About Kayla

I am a sociological social psychologist and a Social Scientist at Vanguard.  I am mixed methods researcher with expertise in group processes, DEI, cognition, emotion, and computer-mediated interaction. I received my PhD in sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and my M.A. and B.A. degrees from UNC Charlotte and Auburn University, respectively. 

Currently, I am working on three main projects. First, through my dissertation research work, I investigate how social status affects emotional contagion and use my findings to produce actionable recommendations for how groups and organizations can prevent the spread of harmful emotions. In a second project, I am researching the cognitive mechanisms undergirding clickbait to understand what produces motivation for engaging with clickbait and the variation in judgements after consuming clickbait. In my third project, I am researching whether and how one’s race and gender impacts whether his or her reports of workplace misconduct are perceived as credible. 

I taught Introduction to Social Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, and I assisted with courses on the Sociology of Mental Health, the Sociology of Work, and Social Psychology. My published research appears in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Advances in Group Processes, and a book entitled Identities in Everyday Life, and my non-academic publications appear in Influence Magazine. I have presented my research to a variety of academic and non-academic audiences, and I have a knack from translating complex social science findings into actionable insights.

Current Projects

Emotional Contagion in Status Hierarchies

We know that emotions spread, but it is unclear who in a group is most likely to be a carrier or catcher of contagion.  In my dissertation, I investigate whether some emotions are more contagious than others, depending on the relative status of the person emitting the emotion. I also investigate how specific emotions–happiness, sadness, and anger–might matter in this process. When this work is complete, I can use it to help organizations guard against toxic emotion environments, particularly in team-based task groups such as with EMTs, pilots and police officers.

You can read more about this work in an interview.

Clickbait and Cognitive Processes

Clickbait often has missing information, and I am interested in how people fill in these gaps.  More importantly, I am interested in understanding the patterns of these cognitive processes.  How is a person’s race and political affiliation related to these cognitive processes?  When clickbait produces emotional discomfort, what strategies do people use to reduce it? My research will answer these questions, which will help us understand what drives clicks, how people fill in cognitive gaps, and how different people process startling information.

Race, Gender and Workplace Misconduct

When people come forward to report workplace misconduct, are all people equally likely to be believed? Are some people more credible than others based on their race and gender? In this project, I use experimental methods to explore whether some people are more credible than others and can more easily rally social support, using theories of status and identity. This work can be used to build more equitable human resource practices.

Online Grief Among Strangers

What motivates strangers to come together to grieve for someone they never met? How do they navigate collective grieving for someone who died a stigmatized death? I answer these questions by analyzing a Reddit forum that was created in response to Robin Williams’s suicide. Using these data, I first identify the emotional and social functions that optional grief expressions serve. Second, I identify characteristics of successful conversational attempts in online forums.


PhD, 2021

PhD in Sociology, University of Notre Dame

MA, 2015

Master’s in Sociology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

BA, 2013

BA in Sociology, Auburn University


Social Scientist, Vanguard (current)
User Experience Researcher (Specialist), Vanguard 2021
Graduate Researcher, 2015-2021

Dept. of Sociology, University of Notre Dame

User Experience Researcher, Airbnb, 2019
Instructor, 2018

Intro to Social Psychology, Dept. of Sociology, University of Notre Dame

Group Processes Lab Manager, 2013-2015

Dept. of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Teaching Assistant and Guest Lecturer, 2014

Sociology of Organizations, Dept. of Sociology,   University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Teaching Assistant, 2014

Sociology of Mental Health, Dept. of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Research Assistant, 2012-2013

Dr. Gregory Pettit, Dept. of Human Development and Family Studies, Auburn University