Our research focuses on psychological phenomena associated with diversity. Our work generally concerns the ways in which social group memberships such as race and gender impact the way people think, feel, and behave. More specifically, we investigate antecedents and consequences of prejudice and stereotyping from dual perspectives: traditionally stigmatized and dominant groups. We are currently involved in several areas of research: (1) cognitive, affective, and behavioral dynamics and consequences of interracial contact and diversity, (2) detecting, confronting, and managing the threats associated with prejudice and discrimination, and (3) social categorization and identity management. Through the development of these research streams, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of both the promise and potential pitfalls of diverse environments.
Dynamics of Interracial Contact. This research examines the complex dynamics associated with interactions across racial lines. Specifically, we investigate how individuals think, feel, and behave both in anticipation of, during, as well as after, engaging in an interracial interaction. One set of studies in this project suggests that increased contact between members of different racial groups can be accompanied by unintended, negative consequences for both whites and racial minorities. We found that in addition to being a source of stress, interracial interaction can undermine cognitive performance. Studies in this line suggest, furthermore, that self-regulation in order to inhibit or modulate behavior, thoughts and urges, seems to play an important role in the effect of contact on the cognitive performance of white individuals. Related projects are investigating other concerns and experiences of interracial contact for both whites and blacks. For instance, how do concerns about being the target of prejudice influence racial minorities' interaction experiences? We are also currently investigating potential interventions that will reduce individuals’ deployment of effortful self-regulation during interracial interactions, which should make them less cognitively costly.
Racial Bias Exposure and Mental Health. Past research has shown that contending with issues of racial bias can have a negative effect on the mental health of ethnic minorities. For instance, experiences with racial bias over time have a cumulative, negative impact on ethnic minorities’ subjective well-being. Many scholars have argued, however, that contemporary racial bias has changed; contemporary bias is thought to be more subtle than more “old-fashioned” and blatant forms of racial bias and is often unintentional and unconscious. Furthermore, most White citizens of the United States are concerned about behaving in nonprejudiced ways. Researchers have only recently begun to consider how these more subtle forms of racial bias and concerns about appearing prejudiced might influence ethnic minorities’ well-being. A major goal of this NIMH-funded project, therefore, is to investigate the impact that Whites’ racial bias, albeit unintentional and nonconscious, and their concerns with appearing racially biased have on ethnic minorities’ mental health. The overarching goal of this research is to bridge basic and clinical research that will ultimately open the door to understanding how racial stressors promote racial disparities in health.
Psychological & Physiological Implications of Managing a Stigmatized Identity. Research suggests that racial minorities and members of other low-status groups may not benefit as much from intergroup contact and diversity, compared with members of dominant social groups (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005). Given the widespread social, societal, and organizational benefits of increased diversity in educational and employment domains, however, it is important to examine stigmatized individuals’ experiences as they attempt to persist and even succeed in the face of token status and negative group stereotypes. This project considers the role of “covering”—a compensatory form of self-regulation in the service of managing a stigmatized identity—in stigmatized group members’ persistence in the face of threatening environments. Specifically, this project has two specific aims: 1) to examine the extent to which racial minority and low-SES students at a predominantly White private University engage in covering when the value of their group memberships is threatened and/or they are concerned about being the target of prejudice; and 2) to investigate potential intra-personal costs of covering, including physiological stress reactions, feelings of inauthenticity and shame, increased loneliness, and cognitive depletion.
Race and Threat Perceptions. This project examines psychological ramifications of the stereotype that young black men are threatening and dangerous. One line of research considers the extent to which this black = threat stereotype has become so robust and ingrained in the collective American unconscious that black men now capture attention, much like evolved threats such as spiders and snakes. Specifically, using a dot-probe detection paradigm, we’ve found that white individuals reveal biased patterns of attention toward black faces relative to white faces, when the faces are presented only briefly (approx. 30-ms). We’ve found that this attentional bias is eliminated, however, when the faces display averted, rather than direct, eye-gaze. That is, when the threat communicated by the black faces is attenuated by a relevant, competing socio-emotional cue– in this case, averted eye-gaze–they no longer captured perceivers’ attention. We also found that the attention bias is more pronounced among individuals who are motivated to control the expression of racial bias because of external, rather than internal, concerns (PC norm conformance v. internalized values). Our on-going research is employing eye-tracking technology to ascertain how race may affect visual attention, as well as employing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to explore how eye-gaze direction and other factors may moderate the extent to which black men are perceived to be threatening.