of my research, embedded within rich traditions of dynamical and ecological perspectives on human behavior and cognition broadly.

I also develop methods to quantify social interaction, promote open science research and education, and create opportunities for cognitive scientists and psychologists who are interested in data science, naturally occurring data, and big data, with a special focus on data ethics. Advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion is an essential part of my scholarly, mentoring, and pedagogical work.

About me

I’m an assistant professor in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Psychological Sciences, specifically within the Perception, Action, Cognition division. I am affiliated with the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action; the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy; the Connecticut Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and the Cognitive Science program. I am also a faculty mentor in the Science of Learning and Art of Communication training program.

I’m proud to lead the dyscord lab. Together, we explore the dynamics of social communication and inter-organism dependencies. Our lab includes several graduate students — Megan Chiovaro, Caitrín (“Cat”) Hall, and Gray Thomas — and a number of bright and hard-working current and former undergraduate research assistants. You can find out more about our community and our work at our lab website. (If you’re an undergraduate student interested in working with the lab, please fill out this form.)

I am actively recruiting graduate students! If you are interested in working with me, I encourage you to reach out to me by email. I’d love to hear about your interests, how they fit with my lab’s interests, and what you might be passionate about pursuing as part of our community.

Previously, I was a postdoctoral scholar working with Tom Griffiths in the Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley and a Moore-Sloan Data Science Fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science. I received my Ph.D in Cognitive and Information Sciences working with Rick Dale at the University of California, Merced.

Some recent work

Publication: Humans are a kind of dissipative structure---that is, an entity that requires the addition of energy in order to sustain itself. Recently, Ben de Bari led a project in which we investigated seemingly social behavior of nonliving dissipative structures, allowing us to explore how much of our human social dynamics might be explained by the constraints and pressures of being dissipative structures in shared environments (De Bari, Paxton, Kondepudi, Kay, & Dixon, 2021, Entropy).

Data ethics: Psychological scientists are increasingly interested in harnessing big data and naturally occurring data, but this new data landscape poses new challenges. I argue that the Belmont principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice can---and should!---serve as our ethical foundation as we deal with human-derived data (Paxton, 2020, Big data methods for psychological research: New horizons and challenges).

Publication: Graduate student Megan Chiovaro led an interdisciplinary collaboration exploring the connection between online and offline social cohesion by analyzing real-world action and Twitter activity during the Arab Spring (Chiovaro, L. C. Windsor*, A. Windsor, & Paxton*, 2021, PLOS ONE).

Methods development: Automatically and reproducibly quantify multi-level linguistic alignment in natural conversation with ALIGN (Duran, Paxton, & Fusaroli, 2019, Psychological Methods). Find our Python package on GitHub, or install it directly from PyPI!

Conference proceedings: We argue that ecological psychology must grow to consider how intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) impacts social effectivities and social affordances (Paxton, Blau, & Weston, 2019, Studies in Perception and Action XV: Proceedings from the Twentieth International Conference on Perception and Action).