Research Overview

Art by Madeline Henkel

Social biases are omnipresent throughout our society, even manifesting in society’s youngest members. As early as the preschool years, children use social group membership to guide their social preferences, allocation of resources, and inferences about others’ attributes. Such biases persist throughout childhood and into adulthood. Social biases have deleterious consequences for the targets of discrimination, including impaired mental and physical health as well as compromised academic and professional achievement. For decades, psychologists have attempted to develop effective prejudice reduction methods, but to date, these efforts have failed to yield long-term, sustained change (for a review, see Paluck et al., 2020). My deep interest in reducing prejudice in both children and adults led me to work in developmental and social psychology laboratories, and the synthesis of approaches has shaped the type of work I am conducting today.

My overall goal in my research program is to create lasting reductions in real-world biases, starting in early childhood. My research program synthesizes methods and theories from social and developmental psychology to implement interventions that produce meaningful change in social biases across the lifespan. Throughout my research, I rely on an approach in which I first evaluate the necessary components for sustained change and strategies that provide promise for reducing bias in controlled laboratory studies. In my laboratory work, I also focus on mechanisms leading to the perpetuation of bias in order to understand factors that must be addressed in future intervention work. Following this critical foundational research, I create and implement theoretically-driven, multifaceted intervention programs in the field.

Parent Race Intervention
Parents' Beliefs about Children's Bias

Art by Madeline Henkel

For my dissertation, I have designed and am evaluating an intervention to teach parents how to address race with their children. In a longitudinal randomized controlled trial, I am working with a national sample of parents and their 5-7-year-old children (N = 240 dyads). This project is being conducted in partnership with EmbraceRaceScott, Shutts, & Devine, 2020, Perspecitves on Psychological Science. 

Do parents think children express racial bias? Are parents concerned about children's racial bias? This line of research focuses on how parents think about their own children's racial bias, other children's racial bias, and what leads parents to be concerned about children's racial bias. Scott, Shutts, & Devine, 2019, Child Development.

Prejudice Habit-Breaking Intervention

Devine and colleagues (e.g., Devine et al., 2012, JESP) have designed and evaluated an intervention focused on empowering adults to overcome their unintentional bias. In a series of studies that I have both led and collaborated on, we evaluate the necessary components for reducing bias, behavioral outcomes of the intervention, and additions to the intervention to increase anti-racist behaviors. Cox, Dix, Scott, & Devine, 2019, SPSP Talk.

Laboratory Interventions Addressing Bias

By evaluating the origins and mechanisms of gender and racial bias in childhood, I learn strategies that may be effective for reducing children's social biases in the real-world. This research has demonstrated the multitude of forces leading to the creation and perpetuation of children's biases. Additionally, I have shown the limitations associated with one-shot interventions targeting bias when one's goal is to produce effects that generalize beyond the laboratory context. King, Scott, Renno, & Shutts, 2020, JECP. King, Scott, Renno, & Shutts, under review.

Language Surrounding Race

How does the terminology used to refer to racial groups influence beliefs about inclusivity from in-group members? How do changes in terminology impact outgroup members' perceptions of racial groups? How does the framing of racial bias impact perceptions of biased behaviors? This line of work focuses on how subtle linguistic cues surrounding race can have a substantial impact on both perceptions of racial bias and members of particular racial groups. 

Race-Related Children's Books

Does the language in children's books vary as a function of the race of the characters? Using natural language processing techniques, I am evaluating linguistic features that differ between books featuring White and Black protagonists. Following this investigation, I will conduct empirical work to evaluate the impact of exposure to the different linguistic features. 

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