Robin Akert

Professor of Psychology

Research in nonverbal communication:  the ability to decode nonverbal cues in social interaction; also interested in the psychological analysis of advertising.

I received my PhD in experimental social psychology from Princeton University. I joined the Wellesley faculty in 1981, where I am now a full Professor. I am the coauthor (with Eliot Aronson and Tim Wilson) of the textbook, Social Psychology, which is now in its sixth edition and has been translated into eight languages.

My research focuses on nonverbal communication, specifically, our ability to decode nonverbal cues in social interaction. One area on which I have focused is the methodological issues underlying the study of nonverbal decoding. While maximizing internal and external validity, what does a “good” decoding task for experimental use look like? With my colleague, Dane Archer, I developed a prototype of such a measure, the Social Interpretations Task. Currently, I am investigating personality and cognitive correlates of nonverbal decoding ability, to determine what differentiates those who are particularly adept at noticing and interpreting nonverbal cues from those who are not. For this research, I have developed a new decoding video measure (the Visual Nonverbal Decoding Task) with my colleague, Abigail Panter. I am also currently investigating the history of empirical research in nonverbal communication, beginning with Charles Darwin’s pioneering work and continuing through the early decades of twentieth-century American psychology. My research on this topic has received grant support from the American Association of University Women.

I teach courses in the area of social psychology; for example, the Social Psychology course itself, Research Methods in Social Psychology, Nonverbal Communication, and Social Influence. I received the Wellesley College Pinanski Teaching Prize in 1987. Finally, my experiences teaching social influence have led to my greater interest in the psychological analysis of advertising.


  • B.A., University of California (Santa Cruz)
  • M.A., Princeton University
  • Ph.D., Princeton University