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Affect, Identity and Information
A Conversation with Koji Takahashi
Diversity Committee (DC): Can you tell me about a recent publication that you co-authored?
Koji Takahashi: I just had one come out with my advisor, Dr. Alison Earl in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. That was a paper where we were looking at the effect of extraneous affect—or like people's emotional states that are unrelated to the task at-hand. And, we were looking at how that impacted how people paid attention to a process or health messages.
DC: And if you had to sum up the key takeaway for this article, what would it be?
Koji Takahashi: Basically, what we've found is that having people being in a more positive, calm mood before they read information like health information, made them better able to pay attention to it and helped them recall more information from the messages we set out. One of the other key take-aways that I think is really interesting is that we also found that there seemed to be different pathways for the valence of affect— so, you know, how positive or negative people are feeling has a separate pathway from … how calm or intense people feel. And basically, what we find is that being in a more positive mood helps people engage with things in a more motivated fashion. But, being calm stops people's arousal from disrupting the actual processing or recollection of the information. So, having both positive and calm mood helps people pay attention to information, particularly information that people already find important, but sometimes affect can interfere with health information.
DC: What impact do you hope that this work will have?
Koji Takahashi: … I hope that it will be able to have some sort of impact either for health or some sort of disparity…. Some of the other work I’m working on focuses specifically on attention to HIV information amongst the … groups [most affected by HIV], so like Black Americans. So, we definitely want this to have theoretical impacts, which can understand help us understand the process more on a theoretical level to improve future research, but [we want to] also have that practical implication. Although I think with this study … we didn't do it in a clinical setting, so … with what we've tested so far, I don’t feel confident in the practical impact yet. But, I think in terms of the line of research, I would like to eventually get to the place where we can more confidently make recommendations for clinical practice.
DC: What are the major sources of inspiration for the research topics you're currently pursuing?
Koji Takahashi: It's a lot of different things. Definitely, I think just looking at the world around me. A lot of the stuff I'm working on now focuses on racial identity and like racial politics and how that impacts white people, in particular, but also how other people consume information about race and racial inequality. And, a lot of that I think is definitely inspired by observations of the world around me, and seeing what's on the news, and having conversations with friends about these issues and topics. And having conversations with friends both inside and outside of academia. I think that's a big thing. The other thing is also, I definitely came to grad school because I'm a nerd for psych theory. I really like it a lot. So, I think some of the research questions and research topics have that element of having like feet planted in the real world, but with my head in the clouds for theory. So, I draw inspiration from both of those.
DC: What motivated you to pursue graduate studies in psychology?
Koji Takahashi: I think for me, I really liked pretty much every single subject I studied in school. I think what it kind of started coming down to is which are the types of problems I want to focus on most. And I think it was always something definitely within the realm of human interaction. So, you know, I considered sociology for a while. And, public policy also— things like that. But, I think the thing that kept on drawing me into psychology is, I just, I naturally think like a social psychologist. Even as a kid, you know, I think I did a lot of cognitive reappraisal. I’d really think about, ‘Okay, what are the constraints of the situation?’ Why did that person act this way? … So I think that being a very natural way of thinking for me made it easy for me to fall into social psychology. And I think, in particular, I really liked learning about, attitudes and persuasion. I kept on finding myself drawn to that over and over again. Even when I told myself I'd still explore, other topics, I think just there was always a pull towards social psychology.
DC: And since entering the psychology department here at the university of Michigan, what has been a major highlight or transformative moment for you?
Koji Takahashi: I think definitely being able to explore a lot of different parts of myself at the same time. Like, I think being in graduate school, especially as time goes on, feels less and less like being a student and more like more like being a working professional, which I think has been really nice. So, kind of changing, you know, my self-concept as a professional researcher and a professional psychologist. … It's been something I've been able to explore in ways that I hadn't really had as much opportunity to before. And I think also, it's definitely strengthened my interest in and commitment to mentorship… I really like research and I really like teaching, but I also really like mentoring and working with students. … It's a very intense and intellectually rewarding to have close working relationships that I really like and find valuable. So, I think I've been finding a lot of new interests, not just in terms of like the topics I study, but in terms of what my day-to-day work-life looks like. … And then also, you know, of course a lot of personal growth. Grad school definitely tests your limits. I think it forces you to really come to terms with yourself; figure out what's what you need in life personally and professionally; and figure out exactly how you're going to get it. I think that's been something I've gotten a lot better at.
DC: I'm gonna throw in another question. If you had one piece of advice that you would give to somebody that's applying to graduate school, what would it be?
Koji Takahashi: Oh man— I have a lot of different things. I mean I think someone who's applying I think definitely think about what's the type of work you'd like to be doing? What do you enjoy spending your time doing? and What do you want to do professionally? And figuring out what route makes the most sense. Because if you're thinking of applying to graduate school you know, it's not just whether you’re applying to graduate school or not. There are also different types of graduate school programs. So, if you know that you really want to do research, and that's something you enjoy, whether that's, you know, within academia or an industry, then you know, a PhD makes sense. I think. There are also a lot of other jobs where it turns out you may enjoy other aspects of the job a lot better. And, I think knowing that before you start applying to grad school makes it a lot easier to figure out which graduate program is going to actually support you into the ways you really need to thrive. And I think that's hard to know without having someone to guide you through it. So, I think definitely having a network of people either who are in graduate school currently or who have been through graduate school is really important—especially for students who aren't super used to having like lots of people they can look to as resources. I know that was a difficult thing for me. I think, reminding yourself that it's definitely very valuable to ask people for, you know, their thoughts, their perspectives, just to even talk about their experiences to give you advice. Learning to let yourself be comfortable approaching people. Asking those type of questions I think can be super, super helpful.
DC: What is the best Ann Arbor or Ypsi spot to relax or decompress when you need a break from work?
Koji Takahashi: Okay, so there are a lot of different good ones. I think definitely going rock climbing once a week, so Planet Rock. It's a little bit pricey, but it's still a good time. Then also Cultivate in Ypsi is really good. That's a cafe and brewery. And they have lots of good space there. … Another thing that I've liked a lot, [is] there's trivia at multiple places every single night of the week. So, it's a … very easy to connect with people as long as you're okay with losing… I think I really enjoy having activities or hobbies that I can do and do pretty poorly at and still enjoy it. I think it's helpful to have things that I can specifically fail at. … There are a lot of different cool events popping up here and there. So, I think if people are looking for things in like the queer scene, for example, there's some graduate students in the program here who actually host a drag show, at like, the lovely, lovely time of 9:00 PM. …So there are things like that. It's a lot of different things depending on kind of what you're looking for.