The central goals of our research on the social cognition of intergroup relations are to identify the motivational processes that underlie the expression of stereotypes and prejudice, to examine the conditions under which stereotypes and prejudice in the mind translate to discriminatory actions, and to test interventions that reduce these biases.
Self-image and group-image motives. The motivation to maintain one’s positive self-image can play a powerful role in people’s perceptions of others, a hypothesis that has been in past research on self-affirmation and the expression of prejudice. A self-affirmation is when an individual has an opportunity (e.g., in a writing exercise) to highlight the importance of core values and attributes central to one’s personal identity. While prejudice functions to boost the self-worth of individuals who feel threatened, a self-affirmation attenuates the motivation to defend one’s positive self-image and, consequently, reduces prejudice. As opposed to a self-affirmation, our research focuses on a group-related affirmation, which highlights the importance of values and attributes central to one’s social identity, to reveal the specific conditions under which an affirmation can have divergent and unexpected effects on prejudice.
Implicit prejudice and subtle discrimination. Overt forms of prejudice and discrimination toward historically disadvantaged groups such as African-Americans and gays and lesbians have declined steadily over the last few decades. Yet, we have adopted an implicit social cognition framework to examine and demonstrate that implicit forms of prejudice continue to be pervasive and that it does not remain confined to people’s minds, but often manifests in people’s behavior subtly in ways that help maintain social inequalities. Furthermore, we ask, if biases handicap intergroup relations, how can they be ameliorated? Past research has shown that specific situational interventions reduce implicit prejudice; our research tests who is most sensitive to these interventions and whether these interventions also influence discriminatory behavior.