Jiaying Zhao

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Psychology - Biological Aspects
Environment and Society
Socio-Economic Conditions

Research Interests

Cognitive Science
Behavior Change
Public Policy

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Research Methodology

Randomized Control Trials


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).
I am interested in hiring Co-op students for research placements.

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Postdoctoral Fellows

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Jiaying is a dedicated, caring, and open-minded supervisor who sets a high standard for my PhD and guides me to think critically about human psychology, sustainability, and research design. She is generous with her time to discuss and brainstorm ideas with students and actively supports interdisciplinary collaboration. Her enthusiasm about and commitment with her students' research (not to mention her novel and interesting work) make her an exceptional supervisor and continue to inspire me in my PhD journey. I am glad to have such a great supervisor.

Rumi Naito (2019)


I'm privileged to have two #GreatSupervisors at #UBC who teach me a lot about many things. I especially learn from their tenacity and persistence on everything they do. It’s contagious. Thanks @KaiChanUBC and @jiayingzhao for sharing your time and knowledge with me!


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Sustainability by design: motivating pro-environmental action and improving waste diversion (2018)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Statistical learning creates novel object associations via transitive relations (2018)

A remarkable ability of the cognitive system is to make novel inferences based on prior experiences. What mechanism supports such inference? We propose that statistical learning is a process where transitive inferences of new associations are made between objects that have never been directly associated. After viewing a continuous sequence containing two base pairs (e.g., A-B, B-C), participants automatically inferred a transitive pair (e.g., A-C) where the two objects had never co-occurred before (Experiment 1). This transitive inference occurred in the absence of explicit awareness of the base pairs. However, participants failed to infer the transitive pair from three base pairs (Experiment 2), showing the limits of the transitive inference (Experiment 3). We further demonstrated that this transitive inference can operate across the categorical hierarchy (Experiments 4-7). The findings revealed a novel consequence of statistical learning where new transitive associations between objects are implicitly inferred.

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Mechanisms of randomness cognition (2017)

The environment is inherently noisy, with regularities and randomness. Therefore, the challenge for the cognitive system is to detect signals from noise. This extraction of regularities forms the basis of many learning processes, such as conditioning and language acquisition. However, people often have erroneous beliefs about randomness. One pervasive bias in people’s conception of randomness is that they expect random sequences to exhibit greater alternations than typically produced by random devices (i.e., the over-alternation bias). To explain the causes of this bias, in the thesis, I examined the cognitive and neural mechanisms of randomness perception. In six experiments, I found that the over-alternation bias was present regardless of the feature dimensions, sensory modalities, and probing methods (Experiment 1); alternations in a binary sequence were harder to encode and are under-represented compared with repetitions (Experiments 2-5); and hippocampal neurogenesis was a critical neural mechanism for the detection of alternating patterns but not for repeating patterns (Experiment 6). These findings provide new insights on the mechanisms of randomness cognition; specifically, we revealed different mechanisms involved in representing alternating patterns versus repeating patterns.

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Exploring attitudes and preferences toward species at risk in British Columbia (2015)

There are 199 species at risk in British Columbia (B.C.). To elicit public support to conserve biodiversity, it is important to understand people’s attitudes and preferences toward species at risk. Here we examine how people perceive endangered species in B.C., how message framing shapes the attitudes toward the species, and whether implicit or explicit preferences determine willingness to pay for conservation. In Study 1 reported in Chapter 2, we presented three messages about sea otters to 623 residents in B.C., and measured the change in their attitudes toward sea otters using Kellert’s typology of basic attitudes toward wildlife. The messages were framed as either positive (as a keystone species), negative (resource conflict with First Nations’ fishermen in the West Coast of Vancouver Island), or neutral (biological facts). We found that the negative message promoted acceptance for managing sea otters and their habitats for use values (utilitarian-consumption, utilitarian-habitat), and for exerting control over sea otters (dominionistic). This shift in attitudes occurred even though the negative message was perceived as less convincing and believable than the positive or neutral messages. The positive message, on the other hand, decreased utilitarian-consumption attitudes. In Study 2 reported in Chapter 3, we evaluated people’s implicit and explicit preferences for four species at risk in B.C. (sea otter, American badger, caribou, and yellow-breasted chat). We found that explicit rather than implicit preference predicts willingness to pay for conservation of each species, and findings suggest that people apply the affect heuristic when judging species—species that are less liked may be perceived as riskier, and vice versa—. This finding holds for both residents in B.C. (n=55) and outside of B.C. (n=463). The results from the two studies highlight the importance of attitudes, messaging, and preference when designing conservation campaigns and efforts.

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News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

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